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Katie Roy Testifies in Front of Planning and Development Committee on Fiscally Independent School Districts, H.B. 7319

Testimony Regarding H.B. 7319, An Act Concerning Fiscal Independence of School Districts

Katie Roy, Executive Director & Founder
Planning and Development Committee
Friday, March 15, 2019

Chairpersons Cassano and McCarthy Vahey, Ranking Members Champagne and Zawistowski, and distinguished members of the Planning and Development Committee:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide informational testimony on H.B. 7319, which would make local and regional school districts with average daily memberships of less than 15,000 students, fiscally independent. Although a somewhat controversial topic and challenging conversation, I sincerely appreciate the willingness of Committee members to discuss this bill and have a constructive and honest dialogue about fiscally independent school districts.

My name is Katie Roy and I am the executive director and founder of the Connecticut School Finance Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit policy organization based in New Haven that works to identify solutions to Connecticut’s school and state funding challenges that are fair to students, taxpayers, and communities.

In reading media coverage and op-eds about this bill, along with reviewing some of the testimony that has been submitted, there appears to be a great deal of misinformation about what fiscally independent school districts are and how they function.

In an effort to help correct some of this misinformation and provide the Committee with nonpartisan, factual information as it considers this bill, my testimony today focuses solely on what fiscally independent school districts are and how they are utilized in the vast majority of states, including — already — Connecticut.

Fiscally independent school districts are a form of a special purpose government, meaning they have substantial autonomy to fix and collect charges and to issue debt for the provision of educational services. Fiscally independent school districts most often levy and collect property taxes separately from townships and municipalities.

Additionally, fiscally independent school districts are most commonly overseen by a board, such as a board of education, or similar governance structure, elected by voters from the area that the school district encompasses and serves. The elected board is then responsible for setting the budget for the school district and establishing the tax rate for educational services.

Currently, 30 states have entirely fiscally independent school districts, while 16 states have some fiscally dependent and some fiscally independent school districts, and eight states have state dependent school districts.

In states with fiscally independent school districts, taxpayers receive a bill from their town tax assessor’s office — similar to Connecticut — but the tax bill includes separate tax rates: one for the school district and one for the town. However, there are not two duplicative assessment and tax collection offices — both the town and school district utilize the same office. No additional office or level of municipal bureaucracy is created by a school district becoming fiscally independent.

Additionally, fiscally independent school districts can bring a degree of greater transparency and accountability because taxpayers know the proportion of property taxes directed toward the support of local public schools and the proportion directed toward municipal services, such as police, fire, and waste removal.

While the vast majority of Connecticut’s school districts are currently fiscally dependent on municipalities, meaning the district operates as a function of the municipal government that levies taxes to support its operations, Connecticut does already have some fiscally independent school districts. Even though they do not levy taxes, Connecticut’s regional school districts are considered fiscally independent because they operate and set their budgets independently from a municipal government and are authorized to issue bonds with voter approval.

However, it is important to note that fiscally independent school districts have NOTHING to do with school district regionalization and/or the consolidation of districts or schools. A school district does not have to be regionalized or consolidated with another school district in order to be fiscally independent nor does fiscal independence lead to regionalization or consolidation.

Finally, more information about fiscally independent school districts, as well as a chart with details about the types of school districts in each state, can be found on the one-pager attached to my testimony, which is also available online at www.ctschoolfinance.org/assets/uploads/files/Fiscally-Independent-School-Districts-FAQ.pdf.

Thank you again for allowing me the opportunity to provide informational testimony on H.B. 7319 and fiscally independent school districts. I sincerely appreciate the Committee’s time and discussion of this issue, and I am happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.

Sincerely,

Katie Roy
Executive Director & Founder
Connecticut School Finance Project