Tolland faces potential teacher layoffs with no state budget

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TOLLAND -- Time is running out for the town of Tolland to wait to see what kind of education funding it will receive from the state. With the start of the school year around the corner and no state budget, the town held an emergency meeting Monday night to go over its options.

Superintendent Dr. Walter Willett said no matter what they choose it will be painful. He called the state budget situation a "catastrophe" for his district.

"I'm sure other communities share this feeling. To me it's like a situation where fire safety personnel are called to a fire and are arguing about how to handle it. While they're arguing about how to handle it, the house burns down. You know, we feel like that house on fire right now," explained Dr. Willett.

On Monday night, Dr. Willett, the Tolland Town Council, the Tolland Board of Education and members of the Tolland community discussed what kind of scenarios to prepare for under these dire circumstances. They're looking to make informed decisions about the upcoming school year, but they only have assumptions to go on.

The worst case scenario involves laying off around 10 percent of the teaching workforce in the district. That will impact 35-40 educators, which Dr. Willett says will have a massive effect on the school system.

"We're kind of just waiting to see what will happen," said Evangeline Abbott, President of the teachers' union in Tolland (Tolland Education Association).

She said, "we're looking at probably increased class sizes, which no one likes to hear especially with the younger levels, and possibly elimination of programs that are vital and what you would expect to have in a town like Tolland."

To mitigate some of those potential impacts, Dr. Willett is proposing dipping into the town's fund balance.

Some town leaders are concerned those funds will not be restored and it is not a sustainable option because Tolland could find itself in a similar situation two years from now during the next state budget cycle. However, many in the crowd Monday were supportive of the idea saying those funds are for emergencies and that's exactly what this is.

Dr. Willett said, "we want to make sure that we are using our resources to protect against the impact of that indecisiveness on the state level and then look to restore those resources to leave Tolland in the healthy condition that it was when we started."

No decisions were made during the meeting, but Dr. Willett will need to hear from town leaders in the coming days in order to move forward. If layoffs are part of the solution, those notices need to go out early next week at the latest in order for school to start on time.