Lots of Money for Salaries But None to Purify School Air

Federal government money is raining down on Connecticut state government and municipal governments every day and yet, according to the Connecticut Mirror, state and municipal officials say there is no money anywhere for renovating or replacing school ventilation systems, despite the danger of the COVID-19 virus epidemic.

While state government long has reimbursed municipalities for a huge portion of school construction and renovation projects — maybe too generously amid Connecticut’s declining student population — state government policy has been not to pay for school ventilation work but to leave that to the towns.

Deputy state budget director Konstantinos Diamantis, state government’s overseer of school construction projects, faults municipalities for deferring maintenance of school ventilation systems. How ironic and hypocritical.

First, state government itself is notorious for deferring maintenance of its transportation system — roads, bridges, and Connecticut’s section of the Metro-North commuter railroad, some of whose bridges are a century old.

Second, state government has imposed on municipalities a system of binding arbitration of government employee union contracts. This robs municipalities of discretion over the great majority of their budgets. Under binding arbitration and the state law forbidding municipalities from reducing school spending even as enrollment declines, employee compensation has first claim on all municipal revenue.

There’s no binding arbitration for building maintenance.

If student health really mattered amid the epidemic, those laws would be suspended in favor of renovating school ventilation systems. Using his emergency powers, Governor Lamont could do that — if he wasn’t more scared of the teacher unions than the virus.

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Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Connecticut.

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