Deleted E-Mails Put Connecticut School Funding Case on Hold

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The trial set to determine whether enough money is being spent in Connecticut to provide an adequate education to public school children in the state is on hold indefinitely.

The lawsuit, filed by the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, is asking for the proper amount of funding to reach K-12 students to be allocated to schools, a request the group has been making since November 2005.

The trial was set to begin January 6, but has now been put on hold after attorneys discovered 77 email chains from the coalition leaders who are suing the state.  The emails all contain wording asking the recipients to delete the e-mails.  It is still unknown how many emails, if any, were actually deleted.

The emails that were found clearly show Dianne Kaplan deVries, project director of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding (CCJEF), telling at least one of the parents who are suing the state and Fred Carstensen, an economist at The University of Connecticut, a potential eyewitness, to delete the emails sent to them.  

“I need to keep you ‘clean’ for probable use as an expert witness . . . Getting you into the loop with ‘my’ people . . . risks their honest ability to claim that you’re an impartial expert not intimately involved with CCJEF advocacy efforts,” Kaplan deVries wrote in March 2010.

“Done. Deleting from both incoming and outgoing,” Carstensen replied.

However, 77 email chains were not deleted, causing Hartford Superior Court Judge Kevin Dubay to put the the trial and all scheduled-filing deadlines on hold last Tuesday.

“Right now we don’t even know the scope of the problem,” Dubay said Tuesday during a conference with the attorneys representing the state and the plaintiffs. “We’re not going to set new dates at this point because we can’t.”

Joseph Rubin, an associate attorney general representing the state, said the emails were “deleted purposely and deliberately,” raising serious issues for the case.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs plan to discover if there is a way to recover the emails and will recommend how they wish to proceed if they cannot be retrieved.  A hearing has been scheduled by the judge for January 12 to be brought up to date on the progress made.

More than four years ago, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that students in the state were guaranteed the right to a quality education and “suitable” educational opportunities, according to the state constitution.  The case was returned to the Hartford Superior Court by the Supreme Court in order for a trial to determine whether or not the standard had been met by the state, and what remedies needed to take place, if any.

A new report from The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities suggests that the state is in fact is the most reliant in the nation to use property tax monies to fund the public education system in the state.

The report, part of the group’s “Election Campaign 2014″ series, says the state needs to perform a number of actions in order to correct a shortfall totaling over $600 million in the Education Cost Sharing Grant, state aid given to municipalities for educational purposes.

“State law limits municipalities primarily to the property tax for own-source revenue,” said Matthew Galligan, CCM President and town manager of South Windsor. When municipalities do not receive adequate state education aid, they are forced to raise property taxes, cut other vital services or both…. Local property taxes cannot continue to shoulder the lion’s share of pre-K to 12 public education costs.”

Plaintiffs for the lawsuit argue that doing so violates constitutional rights of students to an equal and quality education.