An Update on the Board of Education 2018-19 Funding Request

An Update on the Board of Ed's 2018-19 Funding Request
Posted on 02/26/2018
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Dear Norwalk Public Schools Parents and Community Members,

Please join me in asking the Common Council to add an additional $1.5 million for the Norwalk Public Schools operating budget to fund more of the Board of Education's Strategic Operating Plan. In addition, please show your support for the $ 1.2 million special appropriation to fund the third year of the Special Education Turnaround Fund from the Rainy Day Fund.

Unfortunately, the $5.5 million increase for the BOE that was voted by the Common Council Finance Committee on Thursday night would only cover contractual costs and one goal of seven of the Strategic Operating Plan. The Board of Education needs $7 million at the bare minimum in order to make progress on the Strategic Operating Plan without making drastic cuts. The Board of Education cannot fund all of its Strategic Operating Plan initiatives with the additional $1.5 million, but with additional reductions in other parts of the BOE budget and with a slower implementation than planned on some goals we can continue to make progress.

Parents should be aware that some painful cuts will still need to be made to get the BOE budget increase down from the initial request of $9.9 million to $7 million. Those could include reduction of Kindergarten Aides, closure of Pathways Academy, and elimination of Middle School Sports. Attached is a spreadsheet proposal of how the Board of Education intends to bridge the funding gap. In addition, because of the need to defer some of this year’s goals to next year, the budget increase needed for Fiscal Year 19/20 will be closer to 5% than the 3-4% that was planned for by the BOE. We are essentially kicking the can down the road. In addition, Fiscal Year 19/20 will be the first year in which the revaluation will be used to calculate the mill rate, lending more uncertainty to putting off these costs until then. If the Common Council does not raise the increase from $5.5 million to $7million, the cuts would be more drastic and the implementation of the Strategic Operating Plan could be compromised.

While it is, of course, the duty of the Mayor, Common Council and BET to decide how to achieve any possible increase they might grant, by using the Rainy Day Fund, the city could keep the tax increase to the 3.7% that the Common Council Finance Committee approved on Thursday night while utilizing taxpayer dollars that have already been collected and are in excess of what is needed to qualify for a AAA bond rating. A significant cushion would still remain in the Rainy Day Fund to allow for possible cuts from the state or possible negative effects from the revaluation of our grand list in the following fiscal year.

The Strategic Operating Plan initiatives will produce improved outcomes at all levels of our schools, and have the potential to make us competitive with our surrounding communities. The investment Norwalk has made in our schools is paying off, as proven by the improvements we have made on the State Accountability Index. We are only 3.6% from Wilton’s index score, and we can close that gap with these investments. Norwalk can be competitive and it can have excellent schools.

In September Bob Barron and the Mayor showed a willingness to use the Rainy Day Fund to make the city whole if we had cuts from the state to the tune of $5.87 million. This total request is less than that. It isn't an outrageous ask. The City's budget calls for $2 million to be used from the Rainy Day Fund but applies it only to all other departments besides the Board of Education. This taxpayer money should be used to fund all city departments, including the Board of Education.

At the recent Ad Hoc Special Education meeting, it was clear that the Special Education Turnaround Fund has produced results in the form of lowered Out of District placements through attrition. By creating new and robust special education programs in the district we have slowed the exponential growth of special education costs we had seen in prior years. This is a one-time cost and does not affect our Minimum Budget Requirement.

The bottom line is that you get what you pay for. Our students deserve the best that we can provide. This is a good year for Norwalk to make this investment in its schools: the economy is in good shape and the City has a large and growing Rainy Day Fund. Almost all of our elected officials ran on a platform supporting strong school funding, and they need to follow through on that commitment.

Please come to City Hall Tuesday at 7:30pm to support the Board of Education's compromise budget proposal, and write to the Common Council and the Mayor.

Regards, Michael Barbis, Chair
Norwalk Board of Education