2017-18 Recommended Operating Budget Request

2017-18 Recommended Operating Budget Request

Dear Norwalk Families and Community Members,

I am pleased to submit a recommended budget for the 2017-18 school year for Norwalk Public Schools. As expected, it presents both the challenges and promise of continued improvement of Norwalk’s schools. The FY 2017-18 budget request is comprised of three distinct components or budget categories:

  1. A base budget increase of $2.6 million or 1.5% to cover the cost of labor contract settlements and normal cost escalation;

  2. A program improvement appropriation of $3.9 million or 2.3% necessary to address several high-priority educational needs designated in our Strategic Operating Plan;

  3. A special appropriation for enrollment growth of $2.5 million or 1.4% to cover the cost of educating a growing student population, including more English language learners and special needs students.

The cost of categories 1 and 2 is $6.6 million or a 3.7% budget increase. The appropriation for enrollment growth adds another $2.5 million or 1.4%.

Unfortunately, an unprecedented increase in employee health insurance costs totaling $8.6 million, or 4.9%, overshadows the entire budget process of the School District and City. To place this increase in perspective, the additional cost is the equivalent of funding 86 current teaching positions. 

This large increase in health insurance is due to a spike in claim costs of approximately 16%, compounded by one-time reductions made to the Board’s appropriation for health insurance in FY 2016-17. The reductions were possible because the District had previously accumulated a surplus in its Insurance Fund from favorable claims experience in prior years. These one-time reductions reduced the amount of money that the Board was required to deposit into the Insurance Fund in FY 2016-17, and in an agreement with the City they were used to fund the Special Education Development Fund for 2017-18.

While the recommendation to draw down the available balance in the Insurance Fund in this way helped reduce the Board of Education budget for FY 2016-17, at this point the available surplus in the Insurance Fund is below the recommended level and sufficient funds are not available to offset the increase in costs. This situation forces an evaluation of all alternative health insurance options and financing arrangements that are available to the District and City. 

I have asked the leadership of our City to join us in the examination of three options:

  1. Combining District and City for the purpose of self-insurance (currently, the School District and City are self-insured separately).

  2. Having the City assume the health insurance costs of all municipal employees beginning in 2017-18 (a model in place in New Haven). Under these circumstances, the City would not need a separate self-insurance reserve fund and the District would contribute its remaining health insurance reserve fund balance to offset City costs.

  3. Entering separately or with the City into the State 2.0 Health Insurance plan for employees of Connecticut cities, towns and school districts. This fully insured plan has provided significant savings for other school districts and municipalities.

The crises in health insurance can only be solved with a present-day structural solution and collaboration between governmental entities.

The remainder of the budget request for FY 2017-18 is modest, educationally value oriented and permits the District to make progress in meeting the ambitious goals for student achievement that the Board laid out in its Strategic Operating Plan. 

This budget introduces the concept of a supplemental appropriation request for enrollment growth. While the growth that Norwalk is experiencing is certainly a positive sign of economic strength, growth carries with it costs for the school system that must be addressed. Unlike most other towns and cities in Connecticut, Norwalk’s student population is increasing. Since 2016, we have seen our student population increase by 151.  At an average cost per student of approximately $16,800, this requires a special enrollment appropriation of $2,537,102. This appropriation will be used to fund 7 additional general education teachers and necessary services to English language learners, “unaccompanied minors” and special needs students. Funding to educate a greater number of students would be requested only as long as the number of students continue to increase, in proportion to the increase.

The recommended budget requests $3,978,051 or 2.3% to fund priority implementation steps outlined in the District’s Strategic Operating Plan. These education improvements include increasing the high school per pupil allocation at least to the same level as the middle schools so that we can reduce the number of high school students involuntarily assigned to study halls; funding our intra-district magnet schools with a $1,000 per student supplement, so that schools can make their magnet programs more robust; and moving the salaries of school security guards from the Priority School District grant to the local budget, so that the Priority School District funds can be used for their intended purpose of funding Tier II and Tier III interventions necessary to close the achievement gap.

The recommended budget is designed to make further headway in closing both the external achievement gap between Norwalk student achievement and State average student achievement, and the internal achievement gap of Norwalk’s high need students. The budget does this by continuing to reallocate and re-purposing State and Federal grant dollars for activities that have a measurable impact on student performance. In order to fund Tier II and Tier III supports for students, last year we moved a portion of K-3 elementary teacher salaries and funding for Norwalk Pathways Academy at Briggs — both Tier 1 basic instruction which should be funded from the Board’s local operating budget — from the State Priority School District grant to the local budget.  The FY 2017-18 budget continues the effort to remove basic services from our special funds and use all categorical grants for their intended purpose. The funding of school security in the local budget will free up Priority School District grant funds to be used to expand the District’s highly effective Summer School program for struggling students to the fourth and fifth grades (Tier III intervention), and to expand our credit recovery program for 12th grade students to improve the 4-year graduation rate.

The FY 2017-18 budget aligns with the Managed Performance Empowerment (MPE) Theory of Action that was selected by the Board to drive fundamental change in the District. Under MPE, the District defines its relationship with each school on the basis of performance. Higher performing/improving schools are granted greater autonomy, while District-led and prescribed interventions occur in low performing schools or schools that are not improving.

The autonomy granted under Management Performance Empowerment means that most of our schools will exercise greater latitude over how their school’s resources are allocated. Of necessity, therefore, the FY 2017-18 budget process will be a two-stage process similar to 2016-17. The first stage defines the overall level of resources that the District will be requesting from the City for FY 2017-18, and differentiates the portion of the budget that will be expended by the District and the portion that will be controlled by individual schools. The second stage of the budget process will begin in late January, when individual schools through their respective School Governance Councils will determine the allocation of resources that best meets the needs of their students. 

Finally, the FY 2017-18 recommended budget continues the important work of rebuilding the District’s Special Education Department through an unprecedented level of expenditure and better management practices. In the absence of a robust service delivery model that provides special needs students with a continuum of quality special education services, the District has historically defaulted to the practice of either assigning 1:1 para professionals or out-placing students. With the Special Education Development Fund now in place for FY 2016-17 and FY 2017-18, we have started to build greater in-house professional capacity to serve students with exceptional needs, and to implement the recommendations of the CREC program review. While much work remains, we are making positive strides in addressing long-standing shortcomings and strengthening services for students with developmental learning differences.

In summary, the requested FY 2017-18 budget requires a present-day employee health insurance solution to enable the District to continue to improve by implementing the strategies identified in the District’s Strategic Operating Plan. By supporting educational programs and plans to ‘raise the bar and close the gap,’ this budget enables Norwalk Public Schools to move further toward its vision of becoming the most successful City school system in Connecticut.

Sincerely,  

Steven J. Adamowski, PhD
Superintendent of Schools