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NPS Corrects City Finance Director Info

NPS Corrects Inaccurate Information Presented to Common Council and BET by City Finance Director on City and School Budgets
Posted on 02/13/2020
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At the Board of Education Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday, February 12, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Tom Hamilton responded to inaccurate information presented earlier in the week by City of Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz. 

Describing the City Finance Director’s budget analysis as misleading and inaccurate, Hamilton outlined where the analysis misrepresents Norwalk’s education budget, per pupil spending, and the share of the total City budget that is devoted to education, among other errors.

THE CITY’S BUDGET ANALYSIS MISREPRESENTS THE EDUCATION BUDGET

Net Expenditures and Inclusion of ECS:In calculating City “net” expenditures, the City Finance Director attributed all non-tax revenue to the benefit of the City, and none of the revenue, including Education Cost Sharing (ECS) revenue from the State, to the benefit of the education side of the budget.This artificially and inaccurately understates the City side of the budget and overstates the Board of Education portion of the budget. 

Overstating Total Expenditures By Including All Grants:  In calculating the Board of Education’s total expenditures, it is inappropriate to add all categorical grants, for all purposes, to the Board of Ed’s local expenditures. Doing so overstates K-12 public education expenditures in Norwalk.The Finance Director has failed to use the same standards and methodology on the City side of the budget by not disclosing and applying the same treatment to millions of dollars in grants that are received by the City. 

For example: $5.4 million State School Readiness Grants for private Pre-K providers are included in the Finance Director’s “education expenditures,” despite the fact that this grant is not used to support K-12 education. However, a $650,000 CDBG grant for the City is not included in the City budget. 

The Board of Education budget transparently lists all categorical grants received; the City budget does not disclose millions in categorical grants received by the City.

By law, categorical grants are restricted to specific uses and purposes. They typically must be spent in strict accordance with an approved grant application and come with restrictions, including “non-supplanting” requirements that specify grant funds cannot replace local budget expenditures; “maintenance of local effort” requirements; and the requirement that funds must be segregated from the school district’s general fund operating budget. 

Inflated Estimates of Per Pupil Spending: By using his own formula, the City Finance Director’s analysis understates City spending and overstates education spending, generating inflated and incorrect estimates of per pupil spending, making the claim that the Board of Education consumes more than 70% of the local budget grossly inaccurate.The State Department of Education compiles comprehensive expenditure data for all school districts in Connecticut, providing the most comprehensive, accurate and comparable data on per pupil expenditures. 

STRUCTURAL AND OTHER CHALLENGES PRESENTED ARE MISLEADING

Line Item Control:  In Connecticut, Board of Education budgets are not subject to line item control by the state’s cities and town’s. Norwalk’s independently elected Board of Education is directly accountable to the voters, and is responsible for setting priorities and making resource allocation decisions

Serving Newly Arrived Children: Calculation of total budget increase compared to revised approved budget is based on the understanding that the special appropriation for the unexpected increase in English Learners and expenses funded from carryover funds are ongoing and will need to continue in the 2020-21 budget.

In-Kind Services: NPS does not ignore In-Kind Services provided by the City, such as School Resource Officers (SROs).  We report these to the State as required on the EFS system, and these are included in State calculations of per pupil expenditures.

Debt Service: NPS does not ignore debt service.  This is budgeted in the City budget in accordance with statewide practice and is reported to the State through the Connecticut Educational Financial System (EFS).  For more details on EFS, see below.  The City’s $3 million debt service fund is held separate in the City budget, and is a source of budget flexibility beyond the current $69 million in Norwalk’s “Rainy Day Fund,” the largest unallocated fund in the state.

State Grants:  NPS does not ignore revenue from State grants. Unlike the City, the Board of Education adopts formal budgets for all grants, and includes these grants under the “All Funds” tab of the District budget document.  The City makes no disclosure anywhere of its grants, except in the Annual State/Federal Single Audit released six months after the year is over.  Board of Ed grants are reported to the State under the EFS system, and grants that provide K-12 educational services are included in State calculations of per pupil expenditures, per State policy.

Line Item Analysis:  While the City is not responsible for conducting a line-by-line analysis of the Board of Education budget, NPS regularly does so, scrutinizing Norwalk’s education budget for savings, efficiencies, and elimination of one-time costs. One example is funds for the 2020 Superintendent Search, which was budget in FY 2019-20, but eliminated in 2020-21. 

CAPITAL BUDGET ISSUES ARE MISSTATED

Proposal for a New Norwalk High School: NPS and the Board of Ed handled this in accordance with discussions held in January with Mayor Harry Rilling and in alignment with the City Code.  When Educational Specifications have been approved by the Board of Ed, and cost estimates and architectural schematics are complete, the Mayor has the opportunity under the City Code to add the project.  The City Finance Director does not have the authority to revise a budget request approved by the elected Board of Education

Indoor Air Quality Recommendations – Serious concerns have been raised over the past few years by the Norwalk Federation of Teachers and others.  Nearby Districts including Stamford and Westport have experienced catastrophic consequences from ignoring mold and other indoor air quality concerns

Cybersecurity Review and Technology Funding:  Mr. Dachowitz eliminated all funding for educational technology from the capital budget for the next five years, including funding for Chromebooks and for implementing the recommendations of the recent cybersecurity review

Norwalk High Marching Band Scaffolding:  The Finance Director misrepresented the district’s thinking and decision-making about installing a safe scaffold solution for the Norwalk Marching Band’s needs, as well as the cost of the five-year lease purchase option chosen.  

A Common Council Finance Committee public hearing on the FY 2020-21 operating budget is scheduled for February 20 at 6:30 pm in the Common Council Chambers. The Board of Estimate and Taxation is scheduled to hold a public hearing on March 18.  All are welcome to attend and sign up to speak. 

 

ADDENDUM:  ABOUT THE CONNECTICUT EDUCATIONAL FINANCIAL SYSTEM (EFS) 

The Educational Financial System (EFS) is the statewide system through which all Connecticut school districts comprehensively report their expenditures in State-mandated categories and format:

  • Expenditures reported by funding source, education type, object code, function code, and location
  • Benefits and other expenses are allocated across the District
  • In-Kind City expenses are reported, allocated, and included in per pupil expenditure calculations
  • Specialized schedules are prepared to report various components of expenditure: Special Education, Food Services, Transportation, Capital Expenses and Debt Service, Tuition, Federal Funding, State Funding, and local funding
  • The State system is designed specifically to gather and report data in a uniform format so that comparisons across school districts can be made, including per pupil expenditure comparisons
  • EFS data is audited by the City’s external auditors
  • The State exercises no such oversight over municipal spending, so there is no Statewide equivalent for towns and cities

     

    Per Pupil Expenditures (PPE) under the EFS include the following elements:

     

  • Elementary and secondary education expenditures from local appropriations and other local sources
  • Elementary and secondary education expenditures from federal funds not in local appropriation
  • Elementary and secondary education expenditures from State funds not in local appropriation
  • Elementary and secondary education expenditures from private funds not in local appropriation
  • Regular Education, Special Education, most transportation expenditures
  • In-Kind City services to Board of Education

     

    Under EFS rules, excluded Items are the same across all school districts statewide:

  • Special education transportation services on special education vehicles
  • Tuition received by the Board of Education or town for regular or special education or other fee based programs
  • Food Services expenses not funded by local appropriated funds
  • Debt service
  • Capital Expenses
  • Adult Education
  • Community Services
  • State contributions to State Teachers Retirement System