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Posted Date: 03/09/2023
The budget proposed by Norwalk Public Schools for the 2023-2024 school year is a budget that we have anticipated for the last two years. We have spent an extensive amount of time in its development so that it is both educationally sound and fiscally responsible.
The budget recommendation made to the Board of Education and approved by its members on Dec. 20, 2022 reflects a need to continue providing the same caliber of service and excellence to our students as we’ve done throughout the pandemic.
The base budget request asks for a 5.0% increase. The superintendent’s total budget proposal is a 12.7% increase, which takes into account several pressing needs that have resulted from the pandemic and the current economic climate. With this budget, we intend to maintain our programs and retain the staff that our students and families have come to rely on.
With the mayor’s recommendation of a 4 percent increase, announced at the Common Council’s Finance & Claims Committee meeting on Feb. 9, we can’t even address our simplest obligation to pay the salaries and benefits of our staff. It also completely ignores the needs stated over and over again to address the expiration of ESSER funds and the ever-increasing costs of specialized education.
In building the 2023-2024 budget, we looked at a number of factors contributing to our request, none more so than the federal funds received through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grants.
The Effects of Pandemic Learning Linger
The expiring ESSER dollars have allowed us to provide needed social and emotional support for our students as they transitioned back to in-person learning on a daily basis. The funds also have helped us to accelerate the learning of our students given what they’ve lost throughout the pandemic.
These challenges will not end when we exhaust our ESSER dollars. They will continue to be areas of need to ensure the academic success of all our students moving forward. In using Connecticut’s ESSER dollars, we heeded the call from the state education department to think boldly and create transformative programs for the students of Connecticut.
We are requesting a 3.0% increase to reinstate school counselor and social worker positions back into the local budget that we have covered with ESSER funds over the last two years. These positions existed pre-pandemic and were only temporarily moved to ESSER funding to address the flat funding of the local budget in 2021-2022.
The state expected us to use part of the grant to support the social and emotional health of our students. These positions were key in providing that support and after the flat funding, we shifted these positions under the grant to ensure these individuals did not lose their jobs in the midst of the pandemic.
School counselors and social workers serve as our first responders in addressing students’ mental health concerns and behavioral problems. The 2021 Youth Survey conducted by The Norwalk Partnership found 39% of middle and high school students were struggling with depression and 13% had contemplated suicide.
The addition of math and reading improvement teachers has helped us accelerate the learning of our students to address the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic. We are requesting a 1.7% increase to retain these positions.
Again, the expectation set by the state in regards to the ESSER funds was to use part of the grant to mitigate learning loss. This couldn’t be done with a one-time programming expenditure. The interventions needed to be delivered by people who could provide the necessary tiered instruction for students who were identified through data.
In many cases, the pandemic did not create these issues but only exacerbated them. These fundamental resources are common in districts similar to Norwalk and need to be incorporated as a recurring item in our budget.
Specialized Learning Costs Increase
The fourth component of the 2023-2024 budget request is a 2.9% increase in response to rising costs for special education services.
Our district is proud to serve many of our students with special needs in their home schools through programs such as STARS, SUCCESS and PINE as well as our 18-22 programming, Next Steps and Project Search.
We have calculated an increase of $6.3 million for special education. The main drivers contributing to the cost increases of specialized learning include:
Norwalk Public Schools is legally required to provide these special education services to fulfill the needs of a students’ individual education plan (IEP) whether that’s in the district or by an outside provider.
Education Is a People Business with High Quality Teachers and Staff Our Most Important Resources
Teachers and staff are the most important resource available for delivering a high quality education. As a result, salaries and benefits will always be the largest category of every school system’s operating budget. Again, close to 85% of our budget will go directly to classroom and school services that benefit our students and provide family support.
We have asked an extraordinary amount from our teachers and staff over the last two years, and we will need each and every one of them to continue their incredible work to ensure the academic success of all our students.
The Work Continues
In constructing this budget, we spent countless days and weeks finding every way possible to ensure we provide our students with the educational services they are entitled to and that we remain cognizant of the impact our budget has on taxpayers and the lives of our community members.
As we engage in the next steps of the budget process, we look forward to a collaborative and positive conversation about appropriately and adequately investing in the staffing, resources and educational programs needed for our children. We are grateful for the support of our teachers, staff, families, students, community partners and elected officials. Working together, we can ensure ALL children receive the education they deserve.
The chart below shows the historic funding of the local portion of the Norwalk Public Schools budget. Going back to FY2016, Norwalk Public Schools operating budget was averaging an increase of approximately 4 percent until the district was flat funded or given a zero percent increase in FY22.
At that time, Norwalk Public Schools and many other entities around the country started to see an influx of federal dollars from pandemic relief funds. A decision was made by the City of Norwalk, in order to provide relief to taxpayers, to not fully fund the increase asked of Norwalk Public Schools. If the pandemic had not occurred and we had continued on that funding trajectory, NPS would have received an increase of 3.8 percent for FY 22 and an increase of 4.3 percent for FY23.
Because we deviated from that funding trajectory, NPS would need at least an 8.5 percent increase this year (FY24) to get us back on track.
“When these conversations were taking place two years ago, we knew this day was coming,” said Lunda Asmani, Chief Financial Officer of Norwalk Public Schools, at the Dec. 20, 2022 Norwalk Board of Education business meeting. “My predecessor had talked about this day and used various terms to define this time, and here we are. It’s not unforeseen for us to be where we are.”
2023-2024 City of Norwalk/Norwalk BOE Budget Calendar (updated Feb. 23, 2023)
The General Fund Budget comprises the general purpose functions of the Board of Education. The BOE-approved budget recommendation of $245.5 million for FY 2023-2024 represents a 12.7 percent increase over the FY 2022-2023 budget of $217.9 million. The General Fund accounts for 84.5 percent of all BOE operating expenses and is funded through the city of Norwalk’s General Fund.
The other fund balances managed by the BOE are the Grant Fund and the School Lunch Fund.
See below for a breakdown of the General Fund expenditures (how local tax dollars are spent) since FY2020.
Enrollment Remains Steady, High Needs Students Increase
Student enrollment numbers for Norwalk Public Schools has remained steady over the last five years, but the percentage of high needs students has increase from 54 percent in FY2014-2015 to 68 percent in FY2022-2023. High needs refers to the following subgroups: economically disadvantaged (eligible for free and reduced lunch), English learners (our multilingual learners), or students with disabilities.
The Connectiuct State Department of Education reported for the 2021-2022 school year, the per pupil cost (the average cost to educate a student) for Norwalk Public Schools was $21,396. The increase in high needs students translates to higher per student support cost, and the state has raised the threshold of when it will start reimbursing the district for those costs from $88,000 during the 2021-2022 school year to $96,000 during the 2022-2023 school year.
Once the threshold is reached, the reimbursement rate is 70 percent. See the examples below of when reimbursement would kick in currently and in the year prior.
What are the FY2023-2024 projected number of out-of-district students and what will be the impact?
The number of out-of-district students continues to rise, even higher than originally projected for FY2022-2023 approved operating budget. There are several drivers causing this increase including students moving into Norwalk Public Schools from other district with current IEP placement recommendations or with new mental health needs arising post-pandemic which are not supported by existing programs in the district.
The chart belows illustrates the increase and trend from the FY22-23 approved budget of 95 students and approximately $9 million in expenditures with a projected increase of over $1.5 million as of December 2022 and growing. The forecasted FY23-24 budget is based on 110 students and approximately $11 million in expenditures which, based on the current trends, may fall short for next year.
What is at risk should the requested budget not be approved?
Simply put, everything is at risk – all programming and personnel outside of classroom instruction (band, orchestra, theater, middle and high school sports, field trips, department chairs), resources that provide individual attention to students (aides, interventionists, paraprofessionals, school counselors, and teachers). Any individual attention a child is receiving in our schools today will be significantly reduced next year under this budget recommendation.
The data points below provide some more context to school funding.
Why was the Superintendent’s recommended budget and the Board of Education's approved budget nearly the same?
The NPS budget development process is an 8-phase process (see below). The superintendent’s budget recommendation is made in consultation and with BOE input. The final version of the superintendent’s recommended budget is similar to the BOE’s tentatively approved budget because it is a collaborative process.
The original budget request for 2023-2024 was $258.6 million which represented an 18.7 percent increase. Through the budget development process, the request was reduced to $250.2 million for a 14.9 percent increase then to the current BOE approved request of $245.5 million or a 12.7 percent.
Operating Budget Drivers
The four main drivers are listed below.
Special Education & Base Budget Drivers
The charts below shows the drivers for Special Education and drivers for the Base Budget.
Expiring ESSER Funds Drivers
The chart below shows the drivers for the expiring Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) federal grant funds. Category A expenses were used to fund existing school counselors and social workers that were previously funded with local funds but due to a zero percent increase (flat funding) of the FY2020-2021 budget, these positions had to be funded by grants.
Category B positions were added positions to address existing student learning needs in the district. With the passing of the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021, federal funding was released for use in updating, renovating and reopening schools in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. The main objective of ESSER funding was to help alleviate learning gaps created by the school-from-home model used during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While ESSER funds are federally apportioned funds available for use by local school districts, the funds were accessed by state agencies. With that in mind, connecting projects back to a positive impact on student learning experiences, social emotional learning and accessibility improved the odds of funding request success.
Click here for more on employee benefits and how they are impacted by ESSER Funds.
For more information on improvement teachers and testimonials on their efficacy, visit https://norwalkps.org/540240_3?articleID=125830.
Download the PDF version of this infographic.
Can we have a Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staffing breakout by line item?
The chart below shows the FTE staffing for FY2021-2022, FY2022-2023 (the current year), and FY2023-2024 (next year) based on how Norwalk Public Schools categorizes positions. The project level detail for the below data can be found on pages 74-79 of the FY2023-2024 budget book. Not all of the pay objects on lines 100-145 on page 39 are tied to positions.
Why are we continuing to fund initiatives if State Accountability scores were down for the 2021-2022 school year compared to pre-pandemic levels?
Norwalk’s State Accountablity scores ranked NPS as the number one city in the state, and our total score was a fraction of a point below the entire state average. While scores were down compared to pre-pandemic scores, no town or city in the state has returned their scores to pre-pandemic numbers.
Norwalk’s score was largely impacted by absenteeism, a metric that has suffered across the state. To address this metric specifically, Norwalk launched the Twilight School and Virtual Academy, and enhanced pathway offerings (theme/magnet programs) that are proven to increase student engagement.
Click here to watch a presentation on Norwalk’s Next Generation Accountability Index scores for 2021-2022.
What are the Future Ready programs – Twilight School and Virtual Academy?
Twilight is the only option for many of our students who could potentially drop out of school. The program successfully graduated over 20 students during the 2021-2022 school year and is projected to do the same during the 2022-2023 school year. Twilight has reengaged students through its small supportive environment where students receive wrap-around services with NPS support staff.
Currently, 37 students are enrolled in the program. They recently finished midterm exams. The students all presented to a panel and were able to reflect on past behaviors and their growth since enrolling in Twilight.
Additional program highlights:
Twilight & Virtual Academy
How was the NPS Family Center funded, and why is it necessary if the city always existed without one?
The start up of the Family Center was funded by grants. Norwalk Public Schools is paying $250,000 to lease the space at 1 Park St. We were previously leasing space in that building for $55,000 to house the Project SEARCH program. That cost is now embedded in our total lease. The net incremental cost of operating the Family Center is approximately $195,000 or $16,250 monthly incremental.
The NPS Family Center serves as a centralized location where members of our community can have equitable access and opportunities. This allows the community to become more engaged with and more informed about Norwalk Public Schools and community resources. The NPS Family Center helps integrate new community members by providing support with school registration, family engagement, early childhood, specialized learning, MLL education, health services, transportation, food services, technology, and access to other city agencies. Our wide-ranging services are in response to the growing community need and continued efforts to support all families and schools.
The chart below shows the services provided at the Family Center. To learn more why the NPS Family Center is necessary, click here.
What is contributing to the more than $800,000 increase in the 300 series – Professional & Technical Services?
Pages 35-38 in the FY2023-2024 budget book provide a narrative of the budget drivers by each major object. Below is a chart showing the complete list of significant drivers for the 300 series of accounts which includes line item 330 (Other Professional Technical Services), shown on page 40 of the budget book. The total of the 300 series increase for FY2023-2024 over FY2022-2023 is $1.5 million, which is predominately driven by line item 330.
What is Project SEARCH?
The Project SEARCH program at Norwalk Hospital is a partnership between Norwalk Public Schools, Ability Beyond Disabilities, Nuvance Health and Project SEARCH. It is a one-year employment preparation/transition program for young people with significant intellectual and development disabilities that takes place entirely at Norwalk Hospital. The NPS Project SEARCH partners facilitate an integrated combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through three 10-week worksite roations with the hospital. The program culminates in individualized job development with the goal of competitive employment for the interns.
NPS Project SEARCH also has a program with Norwalk Community College. Like the hospital internships, students are totally immersed in the workplace which facilitates the teaching and learning process, while acquiring employability and marketable work skills.
The district currently has a contract with Ability Beyond Disabilities worth $255,000 per year to assist NPS in running the Project SEARCH program. We also open the Project SEARCH program to other districts and the state that have students that fit within the program. We charge the other districts and the state an annual tuition rate of $41,000 for a full-time student and account for this tuition as revenue toward program expenditures.
For more information, click here.
How many custodians are retiring next year? Which schools are moving to outsourced services?
At this time, we don’t have any formal custodian retirements. All schools except for the four high schools and two elementary schools (Cranbury and Naramake) outsource for custodial services. Although the FY2023-2024 budget does not assume any new schools will be outsourced, there is a potential for an additional school to be outsourced during FY23-24.
We do not defund custodial positions from the budget in order to shift funding to outsourcing until we are certain that the outsourcing/retirements will occur.
What are the recent and future general wage increases (GWIs) for the Norwalk Association of School Administrators’ (NASA) contract?
The current NASA contract period is for 2 percent. The settle and unsettled general wage increase are include on page 88 (slide 9) of the FY2023-2024 budget book. See the reproduced chart below that also includes the assumed individual health premium cost share percentages.
What is the average salary for teachers, the read/writing improvement teachers, school counselors and social workers?
Our teachers and other certified staff, paraeducators, school counselors and social workers are the largest combined categories of Norwalk Public Schools employees. They account for 83 percent of the employee base. Their average salaries are as followed:
Why have there been recent changes to the math and reading curriculum?
A new math curriulum was introduced in 2020 because the previous one expired. In 2014, the district adopted Journey for the reading curriulum but Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) discontinued the program in 2020. The district then adopted Wonders 2020 as the new reading curriculum.
Has the superintendent or the Norwalk mayor appealed to state legislatures to bring more state funding to Norwalk Public Schools?
The mayor and the superintendent maintain open lines of communication to all statewide and national legislative delegation members in exploring funding and partnership opportunities for city and community program needs.
How is Norwalk Public Schools arrived at only a 1 percent increase for electricity costs next year given macro trends on electricity?
Due to a shortage of data, the electricity budget for FY2023-2024 was built based on a review of FY2023-2022 actuals and a review of FY2022-2023 year to date. We are closely monitoring this account and as we get closer to approving the final BOE reconciled budget, we will likely need to revise this number.
What is the tax impact per household for the BOE operating budget request for FY24?
The chart below details how the BOE budget for FY 2023 translates to the average tax bill for households in each taxing district. The first line shows the median home value in each district as of 2019. The next three lines shows the portion of the tax bill that is BOE vs City and the grand total. The final three lines show the impact on a monthly basis.
Can you please share the impact of the special education program coverage increasing from age 21 to age 22?
Due to the outcome of the state court case AR vs. the Connecticut State Board of Education in 2020, this new law in CT dictates that special education eligibility has increased coverage up to age 22. The incremental impact on the 2022-23 school year budget and beyond is over $1 million. This is an additional cost to the district which did not exist prior to the change in this law.
How are In-kind services and related expenditures reported publicly since the city pays for certain services such as accounting and legal on behalf of the school district.
In-kind expenditures reported in EFS are for services provided by other municipal agencies which directly support the public elementary and secondary educational programs of the school district. The school district reports these expenditures based on documentation obtained from the town’s chief municipal officer or designee. These expenditures are part of the per pupil expenditures published by the CSDE.
The Education Finance System (EFS) is a financial data collection system to be used by local and regional boards of education, including charter schools and regional educational service centers (RESCs), to report data to the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) in a comparable format statewide. Sections 10-224 and 10-227 of the Connecticut General Statutes provide the legal authority for CSDE to collect financial data from local education agencies (LEAs) for reporting purposes.
Joint BOE Finance Committee/Common Council Finance & Claims Committee Meeting, Nov. 9, 2022
BOE Finance Committee Meeting, Jan. 11, 2023
Joint BOE Finance Committee/Common Council Finance & Claims Committee Meeting, Jan. 12, 2023
BOE Meeting, Jan. 17, 2023 (Superintendent’s Report – Budget Update)
BOE Meeting, Jan. 17, 2023 (Committee Report – Ad Hoc Special Education)
Common Council Finance & Claims Committee Meeting, Feb. 9, 2023 (Mayor’s FY2024 Recommended Budget)
Board of Estimate & Taxation Meeting, Feb. 13, 2023 (Presentation of FY2023-24 Recommended Operating Budget)
Common Council Special Meeting, Feb. 14, 2023 (Presentation of FY2023-24 Recommended Operating Budget)
Common Council Finance & Claims Committee Public Hearing, Feb. 23, 2023 (FY2023-24 Recommended Operating Budget)
Common Council Meeting, Feb. 28, 2023 (FY2023-24 Operating Budget and Cap Review)
Common Council Special Meeting, March 7, 2023 (Establishing the FY2023-24 Operating Budget Cap)
FY2023-2024 Capital Budget Request vs. City CFO Recommendation
FY2023-2024 Operating Budget (Tentative Approved)
Superintendent Recommended Budget (BOE Approved 12/20/22) – Presentation
FY2023-2024 Operating Budget – Presentation
NPS Family Center is the Heart of Norwalk Community – Op-Ed
South Norwalk Neighborhood School Is a Need – Op-Ed
Budget Message from Norwalk Board of Education – Op-Ed
Budget Message from Superintendent and Norwalk BOE – Op-Ed
Now Is Not the Time to Give Our Students Less – Op-Ed
An Open Letter to Students – Your Voice Matters – Op-Ed
Budget Message from Superintendent and Norwalk BOE Executive Cmte – Op-Ed
|Glossary of Terms|
|Accounting Services||Records and procedures which record, classify, and report information on the financial position and operation of the City.|
|Asset||Resource held by the City which has a monetary value.|
|A comprehensive investigation of the manner in which the government's resources were actually utilized.|
|Board of Education (BOE)||The governing body of the District consisting of nine elected members serving four year staggered terms.|
|Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET)||The Budget-making authority for the City of Norwalk.|
|BoardDocs||The District's e-governance website|
|Budget||A financial plan for a specified period of time (fiscal year) that matches all planned revenues and expenditures with various municipal services.|
|Budget Calendar||The schedule of key dates which City departments follow in the preparation, adoption, and administration of the budget.|
|Budget Document||The instrument used by the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) to present a comprehensive financial statement.|
|Budget to Budget (B to B)||Typically used to refer to a year over year comparison of budget data.|
|Capital Equipment||A budget category which includes items having a unit cost of more than $10,000 and an estimated useful life of more than three years.|
|Capital Improvements||A permanent major addition of more than $25,000 to the City's real property assets, including the design, construction, and purchase of land, buildings or facilities, or a major renovation of the same in.|
|Capital Plan||The 15-year plan of proposed capital projects.|
|Certified Non-Instructional||A class of District employees comprising of the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief Human Resources Officer.|
|Department||A major administrative section of the City which indicates overall management responsibility for an operation or a group of related operations within a functional area (usually comprised of one or more divisions).|
|Encumbrance||The commitment of appropriated funds to purchase an item or service. To encumber funds means to set aside or commit funds for a future disbursement.|
|ESSER||American Rescue Plan Act 2021 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund|
|Expenditure||Decreases in net financial resources. The outflow of funds for an asset obtained or goods and services provided regardless of when the expense is actually paid.|
|Expenses||Decreases in net total assets. Expenses represent the total cost of operations during a period regardless of the timing of the related expenditures.|
|Fiscal Year||The time period designated by the City signifying the beginning and ending period for recording financial transactions. For the City of Norwalk, this is July 1 through June 30.|
|Fixed Charges||Any type of expense that recurs on a regular basis but generally refers to settlements of claims and judgments.|
|Full-time Equivalent (FTE)||Staffing is presented in Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) as opposed to count of full-time employees. FTE generally includes full-time employees with at least a single assignment of .50 or greater.|
|Fund||An accounting entity that has a set of self-balancing accounts and that records all financial transactions for specific activities or government functions.|
|Fund Balance||The excess of assets over liabilities.|
|General Fund||The largest fund within the City of Norwalk, which accounts for all of the financial resources and liabilities of the government except those required to be accounted for in another fund. General Fund revenues include property taxes, licenses and permits, intergovernmental revenue, service charges, and other types of revenue. This fund also includes most of the basic operating services, such as general government, public safety (fire and police), public works, health, social services, libraries, museum, parks and recreation, schools and general administration.|
|Grant||A contribution by a government or other organization to support a particular function.|
|Levy||The taxes, special assessments or service charges imposed by the City to support activities.|
|Line-Item Budget||A budget that lists each expenditure category (salaries, material, supplies, etc.) separately, along with the dollar amount budgeted for each specific category.|
|Major Object Classification||A budget category which captures the costs associated with a specific group of expenditures i.e., personal services, services other than personal, supplies and materials, etc.|
|Management & Confidential (M&C)||A small class of employees that are non-represented, generally including District level Specialists and Directors.|
|Mill Rate||The amount of tax stated in terms of mills (three decimal points) of the tax base.|
|Object of Expenditure||A line item expenditure related to a particular expenditure within a major object classification e.g., New Positions is a major object code within Personal Services.|
|Operating Budget||Annual appropriation of funds that pertain to daily operations of the City. This includes personal services, materials and supplies, etc.|
|Operating Expenses||Those expenses from a fund which are correctly related to accomplishing the fund's primary functions.|
|Property Tax||Taxes levied on both real and personal property according to the property's valuation and the tax rate.|
|Public School Information System (PSIS)||The Connecticut State Department of Education uses the Public School Information System (PSIS) to collect data regarding student enrollment throughout the state of Connecticut. These data are used for federal and state grants; PSIS data also connect to other CSDE data collection systems.|
|Recommended Budget||Budget presented to the BET from the Budget Committee for approval.|
|Reserve for Restricted Receipt (RRR)||An account used to indicate that a portion of a fund balance is legally restricted for a specific purpose and is therefore not available for general appropriation unless specified in the BET Budget Resolution.|
|Revenue||Funds that are received as income. It includes such items as tax payments, fees for specific services, grants from other governments, fines, grants, shared revenues and interest income.|
|Special Appropriation||A legally authorized expenditure or group of expenditures, granted by a legislative body for a specific purpose or purposes.|
|Tentative Approve Budget||Budget presented to the City by the BOE for BET approval.|