2018-19 Operating Budget Message

I am pleased to submit our recommended budget for the 2018-19 school year for the Norwalk Public Schools.  The FY 2018-19-budget request is comprised of three distinct components:
  • A foundation budget increase of $4.6 million or 2.5% to cover the cost of labor contract settlements, health insurance increase, transportation, staffing and other contractual increases, including technology-related items;

  • A program improvement appropriation of $5.2 million or 2.8% necessary to implement high-priority educational initiatives outlined in the Strategic Operating Plan;

  • SPED Development Fund initiatives for Year 3 totaling $1.2 million or .65%, anticipated to be funded from a separate, special City appropriation.

The recommended budget is designed to fund the priority implementation steps for FY 2018-19 that the Board laid out in the Strategic Operating Plan.  The Strategic Operating Plan is an ambitious plan designed to raise the bar and close the gaps.  The budget goals that are laid out for the 2018-19 school year include the following seven priorities:

  1. Provide program support for the additional students who have elected to enroll in the District’s Choice (magnet) Programs;

  2. Increase the high school per pupil expenditure in order to eliminate study halls, as part of three-year plan to increase the breadth and depth of the high school program of study and to position the district to implement a 26 credit graduation requirement at our high schools.

  3. Transfer the remaining portion of K-3 classroom teachers and other salary adjustments from State and Federal grants to the local budget as required.

  4. Add a fourth “Specials” teacher at 6 elementary schools, which will allow the District to begin phase-in implementation of the contractual agreement regarding a normal elementary school day;

  5. Add an additional school day to the calendar and an additional 30 minutes to the elementary school day;

  6. Implement a Music Pilot program to begin instruction in band instruments at Grade 4 & 5 at 3 elementary schools;

  7. Incorporate a special enrollment appropriation for English Language Learners that funds a 30% per pupil supplement for the growing number of English Language Learners

The recommended budget continues to support the development of the District’s Choice Programs, by increasing the Magnet School Supplements by $346,000, based on increased enrollment in these programs.  For the first time, the Media Pathways program at Norwalk High School will be receiving this supplement.   Enrollment increases in these programs necessitates the increase but the amount of the program supplement remains the same at $1,000 per student.  This is a sign that the District’s Choice Programs are meeting the diverse needs and interests of our students.

Reducing mandatory study halls at the District’s high schools was identified last year as a high priority, necessary to increase rigor, the breadth and depth of the high school program of study and ultimately improve lagging SAT scores.  Moreover, the Strategic Operating Plan calls for the District to move to a 26 credit graduation requirement over the next few years competitive with the best high schools in Connecticut.  The hiring of additional teaching staff is necessary to eliminate mandatory study halls beginning in 2018-19, and with a third round of funding will allow the District to increase our graduation requirement to 26 credits for incoming students in the 2019-20 school year.

The FY 2018-19 budget completes another important budget objective when we move the final basic instruction items that were previously paid from grants, into the local budget.  Regular K-3 teachers were formerly funded partially from the Priority School District grant. By moving these expenses to the local budget, we free up these State and Federal grants for their intended purposes.  These grants can now be used to increase Tier II and Tier III supports for students; we know that these supports have been instrumental in the District’s recent success in closing one-third of the achievement gap.

To raise the bar for all students, we know that providing all students with additional instructional time is one of the most important levers we possess.  Norwalk presently has the shortest elementary school day in Fairfield County, and through recent negotiations with the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, we have developed a plan that will allow us to add 30 minutes to the elementary school day.  This plan as negotiated necessitates the addition of a fourth “Specials” teacher at each elementary school to provide daily planning time for teachers.  Therefore, the recommended budget proposes that we add six such positions to phase-in this change at all 12 elementary schools over the next two years.  Likewise, the recommended budget adds the funding for the additional school day that was added to the school calendar.

In addition, the recommended budget funds a pilot program at three elementary schools to begin band instrument lessons in 4th grade, rather than the present District practice of waiting until the 6th grade.  We believe that by starting instrument instruction earlier, we will be able to reduce the number of “pull outs” which occur at the middle school level and lessen the impact on academic instruction, while increasing opportunity for more students to participate in Band.  Currently, Strings instrument lessons being in 3rd grade.

And finally, the recommended budget introduces a special enrollment appropriation for English Language Learners, by funding a 30% supplement for the growth in the ELL student population in the past year.  Norwalk’s ELL population increased by 98 students from 2016  to 2017, and since 10/1/2017, the District’s ELL population has grown by an additional 38 students.  In recognition of the additional expense associated with serving our ELL population, the recommended budget incorporates a 30% differential for the cost of services for these 136 new students.

The autonomy granted to School Governance Councils under Board Policy enables our schools to exercise greater latitude over how their school’s resources are allocated in relation to their improvement plan.  Therefore, the FY 2018-19 budget process will continue to be a two-stage process.  The first stage defines the overall level of resources that the District will be requesting from the City for FY 2018-19, and differentiates the portion of the budget that will be controlled by the District Office and the portion that will be controlled by individual schools through a per student allocation.  The second stage of the budget process will begin in February when individual schools and their respective School Governance Councils will determine the allocation of resources that best meets the needs of their students. 

In addition, the FY 2018-19 recommended budget continues the important work of rebuilding the District’s Special Education Department.  In the absence of a robust service delivery model that provides special needs students with a continuum of quality special education services, the District historically defaulted to the expensive practice of either assigning 1:1 para professionals or out-placing students.  Over the past two years, through the funding provided by the SPED Development Fund, the District has made good progress in reversing that practice and developing in-house capacity to serve our special needs students.  We will build upon this progress and expand our in-house programs further under the recommended FY 2018-19 budget.  The District and the City will enter discussions over the funding of the SPED Development Fund for FY 2018-19.  This Budget request assumes that the City will fund the $1.2 million for the third year via a special appropriation.

 In conclusion, the requested FY 2018-19 budget moves the District forward by implementing the strategies identified in the District’s Strategic Operating Plan.  By supporting programs and plans to ‘raise the bar and close the gaps,’ this budget enables Norwalk Public Schools to continue to progress toward its stated goal to become the most successful City school system in Connecticut.

Steven J. Adamowski, PhD.
Superintendent of Schools