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BOE leader doubts claim about Norwalk budget

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Norwalk Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis is not confident the BOE can begin to rebuild Norwalk Public Schools with the amount of money the city plans to provide in its next budget.

NORWALK, Conn. – Skepticism prevails in the mind of one Norwalk Board of Education member after Tuesday’s Common Council budget vote.

While Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) said Tuesday that the board would be able to fully fund its programs in spite of not receiving its full request in the operating budget, BOE Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis is not so certain.

“How would Kimmel know this?” he said in an email. “How many years has it been since he was on the BOE?  He has no basis for making that statement.”

Barbis also said comments made by Mayor Richard Moccia were “misinformation.”

The council approved a $311,398,238 spending cap for fiscal year 2013-2014, which includes an estimated $16,518,271 in intergovernmental grants. Kimmel estimated that the council was granting the BOE about $500,000 less than it wanted, but said that was the smallest such gap in years.

“I’m confident that come spring we will be very close to fully funding the board of education budget,” Kimmel said, adding that cuts made in other city department budgets would likely make up the difference, and that an unknown amount of funding is coming from the state.

“Kimmel is right in that we have found some cost cutting that could generate several hundred thousand dollars – if we can actually realize these savings, we have yet to determine where we will spend those dollars,” Barbis said in an email. But he said that money would likely go to the transition to Common Core State Standards, a state-mandated switch to a nationwide standard in education.

The state’s reconfigured Educational Cost Sharing formula is an issue; Connecticut Education Commissioner Stefan Prior has said that the money – $2 million for Norwalk – will have to be spent with his approval.

“We have no specifics on this,” Barbis said in an email. “These dollars come with A LOT of strings. When/if these dollars materialize, we will have to review.”

But Kimmel said, “Although we don’t know what Commissioner Pryor’s decision will be on how it should be spent, everyone is pretty sure Common Core will be an acceptable expense for the increased state aid.”

The Common Core funding issue caused Moccia to bristle a bit Tuesday, after several members of the public approached the microphone to urge the council to fully fund the transition.

“I’m not sure how recommending $2.1 million in one year is not funding Common Core,” he said.

Interim Superintendent Tony Daddona requested $2.7 million for Comon Core in the 2013-2014 capital budget; the recommendation drawn up by Finance Director Thomas Hamilton with Moccia’s supervision called for $2.1 million.

“It was my understanding – Mr. Daddona is here – he wouldn’t be able to spend all that 2.7 anyway,” Moccia said, “and we would move the $600,000 to the next year’s budget, over the fiv- year plan.”

Barbis immediately tweeted: “There is some misinformation here. BOE requested capital of $2.8 mm in FY 13/14 and $1.458 mm in FY 14/15.”

Barbis said the city was proposing $2.1 million in 2013-2014 and $1.4 million in 2014-2015. “The $700k wasn’t moved to FY 14/15 as Mayor stated,” he tweeted.

Hamilton said he had recommended additional Common Core funding in next year’s capital budget. “The mayor has a role in the capital budget: After it comes out of the Planning Commission then the mayor makes his recommendation,” he said. “So the mayor may change the numbers in the capital budget.”

“The only year that is a legally adopted budget is just the upcoming year,” he added,

Barbis is still skeptical.

“I will be honest: I do not understand the capital budget process, so maybe there is truth to what Hamilton is saying,” he said in an email. “But … if that is the case, why was the FY 14/15 number trimmed from the original $1.458 million to just $1.4 million?  Why make that change to the recommendation?  I cannot put my finger on it but something doesn’t seem right with this …”

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