NORWALK, Conn. – A surprisingly large amount of money in the Norwalk Board of Education’s piggy bank is expected to be used to keep classroom sizes low this school year and pay down the notorious deficit covered by the city last year.
The proposal on how to spend a $1.6 million 2013-2014 surplus will be sent to the Board of Estimate and Taxation after a unanimous BOE vote Tuesday.
Mayor Richard Moccia indicated that the BET is likely to approve the following plan:
• Three reserve teachers will be hired at a cost of $247,262
• Four classroom aides will be hired at a cost of $122,768
• Textbooks for additional classrooms, at a cost of $60,000
• Eight high school house masters and four middle school assistant principals will return to year round work. The positions were made into 11 month positions during last year’s budget cuts, but are now returning to 12 month positions. The board did not say what the total cost of that would be.
• Repair of two portable classrooms at Jefferson Elementary School at a cost of $200,000
• $500,000 will be applied to the “insurance trust fund,” bringing the deficit stemming from last year’s budget fiasco down to $100,000
Now, where did the money come from?
Lyons said the board knew the surplus was building up at the end of the fiscal year in June, but final numbers came in just last week.
“You can’t finalize your numbers until you’re well after the end of the fiscal year because all sorts of the bills come in that have to be paid on last year’s budget,” he said. “So you don’t want to make any announcements about what the number is because it fluctuates pretty wildly for the first month or so after the fiscal year ends.”
That fluctuating figure was $500,000 at one point, but ended at $2.5 million, he said.
Not so fast.
Interim Chief Operating Officer Rich Rudl said it’s actually $1.6 million, after you take out $900,000 of expenses from the last school year.
“There were a number of items that would have posted to 2012-2013 if it wasn’t for timing issues, contractual obligations, elections of severances to be deferred for January payment,” he said.
Board member Steve Colarossi continued his windmill tilting, protesting the city’s ability to take whatever it wants from the board’s surplus. On June 25, during the board’s reconciliation, Colarossi expressed disappointment that the board could not use any of the $1.2 million that was left in the insurance fund reserve, a result of fewer claims than had been budgeted for. The money was used instead as a repayment of last year’s deficit.
To recap: The BOE had been facing $5.8 million in cuts to then-Superintendent Susan Marks’ proposed operating budget when a $4 million deficit in the insurance accounts was uncovered by then Chief Operating Officer Elio Longo, bringing the needed cuts to nearly $10 million. The $4 million was eliminated, in part, when the BET allowed the BOE to repay $3.1 million over three years.
The $1.2 million grab in June now appears to be followed by a $500,000 grab in August, leaving just $100,000 “owed” to the city.
After a futile attempt to debate Rudl on the topic, Colarossi confirmed with Lyons that the board was asking the BET for permission to use its own money.
“(It’s) like change when we send our children shopping, only the city has more power to take it back than I do with my daughters,” he said.
Lyons reminded him that, under state law, the city determines how much money the board gets. The board can then spend it any way it wants to.
Lyons trumpeted the windfall as the result of “real good job” on the part of Rudl, former interim Superintendent Tony Daddona and Longo.
“They were very proactive with freezes on purchase orders starting last March, very careful with management of some of the building stuff, management of staffing,” he said. “Every month they would come in and give us the budget report. The substitute teachers (expense) was running above budget but that run up meant that we didn’t have to hire full-time positions this year, and that net saved us a lot of money.
He said he hopes to have a surplus next year as well.
“By paying that insurance fund down, then it puts us in the position of next year, if we get a similar insurance (claims) result, we could end up next year possibly with a surplus as well,” he said. “My hope is if we can duplicate it — it probably won’t be as big as this year — it will help us with the following year’s budget, which we know will be tougher because the teachers get a pay raise.”