Correction, 5:57 p.m. Dec. 12: Teacher dollar increase was incorrect. Teacher salary increase accounts for $3.1 millon. Also, an attachment of the first draft budget document has been added at the end of the story.
NORWALK, Conn. – Shortly before the Nov. 5 election, Board of Education member Mike Barbis, who was not up for re-election, said he suspected the 2014-15 school budget would be at least $4 to $5 million more than the 2013-2014 budget, and probably more. Superintendent Manny Rivera’s first-pass budget presented Tuesday night to the BOE’s Finance Committee was nearly $6 million more than the current budget, a 3.6 percent hike.
When the BOE meets Dec. 17, the figures will likely be different.
Rivera told the committee he is continuing to pursue grants that could bring down costs and add services. He said it is possible he could hear by Dec. 17 whether Norwalk will be getting a Race to the Top grant potentially worth millions of dollars.
Rivera and Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl walked the committee through the budget draft with a Power Point presentation that showed where the money goes and where the savings are. Rivera also gave the group an overview of his grand plan for improving the Norwalk Public School system, ranked tops among Norwalk’s eight largest cities by Connecticut magazine but lagging behind state averages in standardized test scores.
Rudl pointed out that 84 percent of the budget goes to salaries and benefits. Because teacher pay was frozen this year in an arbitration decision, the union will receive a 4 percent increase in salary and benefits in 2014-15, accounting for $3.1 million of the $5.84 million proposed budget increase.
An item labeled “other bargaining group increases accounts for $1.5 million more and includes increases caused by aid cuts due to the federal sequester, plus the salary for the new communications director and other new positions, he said. Another $600,000 increase was caused in part by the addition of five new vans needed for out-of-district transportation for special needs students, and another $300,000 was attributed to out-of-district tuition for special needs students, Rudl said.
Rivera said he wants to look into providing more special education services within the district to cut down on the need to send students elsewhere.
Excess Medicaid funds and grant re-allocations created a $1.62 million savings, and another $1.26 million was cut by going through the budget line by line, trimming six positions (three of which were vacant), changing vendors cutting back on supplies.
NancyOnNorwalk contacted Rivera Wednesday night, but he declined to answer questions about the budget draft.
“I made a presentation to the Board Finance Committee,” he said in an email. “There were questions raised which we are responding to. I will then make my formal presentation to the full Board next Tuesday, and there will be more questions raised. We will develop our responses for the Board.”
The presentation included estimates for the budgets for 2015-16 and 2016-17, based on a same-services model and assuming similar levels of aid, grants, expenses, benefits and salary increases. The increases were $8 million in 2015-16 (a 4.7 percent hike) and a $6,074,000 jump in 2016-17, or 3.5 percent. The prime drivers of the bigger increase in 2015-16 are an expected benefit cost increase and professional and technical services.
Those numbers in the second and third years of the budget are likely to change due to collective bargaining, the pursuit of more grants and outside funding and the possibility of bringing more special education services in-district.
Rivera also pointed to Title 1 funding available for schools with a high number of students on free and reduced-price lunches as a potential source of funding to bring down the increase.
Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion said the plan was a “sigh of relief,” and that he is optimistic.
“I think it’s a cohesive budget, well thought out, well directed, well positioned and it sets us a plan, not just for one year but for multiple years,” he said. “All the detail is not there yet but they probably will come in time.”
Budget presentation: First draft budget 12-10-13