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Norwalk BoE struggles with state’s unpredictable education funding plans

From left, Norwalk Board of Education member Erik Anderson and BoE Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek on Thursday discuss state budget concerns in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — It looks like Norwalk will be penalized for being fiscally responsible, frustrated Board of Education members said Thursday.

“Here we are, we thought we had a healthy reserve fund balance. We’re saving and it looks like we are going to be penalized for saving,” BoE Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek said, using what little information there is regarding the still uncertain state budget to formulate an opinion.

Gov. Dannel Malloy, suggesting drastic changes in how municipalities are funded, on Aug. 2 sent a letter to Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Secretary Ben Barnes requesting “information and analysis regarding municipal aid, local tax levels, expenditure trends, fund balances, and any other criteria that could better inform our decisions,” to “include both historic trends and current fiscal conditions.”

This followed an executive order that would slash $4.4 million from Norwalk’s education funding, if the legislature does not formulate a budget. The order would also eliminate Priority School District funding, Meek said, estimating that Norwalk stands to need to cut 2 to 3 percent of its 2017-18 budget if things do not change.

Malloy’s letter to Barnes “suggests every municipality should be examined for their reserve fund balance and how that plays into what that ultimately comes up with,” Meek said.

“There are so many unknowns,” Norwalk Public Schools Budget Coordinator Kristen Karzcmit said, explaining that Norwalk gets $1.4 million in Alliance grant money, and in 2016-17 received $3.9 million in Priority Schools District funding.

Meek said it’s “inexplicable is why Norwalk was disproportionately cut compared to Danbury and Stamford.”

“In our DRG (District Reference Group) we got nailed,” BoE member Erik Anderson said.

Stamford is set to lose $1.5 million and Danbury $1.2 million under Malloy’s order.

“It looks less than formulaic,” Meek said. “…I can’t help but think that they saw this healthy reserve fund balance here, which protects our triple a credit rating, and said, ‘Hey, Norwalk can afford a deeper cut than Stamford and Danbury.’”

“I consider myself somewhat politically savvy at this point,” Anderson said. “I cannot understand this whatsoever, there is no formula to follow. There is something very difficult to tell constituents when we are here trying to do the best that we can as a Board of Education… now here we are with what seems an almost arbitrary cut… This is wholly frustrating because this is ultimately going to impact our kids and our families. That’s very disheartening.”

He blamed the state’s Education Committee chairman, State Rep. Andy Fleischmann (D-West Hartford) for not “exactly been following any type of formula.”

“His district continues to get very well reimbursed,” Anderson said.

It’s a question of waiting for the governor to pull the rug out, Meek said.

“If this is a negative for us now what are we going to do with this massive rainy day fund that we have?” Anderson asked. “That is going to be something that we’ll need to discuss with the mayor as we get more concrete facts.”

Karzcmit said NPS built a 20 percent reduction in grant funding into its budget, but Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula funds go to the city, so she didn’t know if a reduction had been planned for.

NPS uses Priority School District money to fund a lot of things, BoE Vice President Mike Barbis said. Everyone knew the Alliance District funding was going to end in a year, but the PSD loss is a major problem.

Karzcmit said she thinks the $4.4 million is the total cut to Norwalk, with the PSD included, but, “I can’t get complete clarification.”

Under Malloy’s order, it looks like Norwalk’s expected $2.8 million will be $1.7 million, Meek said.

Anderson asked Karzcmit if that’s been confirmed.

“I have no idea. I talked to six different people today, and no one knows. No one wants to say anything,” she replied.

Some districts are delaying the opening of school because there is no budget but Norwalk is going ahead, Meek said.

“As of today, we are going with status quo,” Karzcmit said.

Meek said there will be no discussion about possible cuts until September, “giving time hopefully for things to materialize. But it’s something that we can’t ignore. So, September hopefully will be very busy for the legislature in doing what’s right or it will end up being very busy for us figuring out how to manage this hole.”

“We have been in a dire strait with this for quite some time, being underfunded for as long as I can basically remember with ECS,” Anderson said. “I have sympathy for others that are feeling it. It is a different situation that we have.”

“Don’t sugarcoat it, we are getting double screwed,” Meek said.

“We are getting hammered because we are on the gold coast,” Anderson said, referring to “this kind of almost favoritism approach as to who gets awarded” and concluding, “Funding for schools should not be this difficult.”

 

One comment

MarjorieM August 11, 2017 at 10:16 pm

Has Norwalk ever sent back PSD funds to the state, meaning funds that were allocated but were not used during the year? I wonder if that was taken into account.

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