Updated, 4:55 p.m.: Comment from Mike Lyons.
NORWALK, Conn. – Not doing that yet.
The Board of Estimate and Taxation on Tuesday delayed a decision on the Board of Education’s request to retain its 2016-17 budgetary surplus from 2016-17 because no one knows what is going to happen with state funding.
Mayor Harry Rilling said it’s likely that the city will have to dip into its Rainy Day Fund in response to state budget cuts.
“I know Bob’s hair stands up on his head when I say that,” Rilling said, referring to Norwalk Finance Director Bob Barron.
Rilling mentioned taking $2 million to $4 million out of the city’s general fund, commonly called the Rainy Day Fund.
The BET, at Rilling’s suggestion, unanimously voted to table two requests from the Board of Education:
- A request for a special appropriation of $125,128 to fund retaining one more Curriculum and Instructional Site Director (CISD) than had been planned
- A request to retain $486,396 of its 2016-17 surplus
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski announced in August that Norwalk Public Schools would be cutting half its CISD positions in anticipation of state budget cuts, although everyone involved cites the CISDs as part of the reason for a reduction in Norwalk’s achievement gap.
The $486,396 would fund keeping half the CISDs, if the BET approved the BoE’s request.
State statutes allow a Board of Education to retain a portion of a surplus in funding, equal to 1 percent of its operating budget. Norwalk’s situation is complicated because of a Special Education Development fund carryover of money, making one percent of the remaining surplus $486,396.
In the absence of a state budget, Gov. Dannel Malloy is running the state through an executive order. NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said at Tuesday’s BET meeting that he thought the state budget situation would be settled by December. Rilling agreed.
Barron began Tuesday’s BET discussion by recommending against approving those requests.
“I know this body has done everything it can to appropriate everything it possibly could to the Board of Education,” Barron said. “…However, I don’t think we are in a position to determine how much we can afford until we receive the state of Connecticut’s budget.”
Rilling said the city is committed to funding the CISDs and “to fund every program we anticipate would need funding.”
“But also, we have no idea how much of a cut we are going to get … Right now is not the time to make this decision,” he said.
“I would hate to have the situation where we lose $5 or $6 million (in state funding) and the Board of Education is pretty much fully funded from what they anticipated. So, I think it’s a spirit of working together,” Rilling said. “I can’t reiterate strongly enough that we will provide the Board of Education the money they need. We will fund the site directors. We will fund the programs we said we would fund, it’s just a matter of when we will do it.”
Barron pointed out that the city is funding the schools with $8 million more than was provided last year.
“We don’t know how it’s all going to end up, but as soon as we do that’s the time to make the decision,” he said, of the state budget.
Rilling said he has always been a proponent of rewarding department heads for their fiscal management when they end the year with a surplus.
“Every year we have given the Board of Education their one percent. I don’t think there’s anybody here at this table that doesn’t agree that we should give them their one percent this year, it’s just that right now is not the right time to do it,” Rilling said.
“I believe that at some point we’re going to have to draw down from our Rainy Day Fund. It’s just how much. Because the citizens of Norwalk cannot afford another tax increase,” Rilling said. “… We can’t afford to continue taxing the residents when we have a surplus of $42 million and we have to look at that rather carefully in saying how we can be responsible in dealing with not only the Board of Education but being fair to our taxpayers.”
Hamilton pointed out that the school district is making “real significant forward movement on the achievement gap” for the first time, surpassing every other school district in the state, and said that CISDs serve as assistant principals in some schools.
“People are starting to take a different look at our school system and realizing that all along we have had a good school system and now it’s just getting better,” Rilling said. “We want to do everything we can because if we don’t provide our children with a world class education people are not going to move to Norwalk.”
“We just don’t have all the information,” BET Chairman Greg Burnett said. “…If we had a state budget we would be much a better position to make those decisions.”
On Wednesday, BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said, “It seems inconsistent. On the one hand we get strong commitments of support for our CISDs, while on the other hand they table the funding. These funds are surplus generated by NPS with good fiscal management; we’re not asking for additional tax money from the City, just for the ability to use this surplus. Why table it if there’s a commitment to support? The fact is, we’re already spending this money to keep the remaining CISDs on staff; by putting it in limbo, the City is doing the same thing to us that the State is doing to the City. It requires us to question the commitment and start looking at whether we need to cut these positions.”