NORWALK, Conn. – The investment Norwalk made in creating a Special Education development fund is paying off, school officials said Monday.
“You can see that your investment is moving in the right direction,” Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch said to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, after pointing out that out of district placements have dropped from 137 in 2015-16 to 117 in 2016-17 and a projected 100 in 2017-18.
Norwalk in 2016 created a Special Education development fund, with $1.2 million from the city budget and $1.3 million from the Board of Education, to finance two years of effort to reduce outplacements. The BET was beginning its deliberations on funding $1.2 million in 2017-18; Gooveritch suggested a fourth year of funding with $750,000 in 2018-19.
NPS would like to create a soundproof full audiological suite so it can do its own testing, she said.
“We would ask for your support over this year and the next two years to offset the cost of a fulltime audiologist,” she said, suggesting that firefighters could also get hearing tests there.
This capacity will eventually bring revenue in, she said.
The contracted services costs were $3.14 million in 2015, $5.3 million in 2016 and $5.4 million in 2017, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said.
“We think we have made real progress in stanching that huge upward slope but it hasn’t started a trend downward,” he said, expressing concern about the budget numbers and predicting that this year’s cost will still be $5.4 million.
But good news on the state’s excess cost grant, he said, explaining that the total pot of money statewide has increased although NPS had planned for a 15 percent decrease in Norwalk funding.
“Sort of big picture, there’s been tremendous progress in terms of bringing the number of out of district students downs down from 137 down to 100,” Hamilton said. “That’s more than I thought we would experience in that time. There has been certainly a plateauing and some reduction in out of district tuition but we haven’t seen a 20-30-40 percent reduction yet in tuition cost because we still have his legacy expenses and a higher cost students….We think we have made great progress in terms of bringing our financial situation under control, but we have more work to do.”
Finance Director Bob Barron suggested that $2 million in funding for the continued Special Education in-house development could come from a special appropriation after the new year’s budget is complete, but Hamilton said parents need to know soon if the programs will be funded.
“I think everyone on the Board of Estimate from the mayor on down is committed to continuing this program,” Bet member Ed Camacho said. “The only issue was who is in the best position to fund either all or part of that and to what extent each side would find it. So that’s really the only issue.”
BET member Anne Yang-Dwyer lauded the BoE’s move to create in-house services.
“They came with a plan and the objective was a very good one because the Special Education costs can be almost a runaway cost,” she said. “I would like to commend the Board of Education for implementing this plan proactively and meeting their targets, and showing the results that they said they would. So, I would just like to say that I think this is appears to have been money well spent.”