NORWALK, Conn. – A preliminary foundation for the Norwalk Public Schools 2018-19 operating budget shows the Board of Education requesting an $10.7 million increase over the current budget.
The reasons for a projected 5.8 percent increase were discussed at Thursday’s Board of Education Finance Committee meeting, along with a brief conversation about Gov. Dannel Malloy’s holdbacks on the current state budget.
“We are still in a reasonably good place,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said on that last topic.
For starters, the 2018-19 NPS budget must factor in $3 million in additional salary costs, per the step increases, Norwalk Public Schools Budget Coordinator Kristen Karzcmit explained. Health insurance costs are estimated to go up $2.3 million, although the state hasn’t released its rates yet. Other contracts will go up $300,000, she explained.
Then there are the Board’s goals.
Supporting the intradistrict magnet schools would cost an additional $674,250, with 296 more students expected, she said, explaining that the magnet program at Silvermine Elementary was K-1 this year and will be K-2 next year, that Columbus Magnet School is adding seventh grade and that the Norwalk Early College Academy expects 400 students next year, up from the current 283.
The goal for NECA was always 400 students, Hamilton said.
Other magnet population increases are an additional 50 students in the medical academy (a total 150) and 168 students in the International Baccalaureate program, up from 112.
“We thought that was really important,” Karzcmit said.
In another priority, moving to eliminate high school study halls would cost $2.7 million. That’s 11 new teachers at Brien McMahon High School and 12 at Norwalk High School.
“Bottom line, it’s a three year program, next fiscal year is the second year of the program with the objective to get us to the point where there are no mandatory study halls,” Hamilton said.
That’s also part of a plan to require 26 credits to graduate high school in 2019-20.
“We want to be staffed up to accommodate a 26 credit program,” Hamilton said.
About $500,000 is planned for the last segment of Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski’s plan to end funding elementary school teachers out of the Priority School District grant, which he has said is a non-compliant use of the funds.
Elementary school teachers were billed as early literacy but really were just core teachers, Hamilton said.
The plan to add an additional school day to the elementary school calendar for at least six of the 12 elementary schools, and to add 30 minutes of instruction, would cost $496,847 for additional teachers and $558,656 for the additional day and increased time for support staff.
“The way to provide (teachers) the required prep time is to add a special. That could be any number of things,” Hamilton said.
“Specials” could be related to a magnet school theme or could be a library specialist, he said.
“There’s a number of options that could be looked at but this would provide the funding to allow that for the specials, to allow that in six of the schools,” he said.
Paying hourly employees for the additional 30 minutes accounts for $200,000 of that $558,656.
Barbara Meyer Mitchell, who is not on the Finance Committee, questioned the timing of the additional day.
“My experience at the elementary level has been that the last two plus weeks once the test has been done in May, are not substantively educational. So, it would be interesting to know where Dr. Adamowski plans to add this extra day on the calendar,” she said.
“It’s just a budget item, we’re not going to get into it now,” Committee Chairman Bryan Meek said, while Bruce Kimmel offered the information that in New York City, after the standardized testing is done pupils begin work on what they’ll be tested on the following year.
In another goal, a move to begin fourth and fifth grade band instrument lessons at three schools, to reduce “pullouts” at the middle schools, would cost $200,000.
That’s an epiphany Adamowski had, Hamilton said.
“The fact that we wait until students enter middle school before there is any instrument instruction, in band instruments, is sort of one of the reasons there is an excessive number of pullouts,” Hamilton said.
Finally, adding funding to each high school to increase equity and manage the arts programs at a school-based budgeting level would cost $80,000.
Hamilton mixed the current state budget with thoughts of next year, at one point.
“I do think we’re going to have to assume, given the state budget situation, that we are not done when it comes to reductions to these grants, including the PSD (Priority School District) grant,” Hamilton said. “So, I would expect that we need to anticipate that there could very well be further reductions this if fiscal year and if the state budget situation continues on the trajectory is on there will be further reductions next fiscal year.”
Norwalk still doesn’t have the PSD numbers for this year, he said.
Word today is it’s $3.2 million but that’s not in writing nor is it confirmed, he said, explaining,
“Even at $3.2 million that is in the ballpark of what we had been anticipating.”
The state will only fund one school resource center and the plan is to keep the one at Fox Run Elementary, he said.
Meyer Mitchell and Kimmel suggested that perhaps a more centralized location could be found for a school resource center; Hamilton said Adamowski, who had been out from work recovering from knee surgery, hadn’t considered the issue yet.