NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Board of Education’s “ask” for 2018-19 is expected to be in the neighborhood of $194 million, nearly $10 million more than the current fiscal year.
That’s less than what the proposed 2018-19 operating budget was projected to be in December, when the ask was $10.7 million more than 2017-18.
The Board is set to vote on its operating budget at Tuesday’s BoE meeting in City Hall but with a wrinkle: there are recommendations from both Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and its Finance Committee,
The Committee recommended adding $100,000 to Adamowski’s $193,915,575 recommended budget to provide a locally-funded replacement for the Naramake Family Resource Center that was slashed from state funding this year. Adamowski’s budget represents a 5.3 percent increase from 2017-18, while the Finance Committee’s recommendation would be 5.39 percent, according to a memo from NPS Chief Finance Officer Thomas Hamilton to the Board.
The Board’s decision Tuesday will be forwarded to the city as a request for consideration as part of the months-long budget process.
NPS Budget Coordinator Kristen Karzcmit and Hamilton explained the budget at last week’s Board meeting, after a brief introduction from Adamowksi.
The foundation of any budget is contractual obligations, Adamowski said, explaining this as more than salary increases but increased costs of “elevator contracts to changing the filters in school heating units.”
“We are happy that that could be accomplished at the 2 percent level this year. frankly we thought that would be more because our staff is growing, due to the expansion of programming at the high schools… our staff will grow even more in the next year,” Adamowski said.
The base budget increase for salaries is nearly $3 million, a 1.6 percent increase, according to Adamowski’s PowerPoint presentation. Other contract costs and program initiatives are $597,569, a .3 percent increase.
There’s also $1.2 million planned for the Special Education development fund.
Strategic Operating Plan initiatives account for $5.2 million of the overall increase, a 2.8 percent jump from 2017-18.
That’s explained in the budget goals:
Goal 1: Provide program support for magnet school options, $1,000 a student, a $346,000 increase
Under Adamowski’s leadership, NPS raised its magnet school funding with a $1,000 per student allocation. Adamowski said he’d hoped to raise that to $1,250 this year as part of an effort to raise it to $2,000 over the course of several years, but that isn’t possible because there are more students opting into the magnet schools.
The Norwalk Early College Academy (NECA) is reaching its full enrollment of 400 and there are smaller increases at Columbus Magnet School, with the addition of seventh grade, and Silvermine Elementary School, with the dual language program. There’s also a media pathway at Norwalk High School.
It’s a total of 346 more students, hence the $346,000 jump.
“The good news is that the response to these programs from parents has been very positive and very strong,” Adamowski said. “We are going to have more students simply in the programs that we have started. I think we have to deal with that before we try to increase the amount of support.”
Goal 2: Eliminate high school study halls with additional investment, while keeping middle school funding flat, a $2.1 million expense
The Board authorized a three-year plan to eliminate study halls at the high schools and increase the credits needed for graduation to 26; 2018-19 is the second year of the plan.
“This year, we have no student that had more than one study hall and the ninth graders had no study halls,” Adamowski said. “Now we are at the point of the second installment, which is to eliminate study halls.”
Each student will be able to earn six credits a year under this year’s investment, he said.
“This Is a major accomplishment that we need to achieve, relative to a competitive high school program,” he said.
Goal 3: Complete the process of funding K-3 teachers from city coffers, not a state grant, a $635,816 expense
Adamowski said when he first came to Norwalk that NPS was misusing its Priority School District (PSD) funding from the state by using it to pay teacher salaries. The Board has been transferring pre-K teachers’ salaries to the operating budget; this year would complete this process.
The PSD funding is being used as it should be, to fund tiered interventions, Adamowski said.
Goal 4: Add a fourth specials teacher to six elementary schools in accordance with contractual obligation made in effort to make school days longer, a $693,366 expense.
NPS negotiated with the Norwalk Federation of Teachers to lengthen the school day, agreeing to grant the teachers a planning period each day. Accordingly, NPS needs to hire specials teachers to make that possible. This transition is proposed to be made over two years.
Goal 5: Add 30 minutes to the elementary school day, and one additional day a year, $358,656.
The budget assumes that six schools will have longer school days, half of the elementary schools.
Goal 6: Offer fourth and fifth grade band instrument lessons at three elementary schools, a $200,000 expense
“Most school districts that offer instrument programs will offer, from a developmental standpoint, strings starting in grades three and band instruments starting in grades four, so you do not have this buildup of all these students coming to middle school who in sixth grade need instrument lessons for the first time,” Adamowski said, explaining that the goal is to cut in half the numbers of times students are pulled out of class.
“Our lowest performing middle school, Ponus, has the smallest participation in band,” Adamowski said. “That’s because the students who are in interventions cannot be pulled out of those interventions. So, this is going to help provide an enriched education to children who need it the most and hopefully increase the number of students who can participate in the music program.”
Goal 7: Fund English Language Learners $692,825
Adamowski said he is not asking for a special enrollment growth appropriation as he did last year but rather seeking money exclusively for English Language Learners, because while the overall student population is projected to go up by 15 students and that can be covered in the operating budget there’s been an increase in the more costly ELL students.
Last year, an additional 100 ELL students made their way to Norwalk; between Oct. 1 and Jan. 18 there were 40 more, he said. The incremental cost per student is $5,094.
“English Language Learners in Norwalk do better than they do almost anywhere else in the state of Connecticut. … in that sense, we are the destination of choice for English Language Learners and in many cases our English Language Learners go on to excel and be academic leaders in our school system,” Adamowski said.
“This is a strength we would like to keep it a strength,” he said.
Board member Barbara Meyer Mitchell suggest that Norwalk could attract grant funding on the strength of its ELL services. Adamowski said NPS needs can be broken into segments to appeal to specific grant funders’ goals.
There’s also $200,000 proposed for an unfunded state mandate, a full-day expulsion program.
State regulations require that an expulsion program not be held in a school – the students have been expelled – so Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo moved it to the South Norwalk Community Center, Adamowski said, adding that SoNoCC has closed so the program is in the Carver Center.
The program has done well with a half-day schedule, with 50 students when it began and 20 now, but other districts have not done as well so the state has mandated that it be a full day, he said.
The $1.2 million for Special Education is comprised of $609,000 for new positions and $591,000 for all other expenses.
The City two years ago approved a three-year Special Education transitional development fund, with a goal of reducing out of district placements. Funding was issued for two years with the stated intension of reviewing progress for year three.
“The $1.2 million projected for next year talks about new program initiatives that will further improve our ability to provide access to services at a very high quality using our own internal staff,” Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch said, explaining that models of teaching will be built upon and the 18- to 21-year old program will expand.
There’s a “modest” request brewing for a fourth year of additional funding to develop the SpEd services she said.
Progress has been made but, “As Yvette points out we have a ways to go as well,” Adamowski said, promising that the new dyslexia clinic will play a role as well as the audiological booth for hearing impaired students.
“We have a variety of students, these are all individual needs but many we are capable of meeting within the district,” Adamowski said. “Our premise is that we can provide a better service, a higher quality service, at a more reasonable cost.”
Board member Bruce Kimmel likened the initial SpEd funding to the creation of Norwalk magnet school, expressing a concern that Norwalk not follow the same path of not funding the magnets as needed, so they are magnets in name only.
“We can’t make the same mistake with ‘Special Ed’… This is covered by federal law, the magnets weren’t,” he said. “We would find ourselves in another bind… We can’t just turn around at the end of year three and say we did our work and let it end.”
“Another way to frame this is you are currently spending almost 25 percent of the budget on 15 percent of the students,” Adamowski said. “So, it is a very high-ticket item. It is one that every school district struggling with, giving Connecticut’s approach to funding ‘Special Ed’ aid which is not as great as other states. But every time we make a saving, and the outside placements are an example, we are not saving that money we are putting it back into the program. So, the more we can do with that, we can continue to strengthen our program so we are not anticipating any budget cost reduction we are anticipating cost containment and improvement of quality.”