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Norwalk school funding roundup: Perspectives on spending

A Connecticut School Finance Project chart on local school per pupil expenditures.

NORWALK, Conn. – Here are some items related to Tuesday’s move on education funding:

  • Hempstead: There’s been a misunderstanding
  • The statistics on per pupil expenditures
  • BET wants line item scrutiny on BoE
  • Camacho: Mall revenue should help
  • Barron explains reasons for recommendation to increase Rainy Day Fund

Video of BET meeting, by Harold Cobin, at end of story

Hempstead: Norwalk needs more state funding for education

Common Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) said Tuesday that he had planned to vote against raising the budget cap to drawdown $950,000 from the fund balance, or Rainy Day Fund, to provide more money for the Board of Education, because he was worried about what’s coming in 2019-20.

After questioning Finance Director Bob Barron, Hempstead voted for the budget cap as part of a 12-0-1 vote.

Hempstead asked Barron if there was anything “binding,” so that the BoE would live up to its end of the deal, spending most of its $1.1 million health insurance reserve.

“Yeah, their word,” Mayor Harry Rilling said.

“I have been struggling with this because we already have a 3.7 potential tax increase coming out there and I know this is not going to add to it, but I worry about the following fiscal year, after the 18-19 budget, more than anything,” Hempstead said.

Some parents misunderstood recent comments about the state Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, as if he and others had said they hadn’t tried hard enough to get it changed, Hempstead said.

“We need to hold accountable the people in state positions who can bring money to this. Make them act in making sure Norwalk kids get the proper education,” because Norwalk gets “squat” now, he said.

That’s in the context of the number of children on free and reduced lunch, he said.

If not for the “squat” state funding, the yearly budget battles, in which there are comments of “we hate you, you hate kids,” wouldn’t be happening, he said.

“It gets lames after a while,” Hempstead said.

 

Statistics of school funding

Adding to the lameness of the budget battle was the sign outside the third floor elevator, Hempstead said.

A sign posted on City Hall’s third floor. “It’s time they take down the lies, the sign. Get with the program, we are all one city,” Common Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) said at Tuesday’s Council meeting.

The sign posted by the Norwalk Board of Education listed listing per pupil expenditures of Norwalk and its surrounding communities. Hempstead called it “inaccurate” and “inflammatory,” and said he thought Norwalk spends more than Stamford.

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis said Wednesday that the figures come from the state.

The sign’s statistics differ slightly from those in a state document found online by NancyOnNorwalk on Wednesday.

The Connecticut School Finance Project has a chart showing per pupil expenditures for 2016-17, and a link to a Connecticut State Department of Education document.

CSDE 2016-17-Net-Current-Expenditures-Per-Pupil

The Board’s sign lists Norwalk’s 2016-17 per pupil expenditures as $16,981; the state document says $16,989.

Although Hempstead said he didn’t think Stamford spends more than Norwalk per pupil, the state confirms that information: Stamford spent $18,570 per pupil in 2016-17. The BoE sign said Stamford spent $18,591.

The state DoE website, EdSight, offers information on school district expenditures, beginning with the 2015-16 school year. Combining that with the state document yields this information on per-pupil expenditures:

 

Norwalk

  • 2016-17 $16,989
  • 2015-16 $17,548
  • 2014-15 $17,220
  • 2013-14 $16,839
  • 2012-13 $15,878
  • 2011-12 $15,834

 

Stamford

  • 2016-17 $18,570
  • 2015-16 $18,305
  • 2014-15 $17,585
  • 2013-14 $17,242
  • 2012-13 $16,566
  • 2011-12 $16,472

 

Bridgeport

  • 2016-17 $14,164
  • 2015-16 $14,296
  • 2014-15 $13,887
  • 2013-14 $14,010
  • 2012-13 $13,761
  • 2011-12 $13,364

 

Danbury

  • 2016-17 $12,742
  • 2015-16 $13,039
  • 2014-15 $13,007
  • 2013-14 $12,891
  • 2012-13 $12,154
  • 2011-12 $11,998

 

Darien

  • 2016-17 $20,157
  • 2015-16 $19,727
  • 2014-15 $18,918
  • 2013-14 $17,900
  • 2012-13 $17,061
  • 2011-12 $16,578

 

Easton

  • 2016-17 $19,293
  • 2015-16 $19,888
  • 2014-15 $17,990
  • 2013-14 $17,431
  • 2012-13 $16,068
  • 2011-12 $15,287

 

Fairfield

  • 2016-17 $17,005
  • 2015-16 $17,063
  • 2014-15 $16,407
  • 2013-14 $15,660
  • 2012-13 $15,381
  • 2011-12  $14,981

 

New Canaan

  • 2016-17 $20,162
  • 2015-16 $20,603
  • 2014-15 $20,138
  • 2013-14 $19,312
  • 2012-13 $18,758
  • 2011-12 $18,234

 

Redding

  • 2016-17 $21,734
  • 2015-16 $23,439
  • 2014-15 $22,645
  • 2013-14 $21,350
  • 2012-13 $20,322
  • 2011-12 $18,844

 

Ridgefield

  • 2016-17 $17,961
  • 2015-16 $17,653
  • 2014-15 $17,130
  • 2013-14 $16,329
  • 2012-13 $16,004
  • 2011-12 $15,243

Weston

  • 2016-17 $20,890
  • 2015-16 $21,253
  • 2014-15 $20,482
  • 2013-14 $19,919
  • 2012-13 $19,452
  • 2011-12 $18,728

 

Westport

  • 2016-17 $20,387
  • 2015-16 $20,541
  • 2014-15 $20,217
  • 2013-14 $19,320
  • 2012-13 $18,619
  • 2011-12 $18,097

 

Wilton

  • 2016-17 $19,865
  • 2015-16 $20,040
  • 2014-15 $19,253
  • 2013-14 $18,348
  • 2012-13 $17,699
  • 2011-12 $17,297

 

 

 

Rilling said Tuesday that Norwalk Public Schools’ operating budget has increased by $22 million over the last four years.

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said recently that the Board’s sign referred to the communities that surround Norwalk, and one district over.

Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large) said Tuesday that the sign is misleading because Norwalk’s median income is substantially lower than that of its neighbors.

A document on the state’s website shows the median incomes for 2015:

 

  • Bridgeport $41,801
  • Danbury $66,676
  • Darien $208,906
  • Easton $131,189
  • Fairfield $122,306
  • New Canaan $168,311
  • Norwalk $76,987
  • Redding $121,270
  • Ridgefield $145,902
  • Stamford $79,359
  • Weston $217,171
  • Westport $162,907
  • Wilton $172,095

Norwalk Board of Education members say they are competing with surrounding communities for teachers and other staff for Norwalk Public Schools. This chart shows ConnCAN information on local teacher salaries.

 

BET wants a closer look

Before the Council vote, the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) voted unanimously to request the $950,000 drawdown, in addition to the $3.2 million already committed to be used from the fund balance.

Every BET member was present.

BET member James Frayer questioned why the Board of Education says its contractual obligations will go up $7 million next year when contractual obligations only account for $2.9 million of this year’s increase. He said that the BoE should provide the BET with line item details next year, to look at what has actually been spent versus what is being requested.

“I think it would help with transparency,” Frayer said.

Every other department provides line item detail, Chairman Ed Camacho said.

“If we can see what the details are for the $7 million, maybe there’s no conversation about it, maybe it’s something we have to live with,” Frayer said. “But without that, we don’t know. Same thing with cutting guidance counselors. If there was going to be guidance counselors cut, there would be a line that says guidance counselors being cut. We’d get away from a lot of the inflammatory comments that we see that were made.”

 

Hopes for The SoNo Collection

It’s going to be tougher next year, given that there’s a reval and revenues are not likely to increase, BET member James Feigenbaum said, questioning if Norwalk is at a “tipping point” with regard to drawing down money from the fund balance.

Assuming building permit revenues cancel out state budget cuts, the Rainy Day Fund will be at 11.9 percent of the city’s spending when 2018-19 ends, down from 13.6 percent this year, Barron said.

“There comes a time, probably next year, when you will not want to drop that fund balance further,” Barron said.

The SoNo Collection should be complete in 2019, adding to the grand list, Camacho said.

It’s estimated that the mall will pay $5 million a year for the first seven years it’s open, as owner GGP gets a 50 percent discount as part of an Enterprise Zone, Barron said.

The SoNo Collection is expected to open in October 2019, so Norwalk won’t get the entire $5 million in the 2019-20 budget, Barron said.

“It’s estimated at $5 million, it may be more,” Barron said. “Yes, I am hoping there’s good news in the near term for our grand list, which will help mitigate some of this.

 

Growing the Rainy Day Fund

The city’s policy is to keep its Rainy Day Fund at the mid-point of Triple A rated communities in Connecticut, but recently financial advisors have said that Connecticut municipalities should increase their fund balances, Barron said.

Rating agencies require Triple A communities across the nation to have a fund balance equal to 30 to 35 percent of their expenditures, but haven’t held Connecticut communities to that standard because state statutes allow municipalities the authority to raise taxes, Barron said.

But when Connecticut municipalites were threatened last fall with state budget cuts, they didn’t raise taxes, and everyone was talking about reserves, Barron said.

“Although we have legislative authority to tax at will, how much we want, we may not have the legislative will to do so,” Barron said. “That means that the rating agencies are going to be looking closer at this ‘by,’ they have been giving CT municipalities for all these years. … ( A consultant) believes that they are calling for increased reserves if we still want to be raised Triple A.”

6 comments

Piberman April 12, 2018 at 9:44 am

In the absence of any major gains in student performance why shouldn’t our underperforming school system with its highly paid personnel be restricted to affordable incomes in our City and the affect of punitive taxes on our homes. Declining home values and exodus, exodus of long time homeowners and rise of renters to now 40% of our City together suggest we’re overspending on our public schools and City services. That few school employees live in Norwalk and send their kids to school elsewhere speaks volumes. Should’n’t school spending be tied to community affordability and school performance ? We have major concerns on both accounts. Whistling in the dark about ECS funding just abfuscates the issue. Our State budget ought help districts in true need like Bridgeport. That was the original intent. Not to award higher pay/benefits to school Unions all across the State.

Rick April 12, 2018 at 2:21 pm

Has Camacho forgot the mall will cost the city money

Inspectional services , sewage, road and weather, fire, police,ambulances and extra details when the mall has carnivals in the parking lot taking away from the Catholic festivals and Vets park permits as well. What about the other events other mall owners now have to bring in that 40 crowd?

Sub police station possible train platform , direct trains to the casino all yet have been breached,

Ed is not a economist he is a lawyer doing his spin , maybe once the dust clears and whoever owns the mall it would be time to look into the crystal ball and predict a financial forecast.

With wall st not finished , bankruptcy looming over a venue one would be careless to calm fears even the band of activist on wall st have no handle on the future.

Now daily we hear large problems on MTA and concerns about builders creating a mess within the city maybe its time to find horse to pull the cart full of crap the taxpayers keep getting.Bridge still malfunctioning land still up for grabs .

The state is losing businesses another GE concern based in Norwalk is pulling the plug .Hartford is in trouble did Norwalk just get excise tax back?

A lot about the mall is speculation anyone planning on that and not listing both pro and con just talking whats in the cart.

Debora Goldstein April 12, 2018 at 4:41 pm

“Yes, I am hoping there’s good news in the near term for our grand list, which will help mitigate some of this.”

Pretty much sums up the plan for revenue in this town. Approve developments and hope they will mitigate some of this.

Piberman April 12, 2018 at 8:53 pm

Our City’s Grand List has remained largely unchanged now for nearly a decade. Many forget that positive additions by new apartment buildings are offset by declining values for existing ones as their owners claim depreciation. And take the City to Court to secure tax relief.

The potential net contribution off the completed Mall is quite uncertain. The Mall does require the City to make very significant addional outlays on a continuous basis. And its unclear how many existing City businesses will fold because of the Mall’s competition. Nor the major impact of huge volumes of traffic on adjacent property values and local businesses. Likely a major negative. A new Mall doesn’t automatically a very depressed and shabby Downtown become a Pumpkin.

And lets not forget the powerfully negative effect of the Walk Bridge that promises major costs to the City, businesses and residents for many years.

It’s not surprising that Mayor Rilling didn’t hire a major league consulting firm to estimate the net costs and or benefits of the Mall to the City. Including the consequences of its removal years from now. That’s beyond the skills set of City Hall.

Isn’t the real question why City Hall keeps increasing the Budget when during a period of major national economic prosperity, an obviously failing State economy and near term prospects of a Recession promising to further depress City property values.

If City Hall was professionally run we’d have a different outcome. But its not and its citizens by and large like how its run now. Even though they complain about punitive taxes and falling propertyvalues. If they want to believe the Mall is Norwalk’s salvation why object. The number of high valued homes for sale by some reports is historically high. Maybe they know something.

Mike Barbis April 13, 2018 at 7:42 am

Mr. Berman,
You need to get your facts right because your comments are incorrect.
Norwalk is NOT an underperforming school system
We ARE experiencing MAJOR gains in student performance.
Have you not read the articles in NON about how well we have performed in the State’s Accountability Indices?
We are the second best improving school district in the ENTIRE state of CT.
And our scores are better than our rival Stamford and are in spiting difference of Wilton.
How is that underperforming?

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