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Norwalk BoE begins budget push with look at per-pupil spending

A sign posted in April, 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 the time.

Updated, 2:02 p.m.: Added chart from ctschoolfinance.org; 9:21 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk spends less money per-pupil than its surrounding communities, Board of Education members said Tuesday, echoing information they publicized last spring.

Norwalk’s per-pupil spending increased to $17,589 last school year, up from $16,981 in 2016-17, but spending in surrounding communities (and Stamford) also went up and Norwalk remains at the bottom of the list.

BoE members discussed the figures Tuesday afternoon during the second meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Education Funding, in a conversation which also touched on the City’s fund balance, or “Rainy Day Fund,” BoE member Bruce Kimmel said.

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski used the information to characterize the coming “big ask” to increase the next NPS budget.  The Board of Education will be asking for approximately $12 million more for the 2019-20 budget than it was funded for 2018-19, but if Norwalk was spending as much as Stamford the ask would be $14.8 million, Adamowski said.  “It would be upwards of $36 million if we were to attempt to compete with our suburban neighbors,” he noted.

The statistics show:

 

2016-17 per-pupil spending

  • Weston $20,888
  • Westport $20,162
  • Darien $20,387
  • New Canaan $20,159
  • Wilton $19,873
  • Stamford $18,591
  • Norwalk $16,981

 

2017-18 per-pupil spending

  • Weston $22,374
  • Westport $21,302
  • Darien $21,122
  • New Canaan $20,575
  • Wilton $20,378
  • Stamford $18,873
  • Norwalk $17,589

 

Board member Julie Corbett noted that Weston’s spending had gone up $1,486 while Norwalk’s had increased $609.

“Part of that is enrollment,” Adamowski said. “Part of {it} is these districts are so far ahead of us in spending that it is difficult to catch.”

Also presented were just-released state-verified percentages of high-needs students, who are Special Education students, English Language Learners (ELLs), or those who qualify for free or reduced lunch.

2017-18 High Needs Students

  • New Canaan 14 percent
  • Weston 15 percent
  • Westport 16 percent
  • Darien 18 percent
  • Wilton 20 percent
  • Norwalk 61 percent
  • Stamford 65 percent

 

“Obviously, in an equitable system one would be spending more money given the highest need,” Adamowski said. “It is one of the anomalies of our school finance system that we are so dependent on the local property tax that we are unable to close that gap, in terms of state aid.”

There was an “interesting” discussion about per-pupil expenditures at the afternoon task force meeting, Kimmel said.

“As we realized last year, I think there are many folks in different agencies in Norwalk that don’t appreciate the importance of per-pupil expenditures.  That is used nationwide, it’s been the basis of almost all court cases that have to do with school funding,” Kimmel said.

The Board publicized per-pupil differences early this year during a heated budget battle. Common Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) in April called a sign bearing the information “inflammatory.”

The sign was posted on City Hall’s third floor, just outside the elevator and near the Common Council chambers, for weeks as the Board of Education pressured Council members for more funding.

“I find it inappropriate for educators who want to try to get the best education they can and work with the half of the city that has to come up with the appropriation, to put a sign up there that indicates we are so low on per pupil spending to other towns,” Hempstead said in April.

The information is misleading because “our median income is substantially less than the surrounding towns,” Council member Michael Corsello (D-At Large) said in April.  He noted that Fairfield spends $18 more per pupil than Norwalk does but the median income there is $41,000 a year higher.

“To say that this city doesn’t support its education system, or recognize it’s important, is not true,” Corsello said in April. “We go out of our way to do everything we can and then some to fund the Board of Ed.”

2016-2017 per-pupil spending in Norwalk, and other CT municipalities. (ctschoolfinance.org)

The Board on Tuesday also expressed a desire to study Norwalk’s fund balance, as the 2016-17 figure of $55,599,775 put Norwalk well ahead of its surrounding communities (and Stamford) but more current information is not yet available.

The City’s audit should come out in mid-December, NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said.

Kimmel said he’d researched other towns, and, “There’s many ways to use fund balances that might help us to solve some of the problems that we have had, from the ‘Board of Ed’s’ perspective.”

The Committee is “thinking of bringing in outside accountants or auditors to discuss how some of these other towns do it,” but Norwalk is caught between two conflicting goals, Kimmel said.  The Board of Estimate and Taxation has set a policy to maintain a fund balance that is between 7.5 and 15 percent of the operating budget but also seeks to be within the median of Triple A bond-rated Connecticut communities, he noted.

That “puts us so close to our maximum range it doesn’t make to me a whole lot of sense,” Kimmel said. “We are usually between 12 and 14 percent when 15 percent is to me the absolute maximum before we are becoming unethical, sitting on taxpayer money. We are going to discuss that policy and see if any changes happen.”

BoE per pupil spending 20181205

24 comments

Sue Haynie December 6, 2018 at 6:24 am

@Nancy or BOE, what was Danbury’s per pupil spending as it is in Fairfield County and closely matches Norwalk in size and demographics.

M. Murray December 6, 2018 at 8:40 am

What is the percentage of resident median income spent per pupil in Norwalk compared to surrounding communities? Can anyone come up with those figures? That would be the interesting comparison.

Teacher December 6, 2018 at 8:58 am

Norwalk is being compared to Weston and Wilton… smaller systems, much smaller in size. The demographics of all these towns (except Stamford) don’t even come close to matching Norwalk.
Instead of demanding more money, why don’t we evaluate where the money is being spent. I’m sure we can find some luxuries within this budget and reallocate them to our students.
As for the rainy day fund, yes it large, but how much does the BOE want. Building projects are underfunded and over budget which will require help to get to completion, more $$$, special school programs, more $$$ buses and start times, more $$$, at some point the BOE needs to slow its demand on the taxpayer.

backwardation December 6, 2018 at 9:59 am

I fail to understand the BOE’s logic here. By definition, shouldn’t lower median income municipalities spend less per pupil than higher ones? Are we once again looking for a convenient excuse to put more strain on struggling homeowners to materially increase property taxes again? It is simply not prudent or sustainable to enable these year on year increases. The school district must concede to the economic constraints of the city’s citizenry.

Norwalk Lost December 6, 2018 at 11:02 am

Rather than petitioning for spending per pupil, why not look at cost saving measures via regionalization? For instance, the high concentration of English Language Learners places much higher costs on the school budget than neighboring towns. Has the district explored a regional approach to combining resources with other districts to achieve economies of scale? Also, how about imposing new fees to level the playing field? This would be rational and introduce a “paying a fair share” approach with households with students in the school system vs. the majority of taxpayers without. I am afraid there is simply not enough wealth to redistribute within Norwalk to meet these budgets and time to think outside the box.

Alan December 6, 2018 at 11:22 am

‘Regionalization” for schools? The five communities at the top want nothing to do with the great unwashed masses in the lowlands.
As for spending…those towns get a fraction of ECS money that Stamford and Norwalk and other urban centers get. People who can afford to buy into the top performing school districts do so. It is The American way.
Looking at how the money is spent locally is probably the best way to begin to control costs. Payroll,pensions and benefits always surprise but rarely are controlled.

Piberman December 6, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Matching per pupil outlays with surrounding wealthy towns with 3to 5 times the wealth and income pushes out long term homeowners and further depresses property values. In a City with a long stagnant Grand List, very small business sector and increasing influx of renters who fail to pay their full share of taxes the BOE needs be conscious of further punishing City taxpayers. No amount of school funding will narrow the enormous gap between Norwalk student performance and the surrounding towns. Especially for a City with 10% at the povery level, substantial single parent families and many students for whom English is a 2nd language. Overspending at the BOE will only further impoverish our City and hasten a Bridgeport solution.

Debora Goldstein December 6, 2018 at 2:03 pm

Keep talking about tapping that rainy day funding…let’s see what the rating agencies say.

Piberman December 6, 2018 at 2:38 pm

If per pupil spending is the “holy grail” why not compare Norwalk with Danbury – a similar sized City with similar income characteristics whose Mayor was considered a serious Gubinatorial contender – $16,989 for Norwalk vs $12742 for Danbury. Of course City politicians have long ignored Danbury which spends 30% less per City resident than Norwalk. The “big school spenders” only like comparisons with wealthy surrounding towns. But never ask about the lack of serious narrowing of the extraordinary differentials in school performance. Would more school spending increase our scant numbers of math and science placements ? Having more kids attending college ? More spending would only increase salaries/benefits of school personnel who mostly live outside of Norwalk for obvious reasons. And further reduce our property values pushing Norwalk to a Bridgeport solution.

Bob Welsh December 6, 2018 at 2:46 pm

@Sue Haynie

I’ve added a chart from ctschoolfinance.org which includes Danbury’s 2016-2017 per-pupil spending, along with spending in Bridgeport, New Haven, and municipalities adjacent to Norwalk.

Sue Haynie December 6, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Thank you Bob!

Danbury per pupil costs were $12,742 in 2016/17–over $4,000 less than Norwalk. Danbury is very much like Norwalk im student population and demographics and it’s also a neighboring Fairfield County City (as opposed to tony suburb).

A discussion about per pupil spending that includes Westport and Darien but doesn’t include Danbury is not as transparent as it should be. As a taxpayer, I don’t want spin.

Mike Barbis December 6, 2018 at 3:41 pm

I don’t disagree with you Sue but, if you remember from your days on the Board, while there are parallels with Danbury (size, socio-economic) there are also differences … they are not part of Metro NYC and their cost structure is relatively different from ours.

Sue Haynie December 6, 2018 at 8:03 pm

Mike, I have tremendous respect for the work you and the other BOE members do on the BOE. Apologies for my snark–blame it on the 16% increase in my property assessment, w/out the commensurate increase in Actual property value and marketability.

It’s not always, it can’t always, be about the money. According to the chart above, in 2016/17, New Haven, a failing district, spent $18,091 per/pupil, which is almost as much as Wilton(successful), $4,000 more than Hartford(failing) and $6,000 more than Danbury (on par w/NPS). So what in the heck does that say about funding? Danbury’s impressively low per/pupil costs and comparability to NPS warrant discussion.

The taxpayer well is running dry and it looks like it’s only going to get worse.

carol December 6, 2018 at 8:58 pm

enough is enough,when do the taxpayers revolt or are they just going to keep complaining and doing nothing while the boe keeps demanding more and more.
WAKE UP PEOPLE THE WELL IS DRY !!!!!!!

Tysen Canevari December 6, 2018 at 10:09 pm

why dont we break up the teachers union and save tons of money. Evaluate all the wasted admin salaries. We dont need assistant priciples in elementary schools. That a waste of a million plus alone. We pay high school athletic directos $175,000 a year to schedule buses with ECS and cancel games on thanksgiving because it is a little cold. That cost Norwalk High about 10k at the gate. Kindergarten teachers making over 100k a year. They dont even have to correct homework. We cut middle school sports out because we cant afford the buses? Really? Such a joke!

Anne Sullivan December 7, 2018 at 6:26 am

Tysen, please go visit one or two K classrooms. You will be awed at the difficult circumstances these teachers teach under. Large classes, little aide time, and for many of their students this is their first school experience. It takes a skilled educator to successfully teach a student population that is so physically, emotionally and academically diverse. Teachers have one or several master’s degrees; therefore they are paid an accordingly commensurate salary. BUT a considerable part of their salary is spent buying books, papers, computers, rugs, writing/drawing tools, etc. After you observe the teachers, take them out for lunch. They may have a free hour on a weekend during a school vacation to discuss the hours of their personal time they devote to planning appropriate lessons for all their students. Then, they will share with you the most recent academic research on homework and explain why taking time away from their academic day to “grade” homework is the worse use of their teacher time.

Manuel December 7, 2018 at 11:56 am

Preserving and protecting the city’s sanctuary status for the city’s burgeoning Central/Latin American and other non English speaking immigrant households should be a magnet for grant funding outside the city’s taxpayers. What success has the BOE experienced in securing alternate funding sources? Also, how can parents get involved in fund raising to help cushion the blow to our already strained taxpayers ?

MarjorieM December 7, 2018 at 5:09 pm

When this superintendent was hired, I was chastised for commenting that Adamowski will leave this city bankrupt. I do believe I was right.

Mike Barbis December 8, 2018 at 9:34 am

Marj, are you kidding? We have rising scores, rising enrollment, improving schools, two CT ranked schools of distinction — all for one of the lowest per pupil costs in Fairfield County? How is the Superintendent bankrupting us? You need a math lesson!

Non Partisan December 8, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Spend more on EDUCATION ( not early childhood /childcare feeding programs)

Also
Increase percentage of children in Charter schools

Outsource more

Eliminate our in factu sanctuary city policies

Allow market forces to gentrify without tax abatements for subsidized housing.

Non Partisan December 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm

Oops forgot two items

Strictly enforce Norwalk residency requirements.

Strictly enforce zoning and eliminate illegal apartments.

If the city did all of the above- I would support spending 20k/ student ( and it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime)

MarjorieM December 9, 2018 at 8:15 am

Mike Barbis, you compare Norwalk’s per pupil expenditures to the richest surrounding towns, but when it comes to test scores you don’t use the same towns. Either use the same District URGS for both or your argument holds no water. Your goal is to spend, spend, spend with little result. BTW, great schools existed before this BOE. Here’s an example
https://norwalkps.org/news___information/past_news/news___information_2014/september-_october/jefferson_named_2014_blue_ribbon_school

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