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A message from Superintendent Estrella and Norwalk BoE regarding the 2023-2024 BoE budget

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella, at the Jan. 10 Board of Education meeting in Tracey Elementary School.

The Norwalk Board of Education and my administration have one goal for the requested 2023-2024 operating budget: to maintain the level of service that our students and families have come to expect and most certainly deserve.

Each dollar requested ensures our students can learn in a safe and healthy environment, that they can receive the academic instruction necessary for them to graduate future ready, and that they are fully supported socially and emotionally to enter this ever-changing and diverse world as civically responsible, globally engaged and positively contributing citizens.

Anything less than the requested funding would be detrimental to our students, their families, and the many people in our schools who support them every day.

Our teachers, para-educators, school counselors and social workers account for 83 percent of Norwalk Public Schools employees. Any reduction in personnel or programming would proportionately impact these professionals the most.

Even reducing the budget request by 1 percent would cut approximately $2.1 million which translates to losing 18 positions among our teachers, interventionists, school counselors, social workers, and district wide staff that work in Central Office.

Norwalk Public Schools was fortunate to receive such generous funding from the federal government to help us navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic and bring our students back to the classroom where they learn best. We spent the federal dollars responsibly and within the guidelines set forth by the grant funding.

We used the funds to make as many one-time purchases as possible that allowed us to reopen our schools before any other district in Connecticut, but many of our needs went beyond a one-time purchase and are still needed going forward.

The directive of the federal government gave us latitude to use their grants to cover the costs of our school counselors and social workers. These professionals were already accounted for under our local budget, but when the city gave us the directive to “somehow compensate” for their flat funding using the increase of grant money in 2021, we did as we were told and as we could – we transferred their salaries and benefits under the grant budget.

School counselors and social workers serve as our first responders for students needing social and emotional support. Over the last two years, they have helped our students transition back to being in school full time, surrounded by their peers, but the pressure of being a kid exists far beyond the impact of the pandemic. They still have to navigate the pressure of school, and friends, and family, and the many changes that come along with getting older.

The recent Youth Survey by The Norwalk Partnership showed some promising results with fewer middle school and high school students reporting that they were suffering from depression. Do we really want to see those numbers go up again because we can’t afford to have a counselor or social worker in each building on a full-time basis? Can a student who is truly struggling afford to wait one more day for a counselor to cycle back through their school?

How about the student who is receiving extra support in language arts or math because there is a full-time improvement teacher in their school? Prior to the pandemic, only a handful of schools could provide this service to students struggling in these content areas. Federal funds allowed us to expand these services to more students. The need was there before 2020, and it will remain a need going forward.

Many of these students don’t necessarily qualify for special education services, but it doesn’t mean their struggle in school is any less concerning. The burden of providing extra support for these students will fall to the classroom teachers, who are already stretched thin and exerting every effort to prepare each of their students for the next grade level.

Norwalk Public Schools is proud to serve many of our students with special needs in their home schools through programs such as STARS, SUCCESS and PINE as well as our 18-22 programming, Next Steps and Project Search.

Over the last 10 years, we have seen the high needs population increase by nearly 15 percent, and the cost to educate them requires more money to ensure they receive the appropriate services and learning instruction from qualified professionals. The costs to provide these services is increasing and so is the dollar amount at which we can get reimbursed.

How can we tell these students and their families that the lack of funding is the reason they have to leave their friends and the teachers and support staff who know them best?

We as a district remain committed to working with the city throughout this budget season. Not only are we invested in making sure students have the educational services they are entitled to but that we remain cognizant of the impact our budget has on taxpayers and the lives of our community members.

We do not want to compromise the quality and accessibility of the programs we currently offer. We also want to make sure that we don’t lose personnel, particularly those who call Norwalk home and whose loss will have a direct impact on our community as a whole.

7 comments

Bryan Meek January 18, 2023 at 2:18 pm

Gentle reminder that we were operating under executive orders from 3/31/2020.

Executive Order 7R. #2 “Continued Payment of Public School Staff”

https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/Office-of-the-Governor/Executive-Orders/Lamont-Executive-Orders/Executive-Order-No-7R.pdf

There are some luxuries we will no longer be able to afford for sure, but the fatal mistake of a zero % increase is baked in now and hardly fair given there was really no choice in the matter.

The hard questions we are left with is how do we go forward? Full knife and scalpel approach? If there are draconian cuts in staff, how will Norwalk look to future recruits? Will families moving pick Norwalk for its schools or shop elsewhere? Money isn’t always the solution, but for some perspective the $27 million is coincidentally the amount it takes to operate ALL 4 Middle schools combined.

On another topic,

Not questioning the hoarding of surplus funds in the city budget is more than disingenuous. Currently $50 million over the low water mark recommended (7.5%), this money should be refunded to taxpayers or spent on approved programs. $50 million sitting at 8% inflation is a waste of $4 million a year right now. If CT taxpayers can bail out Hartford to the tune of $500 million for it’s fiscal irresponsibility, then I fail to see why we should take the higher road here. Further reducing this fund will help the city spend money more wisely instead of having this handy bail out fund. It’s our money, not governments. Even if it is apples and oranges, those are still paid for by taxpayers, not “prudent financial management”.

John O'Neill January 18, 2023 at 2:33 pm

“How can we tell these students and their families that the lack of funding is the reason they have to leave their friends and the teachers and support staff who know them best?” — Maybe you can tell them the truth. Maybe you could’ve told them the truth 2 years ago.
The Covid Money was designed to be a SHORT TERM crisis package that would sunset when the cash ran out. Maybe we shouldn’t have founded the freaking Welcome Center..Some may think money grows on trees, especially if it’s someone else’s money. Maybe Dr. Estrella should donate $ 100k of her salary to save one of those educator’s jobs. Maybe the honorable Jim Himes could’ve returned Harry Rilling’s calls regarding ELL funding. I believe Harry called him about that 3-4 years ago, if my memory serves me correctly?
Maybe parents should start parenting — That might help. Maybe we should have a little discipline in the hallways. That might help. Maybe we should hold students a little accountable. That would surely help the burned out teachers…
In conclusion, maybe we should just be honest.

Benjamin Gates January 18, 2023 at 4:13 pm

Actually Alexandra Estrella, you can tell the students that the lack of funding is 100% your own fault. You wasted money on pet project items like the Welcome Center that were not needed. You were called out for it, and other pet projects, by the Common Council. You need to own your mistakes.

Unlike NYC, Norwalk isn’t a giant piggy bank you can continually ask for more money from. Your leadership has been a complete disaster and the day you leave this district everyone, including our kids, will be better off.

You coming to NancyonNorwalk to write an article laying out why its justified is beyond pale. Its also riddled with twisted facts and figures in an effort to further try and justify what is nothing more than an egregious ask. Maybe if we had schools that performed up to standards it would go over better, but we dont.

How’s that Welcome Center going by the way? I drive by it every single day and there is never anyone there. You wasted millions of dollars here in addition to millions more dollars in staffing obligations over the coming years.

Why don’t you tell the students that had you not wasted that once in a lifetime Covid money on something like that then your budget ask would be nearly flat? Real leaders own their mistakes. Politicians masquerading as leaders deflect blame and thats exactly what your doing.

Tysen Canevari January 18, 2023 at 11:01 pm

Maybe Dr Estrella you can tell the district we need the money to pay for the lawsuits we incur based on your poor ethics since you came here! Also, what qualifies you to make 300k and be the highest paid Super in an enderperforming district? Explain that first.

Michael McGuire January 19, 2023 at 10:30 am

Shouldn’t the focus be placed on the BOE for their poor hiring and managerial performance in relation to the steady decline of NPS post Lyons/Meek. One Mike Barbis (sorely missed) was not enough.

True literally everything is now partisan but there is some sunlight. But I had a great conversation with a confirmed progressive liberal yesterday on a range of media censored topics. We largely agreed on most topics. Surprised? No, common sense seems to prevail. The commonsense thread in all this was the people need to have more say in what is happening.

Perhaps allowing a greater range of ideas with a hefty dose of common sense should be expected and in order for the BOE. Afterall, they are the custodians of the entire school system which makes up the majority of our City Budget.

Matthew Surapine January 19, 2023 at 3:41 pm

Wow.. i was going to say something but the above comments said everything i was feeling.. the spending of money( other people’s of course) is destroying this city.. of course we really needed a dog in the welcome center. Another fine acquisition. I guess the goal here is to destroy the city, as more and more residents are going to greener pastures.. i am shopping myself.

Carl McIver January 21, 2023 at 7:51 am

Our son faced an emotional crisis a few months ago at the back door entrance of the Norwalk High School building.
His Bus matron entered the back door and forgot to allow time for our son to deboard the bus. Our autistic son was pounding on a steel door that lacked security or cameras to monitor live emergencies. This back entrance has no signage, and the only description that my son would have as a basis for location reference was the garbage cans that line the area.
I guess I understand the Districts’ reasoning for having SPED children separated upon admission every morning from other students due to the “proximity of the cafeteria,” explained by Dr. Moore, the Principal. But shouldn’t student security concerns outweigh digestive concerns? Is there any money in the budget so that Autistic children won’t need to feel as if they are living in the days of discrimination where back doors were assigned only to certain cultures of people?

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