This week, the Common Council voted 10-5 to approve a budget cap for the 2021-22 city-wide budget that was $1 million less than the budget recommended by the City of Norwalk’s chief financial officer. The school budget recommended by the City was already $5 million less than the Board of Education requested.
We are extremely disappointed in this decision, which will significantly impact school funding for next year. It does clearly send a signal to the residents of Norwalk.NPS employees know as well as anyone that Covid has created many struggles this year. Everyone in our school system has been working around the clock since March 13 to keep children in school, teach students remotely, ensure families have access to meals, conduct contact tracing, clean and sanitize buildings, support mental health needs, and so much more. We are grateful for their tireless work and dedication to children.
However, with Tuesday’s vote, we will now need to move ahead to start making the tough choices that this budget will require.
As you know, the district’s recommended operating budget request outlined a modest 4.6% increase. Of that, 2.2% is required to cover the rise in health insurance costs for teachers, paraeducators, custodians, nurses and other critical staff, while 2.7% was to staff priority needs and meet contractual obligations to those same employees. The approved budget essentially keeps the school budget flat for the next year, despite our obligation to meet these increases.
Funding under the CARES Act will be used to help us address Covid impacts. However, it cannot legally be used to replace local funds. As a result, we will need to look closely at services and programs throughout the district to balance our budget. It would not be fiscally responsible to enter the school year counting on additional, unidentified state or federal funding, or to plan on a special appropriation request midway through the year.
NPS and the Board of Ed are grateful to the community for the investment made in our students and schools over the past several years. Unfortunately, that investment in school operating and capital funding came only after years of under-funding, resulting in out-of-date instructional approaches, over-crowded schools and deferred maintenance.
Our families, staff and community partners are rightfully proud of the progress our schools have made in becoming the number one city school district in the state. Maintaining a high quality school system, one that keeps and attracts residents and businesses, requires an ongoing commitment by the community. Investing in education can never be a “one and done.”
Our thanks to everyone who has advocated for appropriate levels of school funding in Norwalk.