NORWALK, Conn. – There’s an assertion going around town: the city of Norwalk fully funded the Board of Education. That assertion is false, BOE Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis said.
“The folks that are saying they voted to fully fund the BOE’s request are totally lying,” Barbis said in an email.
Members of the Republican caucus who are running for election are the people Barbis was talking about. Democrat Bruce Kimmel, running as an at-large Common Council candidate endorsed by the Republicans, is one of them.
Kimmel addressed the topic on Facebook.
“Heard someone suggest that the City did not fully fund the BOE’s current operating budget,” he wrote. “Have no idea where they got that, but I think they forgot one of the three factors that went into crafting that budget: the savings uncovered by the BOE itself during the several months of budget discussion. That, along with state aid and of course local funds, enabled the Board to fund its request and restore the major programs cut the previous year due to the $4 million shortfall in the insurance and special education accounts. On the evening last winter when the Council adopted the budget cap, we assumed a certain level of state aid would be available; and we knew that the Board had already generated savings in several major accounts. It was a constructive, collaborative effort.”
The BOE’s original budget request, submitted by interim Superintendent Tony Daddona in January, was $164,924,783 million. On Feb. 26, the Common Council approved $162,271,862 in funding as part of its budget cap.
The final budget total is$164,306,408, BOE Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl said. But that includes funds that weren’t released on Oct. 16, the date of his email relaying the information.
In June the BOE and Board of Estimate and Taxation approved surplus funds in the amount of $1,393,732 to be placed into a non-lapsing account for the Board of Education for use in FY 13/14, he said. “Once these funds are fully released the board’s amended budget would increase to $163,665,594,” he said in an email. “Additionally we have items that are encumbered as they were FY 12/13 expenses that will be paid in FY 13/14. Once these items are paid and the encumbrance is released the budget will increase to $164,306,408. While we will have $164.3 million available to us in FY 13/14 due to surplus funds and restricted reserve encumbrance funds, the base budget for FY 13/14 is $162.3 million.”
Barbis explained this spring’s budget hoop-jumping a bit more colorfully in the following email:
“There was a ton of drama and there was a multimillion dollar gap. The only reason we made it through without serious cuts was:
“1. We ran a surplus in Fiscal Year (FY) 12/13 allowing for those surplus funds to be contributed to FY 13/14. One of the biggest positive surprises was health insurance – we self-insure and claims came in lower than expected … I bring this up as it could have gone completely the other way ….
“2. The State of Connecticut came thru with more money than we expected – although that only happened at the last minute – if they had not come through, we would have cut positions, not added positions
“3. We did trim some of our initial budget – especially staffing in Special Ed – despite the reports by Cambridge and others criticizing this as an area in need of improvement.
“4. We won the grievance against the NFEP (Norwalk Federation of Employment Personnel) union (although lost the NASA (Norwalk Association of School Administrators) grievance)”
The question came up in a round-about way at last week’s Norwalk League of Women Voters mayoral debate, when both incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia and Democratic challenger Harry Rilling were asked to define what “fully funding” the BOE means.
“My definition is, if they receive an increase over their previous year based on what the taxpayers and Board of Estimate and Common Council and their cap set that’s funding the Board of Ed,” Moccia said. “We give 60 percent of our budget, counting capital costs, to the Board of Ed.”
NancyOnNorwalk has not heard Moccia say the Board of Ed was fully funded this year.
Rilling said education funding is a priority. You can watch them both in the video above.
Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion had a more long-range opinion on the “fully funded” issue.
“I think we’ve been through some difficult times, but over the last eight years when the current mayor has been in place, the difference between what the Board of Ed has requested and what the city has finally allocated is $26.5 million,” he said. “That averages out to a reduction of $3.3 million a year. That has really been an impact.”