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BET needs to lead, educate Norwalk public officials

Norwalk BOE BET March 11 2013 031
Mayor Richard Moccia discusses the Norwalk Board of Education budget at a recent Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting. At left is Norwalk Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Elio Longo, whose resignation is effective June 30.

By Lisa Thomson

REd APPLES of Norwalk

NORWALK, Conn. — At a March BET meeting, I spoke as a fiscal conservative and education reformer but asked for a compromise to the pull back in the city’s $1.4M in the 2013-14 budget, when it thought the state was providing $1.7 in ECS funds. As of today, Norwalk isn’t getting that amount. Budgets, of course, are fluid at this time of year, and who knows what the final number will be? To be perfectly honest, I’m not really interested in arguing over what amount the BET restores.

Why? Because the economy is still struggling.

However, as the BET prepares to vote on the 2013-14 budget, it has an opportunity to demonstrate what it values. If it chooses not to restore any of the money committed last February, it risks sending the message that it doesn’t care about education.

But on a separate note: This city has now lost its second stellar and outstanding education administrator – Chief Operating Officer Elio Longo.

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Longo’s from the beginning, due to his professionalism and integrity. Westport Supt. Elliot Langdon said it best in the Citizen News, when he was quoted as saying: “Longo oversees an operating budget of approximately $156 million in Norwalk. He has saved that district $4 million through ‘good business practices,’ an additional $2.8 million by restructuring employee health-care benefits with ‘no negative impact’ to employees and more than $1 million through competitive-bidding service contracts.”

Just to remind you, the superintendent that hired him is also gone. She brought in $5M in grants and private funds for Norwalk for programs that benefited the children and cost the taxpayers nothing!

These two individuals brought in or saved nearly $12M that either went to the kids or saved the taxpayers money. $12M! Two fresh faces who are now gone!

Norwalk’s mayor, BET, Common Council and BOE need to engage in some serious soul searching, as do voters this election season.

A school district is reflective of its municipal government. I’m a parent who has fundraised extensively and written grants for the past nine years for things like books, professional development, computer labs and curriculum. But my efforts PALE in comparison, to what folks at the top can bring in if they promoted our city, our kids and the necessary management reforms that private funding attracts!

Cash strapped and diverse cities like Newark, New Jersey or New Orleans or states like Florida with a large immigrant population or even neighboring Bridgeport are all enjoying outside investment for their kids. Why? What do they have in common? They have engaged politicians and reform-minded superintendents. With good management and a good story, they are able to attract outside funders and hire staff and introduce programs focused on improving literacy, STEM or college/career prep for the next generation.

Yet here in Norwalk – we limp along.

Members of the BET review Norwalk’s finances on a regular basis and are fully aware of the revenue streams and increasing expenses. They are also aware that nearly two-thirds of the city’s budget goes towards education. Each of them need to encourage the current mayor, the Common Council, and the BOE, as well as, those seeking office, to embrace education reform, particularly if Norwalk ever hopes to realize outside funding to 1) close the achievement gap for our 47 percent free and reduced lunch population or 2) provide tax relief to our income strapped property owners. At this stage, Norwalk’s public servants are doing neither!

Lisa Thomson

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