NORWALK, Conn. — Henry Dachowitz continued pointing a frustrated finger at the Board of Education as a primary reason for Norwalk spending Tuesday, telling Common Council members that if you count City expenditures made for the Board then the schools are responsible for 60% of Norwalk’s budget.
Some late breaking good news: The Board’s estimate for its health insurance cost hike took a $4 million shave Tuesday due to new information from a consultant, according to Dachowitz, Norwalk’s Chief Financial Officer. It looked like the City would save $750 on its side of the health care equation, but, “We won’t have confirmation these numbers after the budget cap has been set in March or April,” Dachowitz said.
Dachowitz is recommending the City only fund $4 million of the $11 million increase Norwalk Public Schools had asked for in the coming year’s budget, based partially on the expected health insurance cost increase.
The district’s health insurance costs were expected to increase by $6,053,909, or 51.7 percent of the overall $11.7 million increase. In December, NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said consultants had preliminarily projected an 8 percent increase in costs in addition to the State increasing its premiums for its plan.
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella and the Board of Education Executive Committee released a statement Tuesday pushing back on Dachowitz’ Monday characterizations of their budget. While Dachowitz devotes part of his presentation to detailing recent BoE staffing increases, the statement points out that this was partially due to efforts to decrease high school study halls. Also, improving Special Education services has produced overall financial savings.
Both efforts were highly publicized.
The Board also pushed back on Dachowitz’ description of the reasons why a firm hasn’t yet been chosen for the efficiency audit it agreed to in June, just before Estrella came onboard.
On Monday, Dachowitz said a six-person Committee, including representatives of both the schools and the city, was very close to selecting four finalists in December.
“It was then determined that because Dr. Estrella was new to the schools, that we put the RFP on hold,” Dachowitz said. “And we are working diligently now to refine the details. And I am hopeful that we will be able to select one of the firms in the next several weeks by the end of February.”
This account shifted a bit Tuesday.
“We were just about ready to make a selection and it was determined that because Dr. Estrella was new, and was not part of that agreement at the end of last year’s budget cycles, and we took a pause to bring her up to speed. And I am hopeful that by the end of this month. In the next few weeks, we’ll be able to select our firm and move forward on this efficiencies (study).”
“The City launched an RFP this fall without input from the NPS or the Board of Education,” the statement from Estrella and BoE leadership said. “The RFP omitted the District as a key party, and did not include an equal review of functions for both the City and District. For example, the RFP included a review of educational technology resources, but left out a comparable up-to-date analysis of City technology resources.”
You can read the full Estrella/BoE statement here.
Dachowitz pointed out that the efficiency audit stemmed from “the record 5% increase, or $9.9 million” approved for Norwalk Public Schools last year.
He has recommended a $400 million 2021-22 operating budget, including a 6.1% increase on the City-side and a 2% increase on the education side if you take the figures at face value, without his calculations of City expenditures on behalf of the Board of Education.
If you look at City expenditures just for the city, it’s a 6.8% increase on the municipal side. He didn’t provide a statistic for education that factored in City expenditures on the Board’s behalf.
Over seven years, total expenditures have risen 22.5%, he said; the City’s expenditures have increased 17.1%, or 17.2% if you include BoE expenses, and the BoE’s expenditures have increased 27.7%, or a 26.3% net growth.
“Connecticut State law prohibits a City government like us from reducing the school budget below the prior year total. It only goes up never goes down. I’ve worked in many private corporations and non for profits. I’ve never seen a restriction like that. It’s very hard for fiscal restraint,” Dachowitz said.
Dachowitz came here from Michigan, where he served as Wayne County Chief Financial Officer for 15 months before accepting the Norwalk position in April 2019. His 40 years of experience as a finance professional before that included four years as Treasurer of Nassau County, N.Y., where he led a nationally-recognized financial turnaround in 2002-2006.
He mentioned the federal Democratic move to issue more coronavirus aid.
“We are hopeful that with President Biden’s intent to issue $2.1 trillion of aid, we would expect significant 10s of millions of dollars to come to the Board of Ed on the school side and millions to come to the city. Hope is not a strategy. But we’re at the point where the bill may be get may get passed, and the money will trickle down to us. So it’s not just hope,” he said Monday to the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
“As the Mayor said, it’s a very tough budget,” he said Monday. “There are a lot of pressures on us. And to me, it’s balanced and fair. I compare it to what people say about a good negotiation, which is where everybody goes away, a little unhappy. So if everybody’s a little unhappy, and they’re only angry at me a little, then I’ve done my job well.”
Story updated at 2 p.m. with links, YouTube video.