Tough budgets require us to step back and ask where our true priorities lie. Let’s take that point from CFO Henry Dachowitz’s budget presentation and ask: What makes a great city where people want to live and work? What do we want Norwalk’s future to be? Strong public schools are at the heart of every answer to that question. There is no more vital service provided by a City than its public schools, and also no more vital economic development engine.
I grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia, widely considered to be among the best public school systems in the nation – and they do it with demographics not that different from Norwalk’s. Fairfax County has also seen tremendous economic growth over the last few decades. Those two facts are deeply intertwined, as more and more businesses choose to locate in Fairfax because they can find educated entry-level employees and offer their employees great schools for their children. Fairfax didn’t get to this level of success by accident. They got there by deliberately investing in their schools – ALL their schools for ALL their students.
Norwalk urgently needs to make a similar investment. NPS’s asks are so fundamental: clean bathrooms, good books, working technology, safe driveways, safe buildings, enough special education teachers. These are investments that will pay dividends for decades as more of our students graduate career and college-ready, families and businesses move here for the schools, and the cycle of an increasing tax base leads to lower tax rates (did I mention Fairfax County residents pay less in taxes than we do for superior schools?).
In order to not lay off teachers next year, NPS is asking the average city resident to pay around $30 more a month. That’s one takeout meal for a family of four. While I certainly recognize that for some households, that is too much, the solution is targeted protections from increases for those on fixed incomes or struggling with unemployment – not a citywide disinvestment in our schools.
There may be other solutions too. According to Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik, “due to the Pandemic and bars closed and traffic much lighter during the overnight hours, call volume has decreased” – but the operating budget proposal presented by the CFO still has the police department growing by a greater percentage than our schools. Perhaps some efficiencies can be found there – and the savings invested in our children.
Ultimately, the economic health of Norwalk depends on its schools. Invest in our future. Invest in the NPS capital and operating budgets.