Funding Norwalk Public Schools is an investment that will pay off

Send signed letters to [email protected]

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.

Nora Niedzielski-Eichner


Joel February 18, 2021 at 6:17 am

Good thoughts, as a general matter. However, the taxpayers of Norwalk have been hearing this line of thinking for many years and little, if anything, seems to change. The NPS/BOE makes a huge “ask” each year, which is largely granted and adds permanently to the denominator, taxpayers groan under the strain, and our schools just plod along. This deserves a good re-think, starting with a flat budget or very small increase and demanding that more be done with less. Taxpayers are sick of this annual dance, and it is unsustainable.

DryAsABone February 18, 2021 at 6:28 am

Spending more money does not buy quality in this state.Spending wisely might be a good first step towards better schools. Why not peg increases to inflation to bring some sanity to the education budget?
Few would say that the people across this state are parsimonious when it comes to education spending and Corrupticut spends the third highest in the nation yet what does it yield? Top results? I think not.

Taxpayer February 18, 2021 at 12:04 pm

Norwalk has made the taxpayer “invest” in our schools year after year after year, and the schools are by and large in the same place as before. In addition, as you mentioned, Fairfax County has seen tremendous economic growth in recent decades to be able to help fund the schools. In contrast, Norwalk’s economic growth has been stagnant for too long, even during a period of rapid growth for the US as a whole. Taxpayers are just tired of playing this ridiculous game every year with little-to-no payoff.

John O'Neill February 18, 2021 at 12:40 pm

I would point out a few things for the writer:
1) The increases over the past 4-5 years have been huge — As noted earlier money doesn’t grow on trees in Connecticut.
2) Your statistic of $30 per month for your average citizen? Maybe you haven’t lost your job or had your income reduced over the past 12 months. $30/month means more to some than others. So before throwing out propaganda originated on UNICEF coin boxes you may want to show compassion to those hard working non-gov’t employees that are struggling. How about controlling spending? Is that something that can’t be done because Unions control things
3) Speaking on Progressive Education reform — How come our kids can’t read or balance a check book? With all the money we’ve thrown at education over the past 20 years you would think that shouldn’t be a problem. Has anyone asked why our educators are failing? Our kids can’t handle the basics, but we continue to add fluff the the curriculum..SOMEONE IS FAILING THESE KIDS — IT’S NOT THE TAXPAYERS.

Justin Matley February 18, 2021 at 2:56 pm

Agree with much of this article but a few observations:

Re: Joel’s point, what gets missed is the city gets a huge ask every year too. This isn’t isolated to BOE. Problem is, the process is such that the BOE has to go THROUGH the city and there’s a lag time between the ask and approval / revision process that creates this PR nightmare that only serves to make the BOE look bad, and almost nothing else. Both parties and the process are responsible for this. The city doesn’t go through the same procedure: they don’t have to. Henry, and ultimately the Mayor, are the one stop shop. This makes the city the judge, juror, and executioner in the process while the BOE has to constantly defend itself. This process needs to be collaborative and empathetic.

One point to note in this article: CT is unique compared to VA in that CT’s education investments are solely based on property taxes, and nothing else. This is what puts Norwalk and similarly sized communities with the demographics that we do, at a competitive disadvantage.

In the end, what the article gets absolutely right, and Henry seems to not get, two years in now, is that education is, unto itself, an INVESTMENT. And one with a heck of a lot better return than the 2% the city pensions made last year. In CT, on average, for every $1 spent on K-12 education initiatives, home values rise at least $20. That may not be a consistent annualized 19% return, that’s too simplistic, but it’s easy to understand it’s a good bet. And this ignores completely ACADEMIC ROI, which considering our student population, should be wholly considered.

In the end, it is both prudent fiscal policy long term and academically responsible to meet the moment of strong educational investment.

John Miller February 18, 2021 at 3:47 pm

The NPS/BOE have been granted significant increases in their annual budgets by the City for the last four or five years but, as pointed out by Joel, DryAsABone, Taxpayer, and John O’Neill, this significant “investment” financed by the Taxpayers of Norwalk, has not resulted in better educated students. Additionally, the median household income in Fairfax County, VA is $124,831 and the population of Virginia and Fairfax County is growing. The median household income in Norwalk is $85,769 and the population of Connecticut is contracting. Bottom line, the NPS/BOE has been over feeding at the trough of the Norwalk Taxpayers for far too long and have failed the kids they are supposed to educate. Enough is enough. Maybe moving here from Fairfax County was a mistake; although there are some good private schools in the area.

Julie F February 18, 2021 at 11:12 pm

Nora – I also grew up in the Fairfax County School district. While I agree with your general point that underinvesting in public schools creates a vicious downward cycle (underinvestment-> worse schools ->lower property values ->lower tax revenue-> more underinvestment), Fairfax County also benefits from a more regionalized school system than we have in CT, meaning more sharing of resources among the haves and the have-nots. The hyperlocal CT school systems (and others in the northeast) seemed designed with financial segregation in mind.

Bobby Lamb February 20, 2021 at 1:13 am

Justin – what you seem to be missing here is that the BOE is a city department. Yes the BOE has many important needs. Yes it is appropriate for them to advocate for the dollars they need to provide the service they are charged with delivering. But the same can be said for DPW and parks and community services and the assessor, tax collector, town clerk, police and fire departments. The job of the mayor and council is to put together a budget that balances these important needs with the ability of tax payers to pay it. This is not two equal entities negotiating how to split a pie. It’s one department advocating for its needs (BOE) and one entity (the city) trying to balance the whole. It’s not about whether money is split equally, it is a discussion about the needs of the whole city for all of its vital needs to be met within what we can afford.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>