We are greatly concerned by the recommendation last night to hold the Norwalk Public Schools budget to a zero increase for the 2021-22 school year, under the assumption that federal Covid relief funds can be used to cover the resulting budget gap. While we appreciate the importance of minimizing tax increases in this economically challenging time, doing so creates a fiscally irresponsible “cliff” for Norwalk’s school budget in the years to come.
The District’s requested 4.6% increase was built to cover typical annual costs that come from running an organization that is built on people. This included contractual increases for teachers, nurses, custodians and other employees, as well as a rise in employee health insurance costs. Relying on funding that will only be available for a defined period of time merely delays this year’s local budget impact to a later date, and is likely to lead to the need for a double-digit increase in years to come. We welcome the idea of applying the savings from efficiencies identified in Citywide and District operations to the school budget, but those amounts are unclear and just speculative at this point.
As a result, absent a much larger than normal increase in the future, the school system down the road would be facing drastic budget cuts across the board. We strongly believe that is not an effective or responsible financial approach.
While Covid relief funds are much needed and most welcome, they are intended to address one-time issues arising from the pandemic. We have already started planning for how to use those funds to address student learning and social emotional needs, caused by the disruption from his past year. We urge the City to reconsider this approach to the 2021-22 school budget, or otherwise incorporate an explicit plan for addressing the budget shortfalls that will be inevitable in the near future.