NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Board of Education members on Tuesday approved a request for a 7 percent budget increase, offering many thoughts on why the expense is warranted.
“One of the things that I keep hearing, I think a lot of us keep hearing is that one of the main reasons people leave Norwalk is to go to other school districts. And to be to the extent that we can address that in a fiscally responsible way, I think this budget goes a long way to doing that,” Board member Colin Hosten said.
The vote on Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski’s recommendation for a $216.5 million budget, a $14.3 million increase over this year, was unanimous.
“I’m impressed with the targeted choice of the goals in the discretionary portion of the budget,” Finance Committee Chairwoman Barbara Meyer-Mitchell said. “They’ve been worked on by Committees that have represented many different layers of stakeholders, often for over a year with support from consultants that are the top of their field. So this sets a new standard of excellence for Norwalk.”
She went on to comment on the budget goals, one by one:
Goal One: Salaries and benefits relative to contractual obligations, a $5.6 million increase
“I think it’s important to remember that we have new contracts with all of our unions … it’s a commitment that we make to our employees as the second largest employer in the city. It is also a commitment that we make to our community because many of our educators are also people who live here and are our neighbors.”
Goal Two: Enrollment growth increase, a $3.3 million increase
“We obviously were hit with an unexpected increase and we don’t know if we can expect that next year, but we certainly need to be prepared for it so that we don’t cause trauma to the system by not being staffed up and ready.”
Goal Three: Expansion of ELL (English Language Learner) programs, a $1.9 million increase
“This is a legal mandate. This is not a ‘nice to have,’ this is a ‘need to have.’ And if this isn’t fully funded, we’ll have to look for that funding somewhere else in our budget which is not good for our overall ecosystem.”
Goal Four: Provide program support for additional students enrolled in choice, a $744,000 increase
“Goal number four is part of our strategic operating plan that was started way before I was elected to the Board. The theory of action behind this is that we are a district of choice. And each building has a theme or magnet programs… In order to provide this we needed to evaluate how our magnets were functioning previously, which was that they were providing a theme but without any funding to make it happen. So Dr. Adamowski and the previous Board started rolling out this $1,000 per pupil to support that extra work being done in these buildings. Sometimes that is also helping us drive racial balancing in traditional magnet programming, but it’s also giving us extra muscle in different buildings in different areas.”
Goal Five: New general student transportation contract, a $847,000 increase
“This was due to be renewed and it’s a very happy coincidence that we can roll in the Jefferson/ Ponus relocation costs as well as our Healthy Start cost to that number. We have done a lot of research to back up the scientific necessity of looking at our start times to better support our students.”
Goal Six: Counseling & Social Emotional Learning, a $400,000 increase
“This has been a key piece of looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy, that student needs to be housed, a student needs to be fed, a student needs to feel safe – and then they can learn. …That department has not had professional development or oversight for 20 years. So this is to bring us to best practice and free up their time to actually work with our students so that we are available to them.”
Goal Seven: Carver Center Partnership for Before and After School Programs, a $337,000 increase
“This is an important piece because our families rely on before- and after-care in order to be able to be at their jobs. We have already seen earlier in meeting the high level of free and reduced lunch in our schools, these are families that need support, so that they can raise enough money to live in Norwalk. We need to provide that and this is we have studied and decided that this is the most efficient and effective way to do so, with the allotted money.”
Goal Eight: American Sign Language (ASL), a $165,000 increase
“It’s kind of self explanatory.”
Goal Nine: Seventh grade summer school, a $245,000 increase
“We have been on a multi program of expanding our summer program so that we are not playing catch up during the year that we are preventing summer slide, we are helping the learners who need help the most get that outside of the regular school hours.”
Hosten had queried Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton about the enrollment projections.
“The district does use the services of a recognized outside professional demographer, in developing these projections,” Hamilton said. “…It’s a pretty involved process that uses statistical analysis and statistical techniques to develop these projections and they are really highly accurate.”
“There’s actually a very sophisticated formula for any apartment building that’s built for example, that deals with they can predict based upon the number of bedrooms, the income that’s required for that building, so you know how many children that we will get from that building. That’s been very accurate so far,” Adamowski said.
“I think you’re finding more families now wanting to stay in Norwalk because of all the programs,” Board member Heidi Keyes said. “…, I think for many years, by the time kids got to middle school, right, they thought, ‘you know what, we’ve got to move.’ We’re not having that now.”
“I mean, the programs we have now are just incredible, which you’re not going to find in our neighboring districts,” Keyes said. “But we need funding to keep that going. So I think the momentum is here, we have a lot to offer. We’ve got really the best, best things offered for our students at this point from the elementary, middle, and especially a high school level. And I think that’s only getting enhanced.”