NORWALK, Conn. — The recommended Norwalk Public Schools budget for the coming school year comes with a $11.7 million increase.
The Norwalk Board of Education will consider Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella’s recommended operating and capital budgets Tuesday. A vote is not planned.
The $13 million recommended capital budget includes $7 million for a Briggs Family Welcome Center. Estrella’s Power Point presentation explains that this reuse of the “under utilized, decrepit building” at 350 Main Ave., located on a City bus line, and would allow space for:
- New student registration
- Multi-language learner testing and services
- Special education ombudsperson
- Health services
- Food services
- Community support organizations
The operating budget comparison:
- $220,124,367 2021-20 recommended request
- $208,351,257 2020-21 revised budget
Estrella’s operating budget presentation explains that the overall 5.6 percent operating budget increase is driven by:
- Health insurance – 2.9% of total increase
- Contractual Wage Increases – 1.5% of total increase
- $1.5 million budget gap-closing carryover from prior year – .7% of total increase
- All other increases (net) – .5% of total increase
She also notes that department requests were $4.6 million higher than allowed for in the budget. Estrella plans to cut two “chiefs” from the Central Office staff, although the document doesn’t say which positions will be eliminated. A lower level administrator is expected to be cut.
The Board expects to vote on a $60,000 contract with the Connecticut Center for School Change, hiring the firm to work through June on developing the 2021-26 strategic operating plan and a proposal for redesigning central office in support of that new plan.
Estrella emphasizes a need to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on student achievement and readiness to learn. These are said to include:
- “Learning loss for many”
- “Inequity in learning opportunities exacerbated during the pandemic”
- “Intensive remediation needed in literacy and math”
- “Need for additional social-emotional & psychological support”
Hurricane Katrina and the 1918 pandemic showed:
- “2 years or more to recover lost learning
- “Long term physical and mental health issues Economic damage to families affect children
- “Negative impacts were worse for low income and African- American students”
NPS plans to shift $2.5 million to fund an additional 16 dedicated literacy specialists at the elementary and middle schools and provide math specialists at all 12 elementary schools. Some of that funding would come from reducing the $1,000 per pupil allocation provided to the magnet schools, first provided in 2017-18, reducing the total from $2.55 million to $1 million.
“Instead of automatically allocating this extra funding without a dedicated purpose, schools will now apply for additional resources,” the presentation states. “This will ensure that limited funds are put to best use in accelerating student achievement across the district. District obligations to programs such as college level P-Tech classes at Norwalk Community College will remain in place.”
Year-end reviews are planned to “document student achievement in connection with magnet allocations.”
NPS plans to save $945,082 by cutting eight positions and plans to “reduce budget for 10 month employees to reflect actual work year,” a “cut” of $545,662.
The budget allows for “mission critical structural and programmatic work” expected to be inspired by the next 5-year strategic operating plan and for middle school sports to resume. “The majority of other necessary program improvements will be deferred until the 2022-23 budget cycle,” the presentation states.
The presentation also mentions “accountability measures … to make sure that funding goes to places that most impact student achievement.”
Health insurance costs are expected to increase by $6,053,909, or 51.7 percent of the overall $11.7 million increase. The presentation explains that NPS switched to a state plan, Connecticut Partnership 2.0, in June 2017 and that the state is recalculating costs, creating county-specific premiums rather than a state-wide rate.
Enrollment is expected to increase but be less than the 2019-20 enrollment, with an additional 334 students planned for.
Contractual wage increases account for more than $3 million.
“High quality education is dependent on people. As a result, salaries and benefits will always be the largest category of any school system’s annual operating budget,” the presentation states. “For 2021-2022, contractual wage increases for teachers, paraeducators, administrators, custodians, nurses and other employees will contribute to a 2.6% increase over last year’s budget. This includes high priority positions and modest annual salary increases for current staff, in accordance with our negotiated labor contracts.”