The Board of Education Executive Team and the Superintendent of Schools wish to provide context and clarity on several statements made by Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz in his Monday presentation to the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
First, Mr. Dachowitz compared the staffing levels at Norwalk Public Schools with those at the City of Norwalk, questioning the need for new teachers and staff hires. We disagree with this apples-to-oranges comparison, as well as conclusions that Mr. Dachowitz draws from school staffing data.
Schools are a people industry. Municipal and corporate standards simply cannot be applied to a profession dedicated to educating children. Teachers, paraeducators, principals, counselors, speech and language pathologists, nurses and custodians, to name just a few, are the heart and soul of any school system. Without adequate staffing to meet enrollment needs, a community will not graduate students who are college and career ready.
Importantly, increases in teachers and staff have been a direct result of planned, clearly articulated objectives and budget goals under the district’s Strategic Operating Plan. While a rise in enrollment is a factor, two priorities are responsible for the largest staff increases: special education and high school faculty.
- Special Education: Historically, our community has had significant concerns about the delivery of special education services in Norwalk. To adequately serve our students with disabilities, we committed to adding special education services and building capabilities in-house, reducing our reliance on outside contracted services and out-of-district tuition. We do not believe that it is appropriate for Norwalk to bus children to out-of-district private schools, at a cost of $150,000 or more per student.
This was a planned, strategic action item, supported by initial funding provided by the Special Education Development Fund. Although it required the district to add staff, this has clearly produced overall financial savings, and revamped a special education program that had been the subject of three highly critical CREC reports in the past.
- High School Study Halls and Full Classes To address full classes and intolerable circumstances that had high school students sitting in two or even three study halls per day, NPS added high school teachers across the district. High schools teachers were also added to make sure schools had enough classes to expand high school graduation requirements to 26 credits, so that Norwalk could comply with more rigorous graduation standards.
Finally, a note about the efficiency study Mr. Dachowitz referenced. By stating that the RFP for the efficiency study was put on hold because Dr. Estrella was new to the schools, Mr. Dachowitz has misrepresented the situation.
The City launched an RFP this fall without input from the NPS or the Board of Education. The RFP omitted the District as a key party, and did not include an equal review of functions for both the City and District. For example, the RFP included a review of educational technology resources, but left out a comparable up-to-date analysis of City technology resources.
If the review is intended as a full analysis of potential areas for efficiency, Norwalk Public Schools must be an equal partner in the efficiency study. We have discussed with the Mayor’s Office our recommendations for moving forward in way that is mutually beneficial.
With the Board’s approved budget recommendations now publicly presented, we look forward to learning more about the City’s full proposed budget at 8 p.m. Thursday (Feb. 11) during the joint meeting of the Common Council Finance Committee and Board of Education Finance Committee.
This post was edited at 1:36 p.m. to correct the time of Thursday’s meeting.