NORWALK, Conn. — Contractual demands are set to make the 2020-21 Norwalk Public Schools budget $5.6 million more that this year’s school budget.
Enrollment growth is projected to account for another $3.3 million increase. The growth in English Language Learners is expected to add nearly $1.9 million to the coming budget.
These preliminary numbers were presented Thursday to the Board of Education Finance Committee.
“The budget is, you know, not really nearly done,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said. “We’re not presenting a budget tonight in any sense, but we do want to give you, you know, some heads up as to what we see as the high priorities, what are the budget goals that we’re focused on.”
“Suffice to say we have a lot of work to do, we have to try to figure out how we can properly fund the Board of Education while still keeping taxes as low as possible,” given the elimination of the SALT deduction, Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday to the Democratic Town Committee.
NPS budget goal #1
The Norwalk Federation of Teachers is responsible for $2.3 million of the expected $5.6 increase in salaries and benefits for 2019-20.
“These are really not costs that we have any control over. They aren’t costs that are adding to program or dealing with increased enrollment or dealing with ELL students. It’s really this is cost of business, just current current operations,” Hamilton said Thursday
“I want to point out to the public that all of these contracts were negotiated under the leadership of Mike Lyons as a Chairman of the Negotiations and Personnel Committee,” Finance Committee Chairwoman Barbara Meyer-Mitchell said.
Lyons on Monday wrote to NancyOnNorwalk, “the salary increases per the contracts I worked on total $2.99 million, against a base of $126 million in salaries, for an average increase of 2.37%. The CPI-U (all urban consumers) for the last year was 1.7%, so in real dollars the salaries increased 0.67%.”
CPI refers to Consumer Price Index.
“These increases were well below State averages. For instance, in Tom Mooney’s analysis for the Board of the new NFT contract (by far our largest), he stated:
“‘The cost projection for the settlement with the NFT is as follows:
“‘The three-year total increase is 7.01%, which is among the lowest in the state so far this year. By way of comparison, the settlement average over 19 settlements so far this year is a three-year total projected increase of 8.9%.’
“Our contracts also all continue the process we started back in 2012 of steadily increasing the percentage of healthcare premiums payable by the employees. By way of example, with the teachers,
“‘Premium cost sharing increases each year of the agreement as follows:
“‘2020-2021 18% (from 17%)
Meyer-Mitchell, after Thursday’s meeting, wrote, “The foundation costs are contractual, based on newly negotiated contracts. The Board of Education is grateful to Mr. Lyons for his hard work to secure advantageous contract terms. As Finance Chair, it is my responsibility to budget accordingly to be faithful to our contractual agreements. It’s important that the public understands that this is a fixed cost for our FY 2020-21 operating budget.”
The enrollment growth increase may go up, as the current calculation is based on the 2019-20 per-pupil expenditures and that number will probably be higher, NPS Budget Coordinator Kristen Karzcmit said Thursday.
It’s based on the latest enrollment information, which was provided to Norwalk Public Schools that day, Hamilton and Karzcmit said.
NPS plans to add personnel to deal with the ELL influx, in addition to people who have been or are being hired this year, and the $1.9 million increase includes the additional $545,000 cost recently added to the 2019-20 budget, they said.
Magnet school funding is thought to be increasing by $744,000 and it’s possible that there will be a $917,000 jump in transportation costs, the budgeteers said.
‘Doing it a little bit differently’
Rilling said he’d sat down with Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski on Monday to review the “very preliminary” numbers.
The GOP-led Congress in 2017 passed a tax reform bill that puts a $10,000 limit on the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT). This “unfairly targets residents of blue states,” Rilling said in a 2017 statement. There are 3,866 Norwalk residential taxpayers who are potentially affected by the change, then-Finance Director Bob Barron said in April 2018.
“It makes it very difficult for us to continue raising taxes, because people’s deductions are limited as well,” Rilling said Monday.
The budget process is being done “a little bit differently” and, “This year, we’re trying to get the department heads to take greater ownership of their budget,” Rilling said.
Department heads are being told to “come in flat,” with no new positions, he said. “It’s a long lengthy process. And we’re looking at probably finalizing the budget by May.”