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Norwalk school officials look skeptically at state ‘gift’

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s bad news for Norwalk Board of Education officials, even if they weren’t aware of it during a half-hour discussion Wednesday evening.

Interim Superintendent Tony Daddona was certain of only one thing at a BOE Finance Committee meeting as he discussed the operating budget for the next school year: If the $1.37 million recommended last week for Norwalk by a state committee came from the Priority Schools District program instead of the Priority Schools program, things were not looking good.

Daddona had played phone tag with state Sen. Bob Duff Wednesday, unable to get that information in spite of six phone calls back and forth.

But Duff said in an email to this reporter after the meeting that the funding would be Priority Schools District money. Not the preferred answer for BOE officials.

Daddona had said that wouldn’t go far, as it is Alliance District money, which has restrictions attached to it, such as being designated for new programs. It won’t help the BOE restore positions that were cut, such as library aides, Daddona said.

Programs that were cut last year do not qualify as new programs, he said. “We could maybe spend half a million, but the rest wouldn’t go to what we were planning,” he said. “We would have to find $800,000” to fund the board’s priorities.

The General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee voted last week to recommend an additional $1.37 million for Norwalk as a Priority School District program in both Fiscal Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015, a state document shows. This followed an Education Committee recommendation reversing Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposal to grant Norwalk $1.7 million more for FY14 than the city got in FY13 through the Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula. The changes recommended by the committee would result in a proposed $336,000 more in FY14 than FY13.

Before the meeting began, in an off-the-cuff discussion with BOE Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl, BOE member Mike Barbis said of the possibilities, “I think Alliance is the worst.”

Daddona said negotiations with the city are continuing as the Common Council has not set a final budget cap yet.

“We’re still conversing with the mayor on the budget,” he said. “There’s been open communication. There’s been ‘need’ discussions. So I think that’s positive because in the past, that didn’t happen. We just start cutting.”

None of it is set in stone, as the committee recommendations must be voted on by the entire legislature and signed by the governor.

Barbis had a guess before the meeting. “I think it would be fair to figure we’ll be short a million,” he said. “But you can’t really debate it because you just don’t know.”

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