NORWALK, Conn. – Optimistic statements failed to alleviate the worries of a Norwalk Board of Education member Monday night.
“I am disappointed that some of these add-backs, right now, we’re not going to be in the position to fund,” BOE Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis said after leaving the Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting. “… I can understand. You can’t jack up taxes 10 percent. But, if we’re really going to be rebuilding our school system, we kind of need to be adding back these positions.”
Barbis and others agreed that the gap between the BOE’s budget request and what has been authorized by the Common Council has narrowed, from the $1.2 million figure originally outlined by Finance Director Thomas Hamilton to about $600,000.
Interim Superintendent Tony Daddona said it was a little higher as he described what had been done to cut the figure down. “There were some areas that we had to reconsider, not by choice but by looking at the situation. I don’t think we’re a million off; I think we’re about $700,000,” Daddona said. “In those areas it’s going to be very hard for us to say to Brien McMahon that you have to turn away 430 students in art.”
Although Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) said the BET would lower the deficit by cutting from other departments, Barbis said, “Most of that bridging the gap was what we did.”
That included shaving $120,000 from the unemployment fund, according to Hamilton. Barbis explained that some of the people who were laid off last year had found jobs.
Hamilton also said the BOE had money in contingency in case it lost two grievances, but, “We made the assumption that we would not lose.”
The finance director said his recommended budget included funding for the library aides but not “new” positions.
Wilms echoed the thought. “Other departments have come and asked for additional hires,” he said. “Quite frankly, it’s just not able to happen. It seems like we have a $500,000 to $600,000 gap that could be addressed potentially from the new hires section. There wouldn’t be so many new hires but there would still be room left for you to do new hires.”
Barbis said the positions the BOE wants to fill are not all “new.”
Brien McMahon lost its art teacher when John Tate, head of the art department, pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault and tampering with a witness after he was accused of having sex with a 17-year old student.
“Why was it defunded?” Barbis asked, of the art teacher position. “It’s not like it’s a luxury. We should be adding that back.”
Barbis said that, as it stands now, the BOE will not be able to fund the three positions it wants to add to the special education department on the advice of several independent studies, or hire the science curriculum specialist it wants to help with Common Core State Standards.
The BOE had a science curriculum specialist, but that person retired recently and has not been replaced.
“We don’t even have anybody upstairs (in the BOE offices) who knows anything about science,” Barbis said. “Shouldn’t we get the dollars to bring someone in?”
The budget is a long way from being finalized. Mayor Richard Moccia said “the caveat” is that the state’s budget won’t be determined until after Norwalk’s budget is set. It’s impossible to know how much school funding will be delivered from the state; Hamilton said his budget assumed the figures would be “flat.”
Barbis left with a positive note.
“We still have work to do,” he said. “There’s a constructive environment between the two sides of the city and we’re trying to come up with something that’s fair to taxpayers and still provides a quality education to kids. We’ll see how it works out.”