By Nancy Guenther Chapman
NORWALK, Conn. – The task of rebuilding Norwalk Public Schools from last year’s devastating budget cuts began Tuesday night with the unveiling of a proposed operating budget for the next school year.
The nearly $165 million budget is 3.37 percent higher than last year’s budget and seeks to add more office workers to enhance school security and positions such as librarian aides, Norwalk Interim Superintendent Tony Daddona said. The budget was designed in response to feedback from the public, he said.
“The theme of my budget is going to be the word ‘rebuild,’” Daddona said. “We are rebuilding this budget. It took about 10 years to get where we are with this budget, so it’s not going to happen overnight. We can’t put everything back.”
Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia wasted no time in throwing a small wet blanket on the hopeful proceeding. Moccia said that he has been informed by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities that there are additional cuts coming from the state. That includes $1 million in potential cuts from the priority school district funding, cuts in after-school program funding and in school-based health clinics.
“We don’t know how this will affect us individually,” he said.
Daddona wants to add six elementary school library aides and two middle school library aides at a cost of $274,825. Library aides were cut last year over the protests of parents, but these will be new positions, Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis said. An associate’s degree will be required for the 27.5-hour job; previously, all that was required was a high school diploma. There may also be a Microsoft Office test.
The district cannot afford media specialists at present, but hiring more highly qualified library aides is a step in that direction, Barbis said.
The restoration of intervention aides – also known as utility aides – at a cost of $150,335 in the operating budget is because of Friday’s shootings in Newtown, Daddona said. “Right now in our elementary schools there’s basically one person in our offices,” he said. “That one person has to deal with answering phones, dealing with children, dealing with parents and taking care of the buzzer when people come to the door.”
Adding more people will result in more attention paid to who is going in and out, he said.
An additional art teacher ($90,292) is planned for Brien McMahon High School because 140 students have been turned away from art classes this year, Daddona said. A curriculum specialist ($169,218) is needed because of the switch to Common Core standards, Daddona said. The figures include salary, payroll taxes and benefits.
A new building coordinator to oversee the maintenance staff, three special education positions, a permanent position in the human relations department and an outreach worker round out the $1.1 million rebuilding part of the budget.
The total for “rebuilding” is $1.105 million. Then there are $1.455 million in “enhancement requests” to rebuild from last year’s wrenching budget reconciliation. That includes $706,740 for special education, $410,000 for Common Core, $20,000 for school governance counsel and $60,000 for intramurals.
The next step in the budget process is a Jan. 3 BOE finance committee meeting, when the budget will be discussed, Barbis said. The board will vote on the budget Jan. 9, after which it goes to the Common Council, then the Board of Estimate and Taxation.