Norwalk parents, given an unprecedented opportunity to weigh on the Norwalk Public Schools budget early in the process, listed better after-school programs, support staff, school environment (including the teachers and administrators), and ADA compliance as priorities during a Tuesday town hall.
Their input is a new step in the complication budget process, NPS Chief Financial Officer Lunda Asmani said. “We wanted to do this closer to the beginning of the process, rather than after the Board of Education approved the budget.”
He called it an “opportunity” for the parents in attendance “to inform what goes in superintendent’s recommended budget.”
Asmani explained the budget process, finishing with operating expense goals for the coming year, including increased planning time for teachers.
“One of the things we’ve heard is that four planning periods is not enough, and so we’re looking to increase that to possibly five. In order to achieve that, obviously, when they’re in planning, we have to have people that are in the classroom, educating the children. So, this is going to have a budget impact this year,” he said.
Capital budget aspirations total $14.6 million, an amount not likely to get approved by the City, he said. The “not final” list includes $9.6 million for the schools air conditioning program.
Brien McMahon High School’s HVAC system is failing and replacing it will cost $9 million, Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Sandra Faioes said. It failed during this spring’s graduation ceremony and a rental was needed, an expense in itself.
Before the town hall, the Board of Education approved a grant application that would replace the central air conditioning plant, alter unit ventilators in the 1200 wing to allow outside air to come in and replace the heating/ventilation system in the athletic wing, introducing air conditioning. Utility tunnels would also be air conditioned.
Asmani and Faoies also said middle school lockers are a priority.
“The lockers are at the end of their useful life,” Faoies said. “hey’re actually sharp, they won’t lock, the students think it’s (a critical need).”
Facilitator Richard Lemons called the attending parents “superstars” for coming out on the coldest day so far this winter. Attendees separated into groups for roundtable discussions, reporting to Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella at the end of their deliberations.
The first man to speak noted that the people in attendance were “privileged” to be able to take the time for the town hall. “Most people can’t do that.”
So in advocating for after-school programs that would complement school needs, he also suggested support programs for the families, activities for the kids that would allow the parents to get involved.
Everyone agrees the kids have enough in the classrooms, and “I wish we could give our teachers more but we know they are learning something,” he said. “But what happens after they leave school? How do parents support their kids to set a high bar for passion and careers?”
A man representing the second table called mentioned a “big support staff” and a need for staff retention.
“We love to improve the facilities and stuff. But we know that that doesn’t mean much without the people that are showing up there for the kids,” he said.
Thirdly, another table cited “environment,” both the physical facilities and “the people that they’re around, that are the administrators and the teachers.”
Jefferson Science Magnet School, the site of the meeting, is a good example of renovations that transform a school, the spokesperson said.
The fourth table called “picked ADA compliance,” a woman said. “This is something we feel that shouldn’t need to be on a list. But it is true, at least for Wolfpit. And I don’t know if potentially other schools this impacts both our teachers and our students who are able to take part in the Wolfpit community.”
Estrella said it was “invigorating to walk around the room and hear the conversations from the different groups and the things that people find as priority /// This is one of a number of many conversations that we will have through the budget process. In December, we will have the budget workshop, then we will have a deeper conversation during the business meeting.”
“The first presentation of the superintendent’s recommended budget will be given at the Norwalk BOE workshop on Tuesday, Dec. 12,” a news release said. “The Norwalk BOE will first consider the proposed budget at its business meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 19.”
Updated, 5:27 p.m.: Information added.