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Response to the Mayor’s recommendation for the 2023-2024 Operating Budget

Norwalk Public Schools removed this graphic from its Facebook page after learning that it had incorrect information. Neither the Feb. 13 or Feb. 14 meetings concerning the budget have an opportunity for public comment. (Norwalk Public Schools)
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella. (Norwalk Public Schools)

Coming into this year’s budget season, Norwalk Public Schools understood the uphill battle we faced in securing the funding necessary to ensure all our scholars had the tools to be successful in the classroom, stay socially and emotionally healthy, and graduate future ready.

With the Mayor’s recommendation of a 4% increase, announced at the Common Council’s Finance & Claims Committee meeting Thursday, we can’t even address our simplest obligation to pay the salaries and benefits of our staff. It also completely ignores the needs stated over and over again to address the expiration of ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds and the ever-increasing costs of specialized education.

The 12.7% increase requested by the Norwalk Board of Education wasn’t a number pulled out of a hat or an overestimate to negotiate to some middle ground. The number was whittled down from 18.7% to 14.9% and finally to 12.7%, and cuts beyond that number will come at a significant cost to our scholars, our staff and our families.

[FY2023-24 NPS Budget Snapshot – FY 2023-24 BUDGET SNAPSHOT (3).pdf]

We also can’t forget the impact of the City’s flat funding of the district in 2020-2021 that forced the Board of Education to fund existing social workers and school counselors with one-time federal grant dollars at a cost of $6.6 million. It would have required a 3% increase to the budget at that time. To bring them back into the local budget now and maintain a traditional budget trajectory would require an 8.5% increase.

Numerous times through this budget process, we’ve been asked, “What happens if the BOE funding request isn’t approved?”

Simply put, everything is at risk – all programming and personnel outside of classroom instruction (band, orchestra, theater, middle and high school sports, field trips, department chairs), resources that provide individual attention to students (aides, interventionists, paraprofessionals, school counselors, and teachers).

Any individual attention a child is receiving in our schools today will be significantly reduced next year under this budget recommendation.

The City cannot continue to operate as if the Board of Education is just another department that can be budgeted at the same rate as everyone else. We employ over 2,000 people, and we provide a crucial service to 11,630 of Norwalk’s most vulnerable citizens, not to mention their families who also rely heavily on the schools.

We understand the City has to consider the needs of all its citizens and specifically in this case, the financial well-being of our residents. We would urge the City and our neighbors to look beyond the tax bill and to the cost of living in neighborhoods with poor schools, the loss of property values, the economic outlook for our scholars who cannot access the resources they need for the jobs of tomorrow.

A Norwalk Public Schools Facebook post.

Our mission is to provide an excellent and equitable education for all our scholars, and our budgetary request to make sure we fulfill that mission is not a want but a need. The necessary funding is crucial not only for our scholars but for the future of Norwalk.

We thank everyone who continues to advocate for appropriate levels of school funding in Norwalk. As we navigate our financial future, please know that our focus remains on our scholars and providing them with the best education possible with the resources available.
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Updated, 12:36 p.m. Feb. 14: More information.

Comments

6 responses to “Response to the Mayor’s recommendation for the 2023-2024 Operating Budget”

  1. Sue Haynie

    Norwalk public schools are one of the best funded districts in Connecticut and the United States even if the test scores don’t reflect that funding stream.

    Taxpayers have had enough.

    Figure it out, it’s your job.

  2. Tysen Canevari

    Perhaps, Dr Estrella you can offer to refund us the money you have cost us in lawsuit payouts against you since you were hired. That alone would be enough to fund some of the programs you threaten to cut. Imagine getting angry at someone with a medical condition who needs to leave a zoom meeting to use the restroom! Sounds like the boss could use some sensitivity training herself. I am not sure why Norwalk hired you but I know a lot of Norwalk school employees who cant wait for you to leave. Morale level at an all time low for those in the trenches! Highest paid super in CT and you cry to us about making payroll in a struggling city. Shame on you…

  3. Patrick Cooper

    Ms. Estrella – you know better, or you should. Did you really think Harry would allow you to weaken his re-election bid by approving your enormous budget ask?

    Meanwhile, the schools are in an atrocious state of operation, you’ve mirrored the mayors bully approach to management and further, surrounded yourself with familiar sycophants & lackies from NY who we the taxpayers fund at a Kings’ ransom to simply watch your back – the welcome center (Estrella Island?) was a want – not a need – but your ego decided otherwise. And now – you threaten the parents by dangling treasured programs that only hurts the kids? How to be hated and get fired in less than 3 years.

    Where do you think you will go from here? Hopefully – Florida. Soon.

    Parents – you choose a 1-party purely political BOE that conducts zero oversight. YOU are to blame – point the finger at yourselves. This November – you can start to fix this mess by making better decisions on why you select a representative.

  4. Lisa Brinton

    Alex, When you arrived in Norwalk, you were advised of the politics & dire financial ‘lay of the land’ both in terms of the city & state by Mike Barbis and myself. Norwalk is not NYC.

    At that time, I specifically told you that as a ‘new superintendent’ you had an unique opportunity to highlight the disconnect & cronyism between, zoning, development, tax credits and ultimately how Norwalk would be able to fund the Board of Education. You also had an opportunity to highlight the disproportionate number of high need students moving into our city, but without the corresponding funding, despite all the development. You didn’t.

    Instead, you played ball with a disingenuous mayor and here we are three years later. It’s too late; an election year; and multi-public pension, Harry is going to be the fiscally conservative mayor.

    Never mind, that he sold Norwalk’s soul to the state, doles out city favors to developer friends and through either his lack of intellect or leadership – has almost single-handedly allowed the school system to be run into ground, while long time residents are forced to move out of our increasingly unaffordable, poorly run city. BUT, you will be the scapegoat. So, maybe he’s not so stupid.

    Truth is, the mayor and EVERY elected official OWN this crisis. In 2020, I downsized & sold my heavily taxed Rowayton house, based upon the trajectory of high need student enrollment and future city revenues. Am I some kind of rocket scientist? Do I possess some unique financial ability? Doubtful. Any elected official, who can read a balance sheet or enrollment figures saw this coming.

    Yes, you will be blamed, but the truth is financially illiterate, ambitious, ideological, single party rule politicos did this to Norwalk’s schools. Common sense be damned.

  5. Nora King

    Dr. Estrella,

    You created this mess. You didn’t encourage parental involvement and buy-in and work with the parents in this community. Instead, you worked behind closed doors, hired a top-heavy staff, created your own initiatives without parental involvement, and tanked the academic learning of our children. You have micromanaged teachers and you have not held bad behavior accountable, dismissed the importance of our SROs, and had no accountability to the citizens of this town on how the money is being spent. Parents matter! You have made it clear by cutting powers away from the Governance Councils, trying to eliminate neighborhood schools on a late Friday afternoon, stipping academics out of the classroom and your total focus being on Multi-Language learners have decimated the Norwalk Public Schools. You don’t deserve the money. We need leaders who will engage parents. That has not been your administration. I loved Dr. Adamowski – he engaged the parents. Dr. Marks engaged the parents and Dr. Rivera engaged the parents. You have marched to your own drummer at the expense of what parents want and what many of our children need not just what you want.

  6. Joe Tamburri

    It’s about time we bring accountability upfront for all of Norwalk residents to see what is really taken place behind closed door meetings.

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