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Schools budget represents an investment in the future, not an expense

Last week, nine Norwalk students represented their peers in a conversation with U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona. Their stories are remarkable: A senior who studies both Arabic and Japanese while working after school. A Norwalk native who already has 34 college credits. An Advanced Placement scholar who helps promote diversity in AP and honors classes. A multi-sport athlete enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program and who serves as class president. Middle school students who excel in math and art, speak multiple languages, star in school musicals, and one who even aspires to be a U.S. Senator.

We may be biased, but Norwalk students are simply amazing. Every child deserves the opportunity to write their own success story, just like the NPS scholars above.

When the Board of Education tackles the difficult work of recommending a school budget, we know that the hopes and dreams of young people like these live behind the dollar signs. Along with nearly 12,000 others enrolled in Norwalk Public Schools, these children are our future. As a community, we have an obligation to make sure they are ready for that future. Norwalk’s education budget is not an expense, but an investment that will pay future dividends to our entire community.

For that reason, 85% of the 2022-23 budget approved by the Board of Ed goes directly to student and family support. The Board’s proposed budget represents a 4.5% increase over last year’s budget. That figure includes a 2.2% contractual increase for our hard-working teachers, paraeducators, nurses, custodians and other staff. Education is a people business, and personnel will always be the most critical resource for delivering high quality education.

The proposed budget reflects the long-term impact that Covid will have on students. High needs students require support to recover from the disruption to learning, while the pandemic’s social-emotional impact needs to be addressed across all grade levels. Increased staffing for our Gifted and Talented students will help better identify and serve more children.

The budget recognizes that inflation and utility costs are rising, and that building repairs and maintenance requires ongoing investment. While major projects such as the newly renovated Jefferson Marine Science Elementary School are supported by the City’s capital plan, operating budgets need to anticipate both regular maintenance as well as emergencies.

The City’s plans are moving forward to build a long-overdue school in South Norwalk, which will eliminate the long-standing unassigned attendance areas, provide educational options within the neighborhood, and support enrollment needs across the district. With this in mind, the school budget also recommends an additional $1.8 million, or a 0.9% increase, to begin enrollment and programming for the school. By “incubating” the school in 2022-23 with Pre-K and Kindergarten, the new school can establish staffing, programs and character while design work and construction are underway.

The Board of Education is fully committed to providing an excellent and equitable education, so all students graduate future ready as civically responsible, globally engaged and positive contributors to an ever-changing and diverse world. With a new Strategic Plan in place, Norwalk Public Schools has a strong road map for navigating through this difficult moment in education. But success requires appropriate investment.

Our children recognize the importance of funding school budgets. As one of our students told Dr. Cardona, “We are always struggling with funding and budgets for schools, and I think that fixing this issue would be really great for school systems and for kids to get better education.”

Our students can be wise beyond their years.

Last year, Norwalk’s education budget was flat funded by the City, with no increase despite rising costs. One-time federal Covid relief funds were the only option for filling the resulting budget gap. If not addressed now, last year’s reliance on one-time funding will lead to the need for double-digit increases in the years to come. As a result, our recommended budget also includes options for mitigating this significant shortfall over time, versus all at once.

This year, we urge the City of Norwalk and members of the Common Council to adequately invest in the future of Norwalk students by fully funding the Board of Education’s recommended operating budget.

6 comments

DryAsABone February 6, 2022 at 7:42 am

Norwalk kids are amazing and the BoE/management should follow.
Do more with less.
It can be done and you would set an example for districts
throughout Connecticut.

John O'Neill February 6, 2022 at 9:17 am

Two reactions as I read this:
Where’s the Covid money being spent?
I may be showing my age but is the above actually an application for The Queen for a Day Show?

Piberman February 6, 2022 at 10:14 am

Sadly our BOE remains a cheering squad for higher budgets and refuses to address the serious problem of why most City grads according to the CT Edu Dept fail to meet CT graduation standards and why most do not secure 4 yr college degrees. Instead of being a “cheering section” for City schools why won’t they do the hard work of demanding their highly paid administrators do the job of securing student achievements up to CT Edu dept standards.

Our surrounding town BOEs take their responsibilities far more seriously. Almost all their graduating students meet CT Edu Dept standards and secure 4 yr college degrees. We pay the same outlays per student but don’t come anywhere securing the student performance results. Why do we pay our Supt the highest salary in CT when we our students fail to meet CT Edu Dept standards of performance ?

Lets encourage our BOE to focus on their real responsibilities – educating our students. Not being a cheering squad for building new schools and boosting City property taxes. Our surrounding town BOE members are highly admired in their communities because they oversee high performing school systems. That’s the standard we in Norwalk ought demand. Not just higher budgets every year for unacceptable student achievements. Why can’t our public schools be the pride of our community just like our surrounding towns ? We pay the monies but don’t receive the results.

Lets encourage our BOE to distribute annually to City taxpayers our City’s student performance results, what schools our students secure college acceptances and scholarships. Why hide the results ?

Our Common Council has a duty to demand much higher performance from our public school system. A good way to begin is holding the budget fixed until we still much better results for educating our children. Our public school system ought focus on educating our children. Not matching salaries with wealthy surrounding towns and building new schools. Parents want much better student achievement. Not fancy new schools. We need a BOE that warrants the appreciation of our community. And we need City leaders to secure BOE members committed and well qualified to secure high performance in public school system. Just like our surrounding towns do year in year out.

s February 7, 2022 at 10:32 am

All talk and nothing to show. everything keeps progressing at a snails pace here. No wonder parents have given up and just leave everything as it is.

Piberman February 7, 2022 at 7:43 pm

Why doesn’t Norwalk’s BOE ever promise higher student achievement such as getting most students meeting CT Edu Dept graduation standards when they demand more funding ? Is it because they have no effective control on our high paid administrators.
Or because their energies are focused on new school construction. If our BOE wants us to “invest in the future” then why not demand our public school administrators secure student outcomes that meet CT Edu standards ? We spend as much per student as our surrounding towns ? Their students meet CT Edu standards. Because our surrounding town BOE’s demand success. Its why they were elected. To secure student accomplishment meeting CT standards. Not to just always demand larger budgets.

Lets encourage our Common Council to hold the school budget fixed until our BOE publicly pledges to secure much higher student performance in Norwalk’s public schools. Is there something about our students so they can’t meet CT Edu standards or is the problem how our public schools are managed ?

If you really love kids why not give them an education that meets CT Edu requirements ? That’s the function of the BOE. Not just giving out high salaries. Or being a cheering chorus for new schools.

Piberman February 9, 2022 at 10:51 am

Interesting that Norwalk BOE members have not responded to the continuing criticisms over the years that the public school system operating under their leadership fail to educate our children so they meet CT Education Dept graduation standards. We spend approximately 70% of our City budget funded almost entirely by homeowners on a public school system. Not only is that unfair to our children, homeowners and City residents but it helps encourage Norwalk’s reputation as a transient community.

Norwalk has no shortage of well qualified high profile citizens including business leaders working in NYC, professionals and highly educated retired citizens. Why is it so difficult for our City’s leaders to encourage BOE participation by citizens with attractive backgrounds and a desire to secure a satisfactory public school system ?
Our surrounding towns have long managed to secure BOE members with highly qualified backgrounds. Why can’t Norwalk’s political leaders do the same ?

Criticizing the BOE doesn’t produce a satisfactory public school system. Electing well qualified members with the skill sets to manage the public school administrators is required. Comparing the backgrounds of BOE members of our surrounding town BOE’s with Norwalk’s BOE’s speaks volumes. We need elect BOE members experienced in managing large enterprises. Ones who will demand our public school administrators raise their sights and get the job done demanded by the community.
Our public schools mission is to successfully educate our children. Not just build nice new schools.

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