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Update on the 2023-2024 NPS budget development

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella. (Norwalk Public Schools)

Norwalk Public Schools has presented an update of the 2023-2024 budget, and it is a request that we have anticipated for the last two years. We will spend an extensive amount of time in its development so that it is both educationally sound and fiscally responsible.

The preliminary request we are presenting to the Board of Education reflects a need to continue providing the same caliber of service and excellence to our students as we’ve done throughout the pandemic. We will also take into account the current economic climate and funding that the district didn’t receive in previous years.

In building the 2023-2024 budget, we will look at a number of factors contributing to our request, none more so than the federal funds received through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grants.

The effects of pandemic learning linger

 The expiring ESSER dollars have allowed us to provide needed social and emotional support for our students as they transitioned back to in-person learning on a daily basis. The funds also have helped us to accelerate the learning of our students given what they’ve lost throughout the pandemic.

These challenges will not end when our ESSER dollars reach their conclusion. They will continue to be areas of need to ensure the academic success of all our students moving forward.

Our request will include the reinstatement of school counselor and social worker positions back into the local budget. In making the best use of our ESSER funds, we covered the costs of these existing positions with those dollars in line with the request by the federal government to provide students with social and emotional services.

School counselors and social workers serve as our first responders in addressing students’ mental health concerns and behavioral problems. The 2021 Youth Survey conducted by The Norwalk Partnership found 39% of middle and high schools students were struggling with depression and 13% had contemplated suicide.

The addition of math and reading improvement teachers as well as improvement coaches for our classroom teachers has helped us accelerate the learning of our students to address the learning loss that occurred during the pandemic.

In many cases, the pandemic did not create these issues but only exacerbated them. These fundamental resources are common in districts similar to Norwalk and need to be incorporated as a recurring item in our budget.

Specialized learning costs increase

 A third component of the 2023-2024 budget request will be in response to rising costs for special education services.

Our district is proud to serve many of our students with special needs in their home schools through programs such as STARS, SUCCESS and PINE as well as our 18-22 programming, Next Steps and Project Search.

The main drivers contributing to the cost increases of specialized learning include:

  1. Out of District and settlement placements
  2. Grant(s) redistribution
  3. Contract service increases
  4. Other services, staffing, summer programming, and specialized IT

 

Norwalk Public Schools is legally required to provide these special education services to fulfill the needs of a students’ individual education plan (IEP) whether that’s in the district or by an outside provider.

Education is a people business with high quality teachers and staff our most important resources

 Teachers and staff are the most important resource available for delivering a high quality education. As a result, salaries and benefits will always be the largest category of every school system’s operating budget.

The work continues

 We as a district remain committed to finding ways to reduce our current budget request when possible. Not only are we invested in making sure students have the educational services they are entitled to but that we remain cognizant of the impact our budget has on taxpayers and the lives of our community members.

In making any reductions, we will strive not to compromise the quality and accessibility of the programs we currently offer. We also want to make sure that we don’t lose personnel, particularly those who call Norwalk home and whose loss will have a direct impact on our community as a whole.

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