This is an open letter to the Norwalk Board of Education.
I am unable to make the BOE meeting tonight but wanted to weigh in on the state of the NPS budget and proposed new Norwalk High School.
As many of you know I have for years, argued the disconnect between our city land use policies and school funding, both when I had children in the school system and now two years out of NPS.
My fiscally responsible positions have been publicly documented for over a decade. Why? Because each year, we struggle with school funding, due to the fact that Norwalk does not generate enough revenue to support what has increasingly become a majority population of impoverished and high needs students.
As a parent, I wrote grants and fundraised and made regular trips to Hartford to speak on behalf of our ECS funding plight. We are short changed millions – not hundreds of thousands of dollars. The CCJEF v. Rell lawsuit confirmed it – only to be politically overturned by a narrow 4-3 margin by the Connecticut Supreme Court. Despite state official claims to have ‘corrected’ the matter – Norwalk’s new ECS level barely keeps up with inflation over the next ten years and does not take into account the dramatic shift in our student demographics.
The budget crisis we find ourselves in did not occur overnight. ELL enrollment has been steadily climbing since 2013 – culminating with the spiked enrollment this past fall. That is why I ask all of you to take a real hard look at your budget and the programs within and examine it against the backdrop of the combined city budget. Last year, the 2019-20 budget was $367M. In order to support just a 1% increase or $3.6M, it will require $225M in grand list growth if we maintain last year’s mill rate of .023. Given the outstanding revaluation appeals, lawsuits, developer tax credits and other legal settlements, not to mention declining real estate values, it’s not a pretty financial picture.
Regarding Norwalk High School – I find it both highly unlikely, as well as financially irresponsible, that our state legislature would vote to allocate a premium of 80% versus the customary 32% reimbursement and $100M premium in funding for 100 student seats. In the event special legislation could pull this off, would that money not be better allocated to student needs today? Call me old fashioned, but I always thought it was the instruction and learning that goes on ‘inside’ a school rather than its ‘external’ brick and mortar façade that makes a student successful. The closest analogy I can come up with regarding the proposed high school funding in our waterfront community, is one’s parents helping to purchase a fancy, new super-fandango yacht to replace a small, but functional fishing boat, all while the young couple struggles to pay for groceries, utilities and day to day operating expenses. It’s simply not responsible.
The people of Norwalk, teachers and students deserve honest conversations about the state of our finances, not just this year – but the next. A Board of Education that uses its mind as well as its heart would go a long way to helping us get there.
Thank you for reading.