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Where’s the data?

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This is an lightly edited version of a letter sent to the Board of Education and the Common Council.  

While I believe strongly in funding our schools, I have concerns as to why important questions have not been answered during this budget cycle. In recent weeks we have heard about the threats of not being able to pay salaries and keep our vital schoolteachers and counselors, during a mental health crisis following an unprecedented time in history (Covid-19).

However, if you listen to the meetings and the asks, why is NPS unable to share data as to what our contractual obligations are for staffing? Why are those numbers not part of the conversation?  And where will the money go if more funding is provided?

Broad percentages are helpful visuals, but this is a big deal and at minimum the people who are chosen to make such a decision need to be the most informed. How much will go to education and curriculum? How much will go to needed building improvements that have been on the roster for years at a variety of our schools?

Not having this type of information is a hard pill to swallow, I would assume when voting. And I credit our elected officials for taking our taxpayers’ money seriously and being conservative in an effort to draw this information. At least, I hope you are.

Why can’t detailed data be shared?

For clarification here are the bullet points, that need further data and info in my view…

200 new hires over past two years: Breakdown and Cost

  • How many social workers and counselors were hired with ESSER funds before covid?
  • How many interventionists and coaches?
  • Quality Review team costs?
  • Contractual obligations? For 2023/2024 do not see that listed.

 

Without this information, how can a number even be stated and approved? How do elected officials who care, even work beyond 4%? This information is lacking.

Funding is important but concerns about spending are essential.

And where it is going and the priorities or lack thereof is a must ask that should be well received.

I agree with the many comments at last week’s meeting, I think 4% is not enough based on the exponential growth within our student community – but in my opinion 12.7% is a huge ask and can affect our cities financial well-being for years to come.

We need to have a reasonable conversation and accountability needs to be the theme. Growing a community is a wonderful thing but we have to sustain it. We need to educate our future and spend money on academics. All the other components can come into place as well, but the first priority needs to be based on what will truly benefit all students.

It all adds up!  For example: $300,000 per year just for the lease of the Family Welcome Center that averages 10 people per day??? While I do not discount the needs of these people and families, perhaps we can look for more cost-effective ways to provide these needs within City Hall and our schools. Many of these needs we have touted as already being available within the walls of City Hall and the schools, yet we celebrated a grand opening and staffed a hub for 50 people a week? That could just as easily use City Hall or their school as a resource?

$87,000 for a school bus due to a new program truly seems like we have a lack of priorities, since we are having a conversation about cutting some very essential school personnel (like counselors).

The numbers all add up. No one is disputing that we should fund our students and provide them with the tools that they need to be successful. But the question is, why has the BoE not voted in the last 12 months to ensure that the money allocated has been well spent? This has to be where priority and accountability come into play.

I hope that the Council will consider tabling the vote to March 7 unless they have received the proper data and contractual obligations and been provided with what they have been requesting all along. Many have lost sight of this and it cannot fly under the radar.

March 7 was the original deadline. An overview of spending is not unreasonable. Until then, I do not see how the council can vote on anything over 4%. Anyone voting on this should demand detailed data…because I believe our students and teachers’ needs should be met for academics. We need them and they are what makes our school thrive. I want to see more than 4% for my kids and all kids in Norwalk, but I also want accountability and spending to be a priority amongst our leaders elected and employed. Simple math and facts are vital.

Diana Paladino Christopher

Diana Paladino Christopher is a Chapman Hyperlocal Media Inc. Board member. The views represented here are her own.

2 comments

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell February 28, 2023 at 11:51 am

Diana you are asking good questions. Here is the page on the website with the district’s union contracts:

https://norwalkps.org/547227_3

The contracts stipulate the salary steps. The numbers used in NPS budget book are taken from an average.

It’s my son’s birthday today, but I will try and pull the historical data on the salary steps for you of you specify which data points you want.

Erica M DePalma February 28, 2023 at 1:01 pm

Good afternoon Diana,

First, please know this has all been provided in the budget book and subsequently broken down in different cuts of the same data when requested by the Common Council. I appreciate the questions, and as part of this year’s budget cycle I wanted to ensure that arguments around a “lack of transparency” were not something that would be the focus of this year’s budget conversation. The efficiency study and a robust budget book were conducted / developed to take any comments around transparency off the table.

That being said, I’ll quickly answer a few questions before heading out with the kids to sleigh ride 😊
• On page 97 of the budget book there’s a breakdown of salaries and benefits for the requested school counselors and social workers.
• The 1,900 Family Center stat referenced above is a statistic reflecting the number of families that visited the center with appointments between July and December. Several thousand have moved through the Center since its opening to receive services, the large majority without an appointment. The 10 / per day visitation rate is not accurate. This clarification was made for the Council as well.
• In addition to the information available in the Budget book, we’ve published an Infographic for the Community on Improvement teachers that speaks to your question on headcount.
• We have FAQs published that also answers your questions above. See the “staffing breakout by line item” FAQ.
• The cost of adding a Family Center noted above is not accurate. The net incremental cost of operating the Family Center is approximately $195,000 or $16,250 monthly incremental. NPS was not offered space in City Hall. In fact, NPS’s footprint at City Hall was recently reduced when NPS was displaced from the 1st floor.
• Sharing links to the budget documents for quick reference:
2023-24 Recommended Budget:
https://www.norwalkps.org/612494_3
Budget FAQs:
https://www.norwalkps.org/540240_3?articleID=121888#faqs
Budget in brief:
https://www.norwalkps.org/540240_3?articleID=121888#budgetinbrief

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