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To the Editor:
This year is shaping up to be a revolutionary one for the Common Council. What we did this past Tuesday when the Council and the Board of Education set the City’s operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 was pretty cool. We worked together and were smart about how it went, and most of all there weren’t big fights. The way in which the budget happened was really different than before.
I knew something better was happening a while ago when I sat down with the new BoE chairman, Mike Lyons. The feeling grew stronger after different meetings between the Council and the BoE, including the joint meeting held last month. The whole process was friendly and fun.
The city department heads, as well as Richard Rudl and Elio Longo of the BoE staff, all gave a great deal of data, answered all our questions, and worked with us all to get the job done. Chairman Lyons and the staff have made the financial reporting of the board simpler and more understandable. For that alone, they are to be commended. I can’t wait to see multiyear budget projections. That is going to be amazing for Norwalk.
The difference is really trust. The council trusted the numbers we were given. After many years of nasty back and forth to get the right information and arrive at some workable number, this is different. We now get information that makes sense. When the state aid is figured out and all other stuff is final (such as the number of retirees, etc.), the BET’s budget may actually fully fund the Board of Ed. This is in large part because we started with an honest request.
This is not to say there were no problems. There was some “crying wolf” in the paper, for example. The people who spread rumors to cause alarm and to get parents angry, did just that, even though there wasn’t so much of a reason to. Some things never change, so the Council (even me, with three kids in NPS) was told we were uncaring and bent on destroying public education in Norwalk, even though the school budget, year after year, is always increased.
Personally, I had some legitimate questions around the approximately $1.8 million ($10,000 per school day!) budgeted for substitute teachers of various kinds. I made a comparison to the Fire Department, where my husband works, where anyone absent for more than two days is required to provide a doctor’s note, as many places require. That is a lot of money, so if anything can be done to save, it would have huge implications. I understand that people get sick and need sick days, but something this large is worth a question or two.
Instead, I was publicly laughed at and interrupted from even trying to ask the question by the teacher’s union president. Later, I was made fun of by the same guy in the Union Newsletter, where he actually referred to me as a “nut.” You have seen that he attacked a Board of Education member and the former superintendent as well. I guess I wasn’t supposed to see that one, so maybe it is unfair to point out how cowardly it is to attack someone for asking a question.
The union president has gotten bent out of shape based on a word or two used to describe his quest for union gains, imagine how he would react if he were ridiculed for merely asking a question? That he would stoop to calling me names in something sent to every teacher in Norwalk reveals a lot about his character.
I like the way that Mike Lyons and Fred Wilms (of the BET) have worked on this budget with us. It is balanced, and it’s open. There was enough detail we even felt comfortable providing some more money to the schools while still knowing that we were protecting taxpayers.
After a great year of budget talks, the fastest way to undo all the good is for those that are seeking to make the most money for themselves to tear it down. I don’t want to go back to that system. The endless arguing that ends in mad parents and worn out volunteers both from the PTOs, the Council and the Board of Ed. I don’t want anyone to take us there, not by crying wolf and not by trying to hold on to an office in a union.
We should not raise one more dollar in taxes than is absolutely necessary. That is just truth. Yes, we will have a tax increase, but it is necessary to pay the Common Core Curriculum as well as to run the city effectively. I think we got to the right number. We need to keep doing it this way and get rid of the things that pull us into the muck and away from getting our kids educated.
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