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Do you hold Mayor Richard Moccia responsible for the shortfall in the Board of Education budget?View Results
Do you hold Mayor Richard Moccia responsible for the shortfall in the Board of Education budget?
He deserves some of the blame, but not all35%
To the Editor,
This year's Board of Education budget shortfall has created a lot of confusion. There is no doubt that if the full $4 million deficit is not resolved, our education system will be weakened, putting our children at risk. Interestingly, no one has wanted to point fingers and no one has been held accountable. Here is where I have a difference of opinion.
I believe lack of oversight and the notion of business as usual is what is keeping our city from moving forward. In these types of circumstances, city government should operate like a business.
Stakeholders, elected officials and senior leaders should have called for an immediate investigation and a forensic audit, with the results shared publicly in a timely manner. This is not a small error; we are dealing with millions of dollars and jeopardizing the future of our next generation.
This is another example of how leaders in our city are careless in their actions and demeanor; they are casual in their approach to both big and small problems. What is the sense of being a top official when you do not roll up your sleeves for those who put you in that very position?
What we have witnessed in these last few months is called complacency. A high performing chief elected official builds and maintains relationships with his senior staff and elected bodies and sets clear expectations so that financial blunders do not occur.
What top official does not have ongoing weekly/monthly meetings with their senior leadership team? It does not take me by surprise that we have such a hole in the budget with key financial staff coming and going, yet their work or performance is never checked upon their exit.
Where is the oversight? Thankfully, the BOE's new chief operating officer found the accounting error and our city's finance director has come up with great solutions that should be implemented. Nevertheless, the forensic audit still needs to happen.
In late February I made a motion to set a 2.8 percent increase in the mill rate. This was hailed as a bipartisan compromise, by both Republicans and Democrats. My motion received 12 out of 15 council members support. If, at that time, I knew that the BOE would be short $4 million, my approach would have been radically different. The Democrats were ready to support the mayor's proposal at 3.8 percent, but my Republican colleagues were holding for a 2- to 2.4-percent increase – so we compromised.
I still believe that it was the right number at that time, balancing the need to have a high performing school system which attracts people to buy homes in Norwalk and raise their families here with the need to be sensitive to the average household's tax burden, especially those on fixed income. This is not an easy task.
Furthermore, demanding labor cuts, continually asking our teachers to do more with less, needs to end. This cannot and should not be the solution. A major shortfall in the OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits, which funds healthcare for retired city workers) could have been caught if the administration had been diligent in holding our insurance broker accountable on a yearly basis.
The problem is leadership, fiscal responsibility and oversight. Norwalk needs to change the way we do business in a lot of areas. We need to replace casual, careless ways of doing business with professionalism and accountability. We need to catch up to the 21st century and rid ourselves of these antiquated ways.