NORWALK, Conn. – When Norwalk's by-the-numbers members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation meet Wednesday, a lot of emotional people will be staring at them in Concert Hall, hoping to make their point, even if they can't use the spoken word.
Barbara Smyth, a mother and teacher, has organized the fourth rally in support of Norwalk's schools for before the meeting, this time titled, "Show Me the Money." The BET's agenda includes a discussion of the Board of Education's current year deficit and a possible revision in the BET's approach to the problem. This follows a nonbinding resolution unanimously approved by the Common Council, urging the BET to use the "rainy day fund" to cover the school board's deficit.
BET Chairman Fred Wilms has said he is against using that "rainy day" money, referred to as the general fund surplus or unassigned fund balance, to balance the school board's 2012-13 budget. Thomas Hamilton, Norwalk's finance director and the staff member assigned to the BET, said Monday he does not recommend such a course of action.
"We're still going to fight for it," Smyth said. "We're going to fight for those funds." Smyth, a former Ponus Ridge Middle School teacher, is currently unemployed. She had been working in a wealthy school district but has resigned.
She expects a good showing at the rally and said parents have been emailing and making phone calls. "I know that the public is not allowed to speak at the BET meeting, but we're hopeful that our numbers will mean something," she said.
Children with homemade signs and their parents made a strong showing at the City Council meeting, which many people credited for the unanimous vote on the non-binding resolution.
"I think that it's democracy," said Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion. "If we didn't have this many people here tonight I don't think we would have gotten this result."
The BET will discuss the surpluses found in the school board's current year budget, Hamilton said. He expects BET to continue to use the tools it has been applying – stretching out insurance fund repayments – to help the school board cover the deficit.
"I have made my recommendations," Hamilton said. "If they were to tap into the unassigned fund balance it would bring us down below the median of other Triple As and that does concern me for rating agency purposes."
Smyth has heard that the surpluses are not major. Mellion said Mayor Richard Moccia's concerns about the Triple A bond rating are exaggerated.
"He's overplaying that," he said. "(The $4 million is) a loan, he's not giving it to us. (There's) $26 million in general fund balance. He's got money in contingency. He's got $400,000 surplus in contingency. He's raising the contingency next year from $1.3 million to $1.5 million. ... There's a $300 million city budget and they're going to have money left over. Stop it. Does he think we were born yesterday? Please."
The Show Me The Money rally begins at 6 p.m. on the front lawn of City Hall. It ends when the Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in Concert Hall.
Updated 9:20 a.m.