NORWALK, Conn. – No midnight oil was burned as Norwalk's Board of Education voted last week to lay off more than 70 employees of the Norwalk School District, a fact that was met with consternation, not relief.
"An hour of discussion on $10 million in cuts," said West Rocks Middle School Principal Lynne Moore. "Pathetic. We have never, ever had a reconciliation with an hour only of discussion."
"This was a hatchet job," said Aaron Hull, the father of two young girls.
Republican Steven Colarossi was the only board member to question the reconciliation plan presented by Superintendent Susan Marks. He was also the only one to vote against it in a meeting that lasted a little more than an hour.
"When we elect board members, don't we expect them to look out for us?" Moore asked. "They are the voice. They're not the voice of the superintendent. They are the voice for the kids. ... All across the board we have politicians playing with kids' lives and didn't even respond to data."
Cuts in the budget include 10 elementary school assistant principals, two middle school assistant principals, four aides at Columbus Magnet School, 12 elementary school library aides, two middle school library aides, 25 elementary school teachers, four middle school teachers, two high school teachers, one planetarium teacher, one special education teacher, one Norwalk High School shop teacher, one school to career teacher, five Briggs High School teachers, six literacy specialists and one school psychologist – a total of 77 positions.
"I think that the budget reconciliation that they voted on tonight is absolutely reprehensible," said Bruce Mellion, president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers. "There was many places in here where they could have had reductions, millions of dollars with far less impact on students. ... I also think it's unfortunate that this process that's going on all year long is basically done in a half-hour, a rubber stamp of Dr. Marks' version with little discussion."
Moore had pointed comments for Mayor Richard Moccia and Fred Wilms, chairman of the Board of Estimate and Taxation. "Moccia's having a field day. He's enjoying the power trip, and so is Wilms," she said.
Moccia did not respond to a request for comment. Wilms said he would not respond to personal attacks.
Moore said politicians are ignoring the fact that school board requests have been cut for years. Jack Chiaramonte, school board chairman, has also complained about constant cuts.
"Eventually, you've been slicing away at the Board of Ed for years," he said. "You're trimming away all the fat. Now we're at the point where we're getting meat and bone, because we don't have enough money to keep the status quo."
Chiaramonte, who is running for the 25th District Senate seat, stressed that the state's educational cost sharing formula is to blame
"The real problem here is we're not being funded accordingly by the state," he said. "We're only being funded at 7 percent. All the other districts in our DRG (District Reference Group) are being funded at 29 percent. We're losing $28 million because the people in Hartford feel we're rich. If I had what Danbury has – Danbury has 600 students less than us, they get $15 million more than we do. We get 10, they get 25. ...Would we even be here arguing? No, we wouldn't. Basically, the people in Hartford are not treating us right."
Moore said Norwalk's process is backward, as the cap is set and then the Board of Education begins holding hearings to determine what the needs are.
"It's such a flawed process," she said. "... To me, it's like the joke. It's 'the chicken.' 'This is what we're going to do and we'll see what you can do about it, if anything.' Think of last year, we had that whole Norwalk High auditorium packed with people. Did it matter? No. Did it matter when the cap was being set this year? That's the premise upon which they're working."
At Tuesday's Board of Education meeting she said she had heard the board had four votes lined up to support Marks' reconciliation plan. On Thursday she said, "It was a done deal. ... This was just pathetic."