NORWALK, Conn. – Cuts to the Norwalk school budget adopted Thursday night were described as "devastating" and "painful" by members of the Board of Education, who voted 6 to 1 to enact Superintendent Susan Marks' reconciliation plan. But board members say there is hope that at least some of the employees who are being cut will be reinstated.
"We are adopting a budget tonight because we have a legal obligation to announce our budget by the end of the fiscal year," which ends June 30, BOE member Mike Lyons said during the meeting. "But ... I think I can say pointedly, we have not given up on options to try to add things back into this budget."
Steven Colarossi was the only member of the board who didn't vote for the reconciliation plan (dated June 21). He was the only member to vote for the alternative plan he had developed. BOE members Artie Kassimis and Migdalia Rivas were not present. Rivas has a family situation, according to Lynne Moore, principal of West Rocks Middle School. Kassimis said he had been there for the expected 7 p.m. start of the meeting but was called away by a family emergency.
The meeting was delayed due to an inaccurate report in The Hour that it would begin at 7:45 p.m.
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.
High school housemasters are being cut back to 11 months and secretarys' hours are being cut.
"I know the mayor has been talking to members of the Common Council and the Board of Estimate and is investigating other ways of getting us some additional financial relief," Lyons said. "We are talking to the teacher's union; there are communications going on about possible arrangements that might be made there. This budget is, I think, very appropriately conservative in the sense that we are not working into a bunch of assumptions about money we might get." Lyons said the budget could be amended as things develop.
Mayor Richard Moccia said he had spoken to members of the state delegation to try and expedite Medicaid payments to cover special education costs. He offered confirmation of Lyons' comment, saying that he was trying to work with the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) and Finance Director Tom Hamilton "to replace some of the cuts that are in here, especially with the APs (assistant principals) and the library areas."
"Can't guarantee, but I will try," he said.
Fred Wilms, BET chairman, was in the audience during the meeting and spent time onstage chatting with Moccia and BOE members after it ended.
Common Council President Carvin Hilliard said Wednesday that he thought it might be possible to take $1 million out of the city's "rainy day fund." Council member Doug Hempstead was less optimistic.
"My feeling is just give me as much money as you can and we'll try to put it to good use," Marks said Tuesday evening. "Hopefully people will be talking to each other."
Asked why the cuts affected the elementary schools so greatly, Marks said it was because there are more of them.
"We have 12 elementary schools," she said. "We needed to get to 9.9 million ... it is difficult to find big stuff. I am not a proponent of cutting elementary school assistant principals but they are $1.7 million in our budget. That's a big number. Media assistants are $690,000. I love libraries and it is the hub of the school. Unfortunately it comes down to numbers."
If more revenues are found, she said, reinstating resources to the elementary schools would be her first priority.
Board Member Rosa Murray expressed concern about safety at the schools Thursday night, asking if security might be reestablished if more revenues were found.
"If we do get additional resources, if you want to support elementary schools in terms of assistant principals, intervention aides and library aides, and middle schools in terms of team leaders and security, that's a significant amount of money," Marks replied. "That would be what I would be recommending first as we find other sources of revenue."
There are no good cuts, she said Tuesday. "The current reconciliation is built on the faulty notion that we are trying to do what hurts us the least," she said. "... I think that the reductions in all areas will have deep repercussions in our school system."
"This isn't over yet," said Jack Chiaramonte, BOE chairman. "We are still trying our best."
Norwalk Daily Voice is not providing budget documents as PDFs due to technical difficulties. They are presented above as photographs.