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Marks Warns of 'Bare Bones' Budget

Superintendent Susan Marks told the district's PTO Council that she expects a "bare bones" operating budget for the 2011-12 school year even though spending is expected to increase.

Marks told the council at a meeting Monday night that she has met with Tom Hamilton, city director of finance, who indicated the school board should expect a 2.5 percent to 3 percent increase over last year's $150 million budget. Last year, the city gave the schools a zero percent increase.

"We plan to present a budget that is frugal, with no extras, but that meets our needs," said Marks, who didn't rule out cuts. "We may need to cut people or programs."

Marks said employee benefits and negotiated salary increases eat up most of that increase. She also noted that this year the district is losing $2.8 million in federal stimulus funds. In addition, Marks predicts a loss of $1.4 million in state funding.

But Marks hopes to have $500,000 carried over from a jobs bill passed by Congress in September to save teaching jobs, and she's also seeking grants.

For the past five weeks, a budget committee has been meeting and "going over each line and scrubbing the budget," Marks said. Bruce Mellion, president of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, attended Monday's meeting. "This is the first time such a committee has met. We are all involved from Day 1," said Mellion, who sits on the committee, with administrators, union representatives and parents.

Marks and Mellion emphasized the need for parents to advocate for the schools before city officials who determine the budget. Kerry O'Neill, PTOC vice president, pointed to a perceived "lack of trust" among the school board, the city and parents. "We've been through this before," said O'Neill. Marks said she hopes to rebuild that trust by not hiding anything.

The draft budget will be presented to the school board early next month. On Dec. 13, the PTOC will discuss it.

What do you think parents can do to get an increase in school spending? And if that doesn't happen, what can be cut out of the budget? Post a comment below and start the conversation.

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