NORWALK, Conn. – New details emerged Tuesday evening regarding Superintendent Susan Marks' plan to restore jobs in the Norwalk schools as city boards continue to struggle to set a spending plan for the school district.
The new plan would save more positions than the superintendent's previous budget reconciliation blueprint.
Marks' plan will be discussed at a special meeting Thursday of the Board of Education. But Barbara Smyth, a mother and unemployed teacher behind a series of "Save Our Schools" rallies, and West Rocks Middle School Principal Lynne Moore had expressed concern that Marks had not released the plan, averting public discussion, and because there will be no public comment at the meeting.
Also, the Board of Estimate and Taxation meets Wednesday to discuss the school budget reconciliation. That board came up with $2.2 million in relief of the $4 million deficit in this year's school budget, money that will be repaid over three years. Marks' new reconciliation plan estimates that the school board will see an additional $433,000 in relief from the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
That would be added to $500,000 of unexpended funds from the 2011-12 budget, for a total of about $1.4 million in additional funds. With that, Marks tentatively plans to reinstate three teachers and three assistant principals at elementary schools, three intervention aides, middle school teams, four middle school security monitors, six library aides, one Norwalk High School shop teacher and a half planetarium teacher at Roton.
You can read the plan's details here.
Smyth and Moore expressed concerns that the school board would make the decisions less than 24 hours after the Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting without any public input.
Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Jack Chiaramonte brushed off concerns about the lack of public input at Thursday's meeting. "How many meetings do we need where there has been public comment on the budget?" he said. "We've already heard what the public has got to say. We know what their concerns are, and now it's time for the board to do its job, what it was elected to do."
Smyth sent an email to school board members Tuesday morning, asking that they leave the vote for the July 17 meeting.
Chiaramonte said the vote would not be postponed. "We've been criticized before for going too slow, now we're criticized for going too fast," he said, adding that the concerns of school employees who have been laid off are paramount. Chiaramonte said he agreed with an email written by fellow Republican board member Mike Lyons.
"Dr. Marks has publicly stated her intention of focusing any restorations on the elementary and middle schools in the amended plan," Lyons wrote. "The board will, of course, discuss her proposal at our meeting Thursday night. Board members will be free to offer amendments for discussion and votes as has been done before. This will be about the 10th alternative budget proposal that the board will have looked at since January.
"Where the idea has come from that the board hasn't looked at alternative budgets mystifies me; our Finance Committee in particular has held many regular and special meetings throughout this process, and those deliberations (and the minutes of its proceedings) have been shared with the full board."
Moore expressed her concerns in an email last week. "The superintendent has not asked staff for input regarding budget items that she is recommending to be reinstated in the budget," Moore said. "It sounds like another slam/dunk like the June 21 BOE reconciliation meeting."
But Lyons disagreed. "Dr. Marks and Mr. Daddona have held several meetings with our school principals to discuss the budget and receive feedback, going back many months; statements from one principal to the contrary are false," he wrote in his email.
The best-case scenario from the Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting leaves the school board with about $6 million in adjustments to make to the 2012-13 budget. Lyons said the "magnitude of cuts" precludes restoring all the positions Smyth and others want.
"Dr. Marks and the board will have to make tough choices among good programs and good people, because we simply won't have the funding to retain them all," he said. "These cuts became inevitable when the Common Council passed a binding resolution to set the cap on our spending months ago; that binding resolution (unlike the nonbinding resolution passed more recently) will force the bulk of the job cuts we will finalize Thursday night."
Smyth did not return a request for comment Thursday night.
Correction made, 2 p.m.