NORWALK, Conn. — Four of Norwalk's top officials announced late Tuesday that they have reached an agreement on an operating budget proposal for the city's schools and a framework for a capital budget that would build new schools and repair existing ones.
A statement on the agreement was released Tuesday from Common Council President John Igneri, Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons, Mayor Harry Rilling, and Superintendent Steven Adamowski.
"We agree that our schools are making progress that has not been seen in many years. We agree that investing in education is not only the right thing to do, but also necessary and in the best interest of the future of our city," the statement said in a show of unity.
The city officials acknowledge that the schools are a priority and proper funding may necessitate budget cuts elsewhere in the city.
"We agree that to continue to make strides and bring our schools up to the quality of neighboring districts, we will have to tighten our belts in other areas of the city budget," the statement said. "We agree that we need to be responsible in making spending decisions that will keep our tax rates reasonable and encourage our diversity."
The officials agreed that although the Board of Estimate and Taxation will make the final decision on appropriations to the Board of Education, the mayor, the City Council and the Board of Education will put forward a unified proposal that will enable the school board to implement its strategic plan as well as maintain a reasonable increase in the tax rate.
The Board of Education was faced with a 10.1 percent increase in its operating budget over the prior year. The city’s finance director recommended a 3.8 percent increase. Half of the school board's increase was caused by the increased cost of employee health insurance, the statement said.
The school board will "neutralize" this cost by switching to the State 2.0 medical insurance plan and using its remaining medical increase reserves, which brings the net school board request to a 5.2 percent increase.
After much discussion, the following recommendations were made:
- The Board of Education will identify efficiencies and program reductions to enable a savings of $1.3 million
- The city will recommend appropriating $1.3 million from its fund balance to go toward the school board's operating budget.
This will result in a year over year increase of 4.5 percent in the education budget and a 2.5 percent increase on the city side for a combined year over year increase of 3.4 percent.
Although the details and timing remains to be worked out, the mayor, council and Board of Education have agreed on a framework for a Capital Budget request. They hope to solidify this plan in the next two weeks.
"There is a joint commitment to making a long-awaited major investment in the school building program, which will include the building of new schools, the renovation of schools, and priority repairs and capital projects at all schools," the statement said.
The Board of Education will work with the city on a revised proposal to achieve these goals while keeping the level of bonding at a rate that will maintain the city’s favorable bond rating The city's finance director is working on recommendations for timing of appropriations and bonding to facilitate these objectives.
"Of course, this agreement is subject to the approval of the Council, BET and BOE. But the Mayor and the leadership of the respective boards believe this is the right solution for both our school children and our taxpayers, and are confident of its approval," the statement said.