Two days after passing a budget with more than $4 million in cuts, Norwalk school board members and school officials had a range of reactions — from "devastated" to "less harmful" — about the end result.
The school board worked late into the night Tuesday, debating and voting on the cuts that brought its budget down to $155 million. By the end, 33 positions were eliminated and several nonpersonnel expenditures were reduced. Cuts include 10 teachers, two high school housemasters, West Rocks’ assistant principal, central office administrators and security positions at the high schools. (Click here for the full list.)
“I hated doing it,” board Chairman Jack Chiaramonte said of the cuts. “We tried to keep the cuts away from the kids directly.” The board decided not to cut first grade aides, intervention aides, library aides, or the third grade strings program.
The board’s four Democrats voted against the budget. Jodi Bishop-Pullan, who has been on the board for 12 years, said, “This was the worst budget I’ve gone through. I’m devastated by how much was cut. It just wasn’t enough money. You can blame the city or you can blame the unions. In either case, I just can’t condone this budget.”
Bishop-Pullan is especially worried about the high schools. “I’m concerned about the student-to-teacher-to-administrator ratio if we lose the housemasters,” she says. “A lot of the problems that happen in urban high schools can be avoided with the right staffing.”
Chiaramonte said the cuts will take a toll on Central Office. Three top administrator positions were cut: the director of elementary education, instructional specialist for grants and instructional specialist for social studies/grants. “Jobs at Central Office will be more stressful. People will have to do the jobs of two or three people,” he said.
Superintendent Susan Marks said she is also concerned about the “very, very thin” Central Office. “Successful school system need resources in the schools, and they also need resources to support the schools and be responsive to teachers and parents." She said cuts in Central Office affect curriculum development, professional development and administrator evaluations. Nonetheless, she said, "We don't have a choice. There are things that have to get done."
With 10 teachers cut, Marks says she will be paying close attention to class sizes next year.
Steve Colarossi, chairman of the board’s finance committee, said most cuts have some affect on student achievement, however, he said the board was successful in minimizing the impact of the cuts. “I think these were less harmful types of cuts.” He said he sought to minimize the number of people who would lose their jobs by reducing positions of people who were retiring or leaving the district.
Mayor Richard Moccia was at Tuesday’s meeting until the end. He broke two significant ties voting in favor of two elementary assistant principals and against two high school housemasters.
Like Colarossi, Moccia is a satisfied with the results. “This detailed review by Dr Marks' administration and the Board of Ed members resulted in a collaboration that avoided the dire the predictions that some had made about the future of our system,” he said.
Midway through the meeting, when he heard that the board had $2.1 million remaining to cut, Chiaramonte had an outburst about the lack of union concessions. “I thought to myself: That was the amount we would have had if the teachers took a pay freeze," he said of the moment. “They could have saved their co-workers jobs.”
The teacher’s union retirement play yielded $130,000 in savings instead of the anticipated $350,000 from an early retirement incentive package eventually offered by the teachers' unions.
Colarossi also took issue with some of the superintendent’s proposed cuts, especially the elementary school-based ones, and advocated for preserving first grade and intervention aides. “Every study I’ve read says the best way to reduce the achievement gap is to promote early childhood learning.”
Moving forward, Marks plans to work with the board on strategic planning. “Our budget decisions must relate to the needs of the school system,” she said. “They should also be tied to accountability, good teaching and consistency from school to school."
Chiaramonte is hopeful the district will be able to restore both housemaster and the West Rocks' assistant principal positions. Marks said the district is negotiating health insurance contracts that will produce savings. At Tuesday’s meeting, the mayor also suggested nonpersonnel items for possible savings. “We should know about these positions pretty soon,” said Chiaramonte.
Follow TheDailyNorwalk.com on Facebook.