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Norwalk Schools Restore Some Cuts in Budget

NORWALK, Conn. – Freshman sports and police security at the high schools have been spared from cuts in next year's Norwalk school budget, according to a statement from Norwalk Public Schools.

The $10 million in cuts necessary in Norwalk's school budget for 2012-13 have been dropped to $7.7 million, thanks to an adjustment made at Monday night's Board of Estimate and Taxation, Chairman Fred Wilms said. As a result, Superintendent Susan Marks released a revised budget proposal to the Norwalk Daily Voice at 4:11 p.m.

As initially announced Friday, the plan includes staff reductions in the central office, as well a large cut in teachers, administrators and support staff at the individual school level. But it avoids closing any schools and retains key academic, sports, music and other programs for Norwalk's students.

The updated reconciliation plan restores:

• 20 elementary school teachers, thus assuring that full day kindergarten will be maintained in all of Norwalk's elementary schools;

• two 11-month Housemasters at the high schools;

• two elementary school assistant principals;

• the central office science instructional specialist;

• freshman sports programs at both high schools;

• funding for police presence at both high schools; and

• funding for band transportation.

The BET made the arrangement Monday night over concerns for early childhood learning, said Wilms. Marks told the board that full-day kindergarten might not be possible with the amount of cuts necessary.

"Obviously, that was a real source of concern," Wilms said. "I'm not an educator, but I've heard enough of this to believe that we really need to get kids off to the right start."

The cuts are necessary for two reasons:

• The Common Council set a lower budget cap than requested by Mayor Richard Moccia and Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, which meant that $5.9 million needed to be cut from Marks initial request, which called for a same services budget.

• A shortfall of about $4 million was uncovered in the current year school budget, which has been attributed mainly to higher than expected health insurance costs.

"The thing people don't understand is the $4 million isn't missing," Wilms said. "It's not like a big bag of money that was sitting in a vault somehow, and we've opened the vault and there's not $4 million cash there. This is a budget shortfall, an accounting issue."

The BET assigned the $4 million deficit to the insurance trust fund created by the Common Council several years ago, Wilms said. The board was initially expected to pay it back out of the 2012-13 budget. But Monday night, the board voted unanimously to accept repayment of $2.2 million out of the following year's budget. That gave Marks significantly more funding.

"As previously noted, as we continue working through the budget, our goal is to save programs essential to learning," Marks said in a statement. "The large budget gap this year presented extreme challenges, and reductions had to be made more deeply than we would have liked. However, my staff and I have worked with board members, the mayor and other city officials to save as many school resources as possible in this reconciliation process, including the academically talented program at our elementary and middle schools, high school AP, honors and other academic programs, and sports and music programs. No schools are closed, all-day kindergarten is preserved, and the budget funds a full-time chief financial officer.

"We wish to express our thanks to Mayor [Richard] Moccia and the Board of Estimate for providing us with this $2.2 million of budget relief, which has allowed us to save these additional jobs and programs."

The budget is on the agenda for Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting, which begins at 7:45 p.m in the Common Council chambers at City Hall.

A special meeting on the topic is planned for 7:30 p.m., Monday, June 11, in Concert Hall.

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