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Parents Descend on City Hall To Support Schools

More than 100 parents, teachers and principals crowded into the community room at City Hall on Monday night to show their support for education funding in Norwalk, as the Board of Estimation & Taxation considered the city's 2011-12 operating budget.

Parent M.J. Chironna held a "Support Education" sign made by first-graders at Fox Run Elementary School. Karen Pace, PTO president of Brien McMahon High School's parents club, attended because she thinks that proposed cuts of housemasters and security personnel at the high schools would be "devastating."

"Your presence is sending a message," BET Chairman Fred Wilms said as he began the meeting that had to be moved to a bigger room to accomodate the large than anticipated turnout.  At the meeting, Norwalk's Finance Director Tom Hamilton told BET members that school spending made up 54 percent of the city's total budget of $287 million that he was recommending.

The Board of Education wants $156.7 million for 2011-12, a 4.25 percent increase over last year. But Hamilton said the city could afford only a 2 percent increase. Hamilton said the city's economic situation is still weak. He cited a stagnant tax base and a decline in state funding for education. According to Hamilton, revenue from city fees and permits are flat, while pension contributions and retiree benefits continue to increase.  Also, city employees will receive 2 to 2.75 percent wage increases next year, however, they received 0 percent this year as a result of renegotiating their contracts.  Hamilton urged BOE employees to open their contracts like city employees did last year.

Even though the school board is not getting as much money as it wanted, Hamilton said, city taxes would rise by 1.8 percent if the budget was approved. A median single-family home in central Norwalk with $6,000 in property taxes would see its property taxes go up $107 under the spending plan.

Mayor Moccia acknowledged parents who held up "support education" signs, but said that for every parent present at the meeting there was a struggling senior on fixed income who can't afford tax increases.  The meeting format did not allow for public comment.

Over the past week, parent groups have been sending letters, emails and Facebook messages warning about the effect of a 2 percent cap on spending. "Parents: Dr. Marks' recommended budget was a 3.32 percent budget - just imagine the severity of cuts at 2 percent?" Lisa Lenskold, PTO Council president, wrote in a letter to parents. The PTOC has also set up a Facebook page .

Superintendent Susan Marks' recommended budget included cuts to first grade aides, elementary school intervention aides, assistant principals in a couple of elementary schools and middle schools, high school housemasters and security personnel, in addition to a few employees in the Central Office.

Drew Todd, a Wolfpit Elementary School parent, sent a letter to neighbors, warning that Wolfpit might close if the cap were set at 2 percent. "These budget cuts could, if implemented, close small neighborhood schools, such as Wolfpit Elementary School," he wrote.

"Parents are going to flabbergasted by the type of cuts in a 2 percent cap," Lenskold said. "I want everyone to become educated on the budget. The future of our kids and future of our city depend on it."

On Thursday, the Common Council is meeting to discuss the city's operating budget.

What do you think of the city's recommended 2 percent cap on the Board of Education budget?

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