NORWALK, Conn. – In spite of everything, the chairman of Norwalk's Board of Education is proud of Norwalk Public Schools' 2012-2013 budget, as approved Thursday night.
"I'm very, very proud of it, for what we had to do," Jack Chiaramonte. "I'm not proud that we lost a lot of jobs, but we were able to keep all of the programs for the kids. The AP is there, the music is there, the sports ... we've put back library aides, we put back intervention specialists, we put back AP people. We put back security. We put back all the positions that people told us they wanted to see get put back in the budget."
The eight board members present unanimously approved the reconciliation plan presented by Superintendent Susan Marks with little discussion in a special meeting that did not include public comment, West Rocks Middle School Principal Lynne Moore said in an email.
Chiaramonte confirmed her account: The meeting began at 8:10 p.m. and adjourned 18 minutes later. Board member Steven Colarossi asked if the board wanted to consider suspending the rules for public comment and suggested putting off the vote until Tuesday, the next regularly scheduled meeting. Chiaramonte said that wasn't necessary.
The chairman said he told Colarossi that it wasn't that simple. "We've had several meetings that we've heard from the public now, many of them going to midnight," he said. "We've had several emails, we talk to people directly. We have enough information. The most important thing is that there are people out there who do not know if they're going to be employed or not employed. It's very difficult to get the board together in the summertime because everybody has vacation plans. ... People need to know now whether they're employed or they're not employed."
Board member Mike Lyons spoke at the meeting, reading a letter he had sent to several parents in response to an "alternate plan" that was making the rounds. Chiaramonte agreed with Lyons' letter and provided a copy:
I have reviewed the "alternate" plan in detail with schools COO Elio Longo. Unfortunately, due to unsupportable budgetary assumptions and a major cost omission in the plan, it is at least $1.5 million short of balancing. That error means that the purported teacher restorations in that plan cannot, in fact, be funded. To adopt it would be setting up this year to be an exact repeat of last year – the BoE adopting an underfunded budget and then ending up in a deficit crisis.
Since the Board of Estimate began restoring funds a month or so ago, and including Dr. Marks' plan tonight, we will have restored 25 elementary teaching positions planned for elimination when our budget was at its original $9.9 million out of balance. We will have restored about five teachers at the middle and high school levels combined. We will have restored five elementary school assistant principals as well, as well as half the library aides.
I truly wish we could do more, but we cannot without additional funding, and I will not support an "alternate" budget that promises salvation but is built on a foundation of sand. We could have saved 25 more teacher jobs if we had a reasonable teachers union leadership, as other cities do; unfortunately, ours has been more interested in "drawing lines in the sand" than in taking a one-year salary freeze (as all other major city unions have done) to help us out. Waiting five more days will not change any of these facts. So, sorry to say, it is time to adopt this budget and move on.
"Mr. Lyons (formerly BET and now on BOE) spoke about getting the district's financial house in order," said Moore in her email. "I contend that our curriculum house must be in order. All the cuts are curriculum and program decisions contrary to Mr. Lyons, who stated that no programs were cut. Each cut has an impact upon curriculum and program delivery."
Marks' revised reconciliation plan allows the following positions to be restored:
- Three elementary teachers (25 were cut)
- Three elementary assistant principals (12 were cut; there were two vacancies)
- Six elementary intervention teacher assistants
- Middle school team leaders
- Four security monitors at middle school (each school will have one security monitor, West Rocks has had two monitors for nine years)
- Six elementary library teacher assistants (hours were cut to 27½ hours from 32½ hours and each person will serve in two schools, library services still severely reduced)
- One high school shop/auto teacher at Norwalk High
- .50 planetarium teacher (this is an elementary program)
- Jefferson, Kendall, Brookside and Marvin elementary schools will have a .50 assistant principal and one intervention teacher assistant; Cranbury, Rowayton, Silvermine, Naramake, Fox Run and Tracey elementary schools will each have a .50 assistant principal but no intervention teacher assistant. Columbus and Wolfpit elementary schools will have no assistant principal but one intervention teacher assistant.
The budget now includes more than $6 million in cuts, about $400,000 more than expected when the Common Council set its cap in March.
"We knew this would be a devastating budget," Chiaramonte said. ". ... We're happy we got through it and I'm happy that we did good for the people."