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Staff Cuts Dominate Budget Plan in Norwalk Schools

Norwalk parents and the Board of Education have some homework over the holiday break, courtesy of Schools Superintendent Susan Marks. On Wednesday, Marks released her recommended budget for the 2011-12 school year. It is available for download on the district's website .

The proposed $155.3 million budget reflects a 3.3 percent increase over this year's budget. At a news conference at her City Hall office, Marks told reporters that to maintain the same level of staffing and programs, she would have needed an increase of 6 percent. Consequently, the school board will have to make $4 million in cuts to balance the books.

Marks said more money is needed to cover salaries, employee health benefits and resources to support special education. "In order to send the Board of Education a budget that is fiscally responsible, this budget represents staff and program reductions at all levels of the school system: elementary, middle and high school as well as the central office," said Marks.

Most of the cuts would be in staffing. Below is a list of proposed staffing cuts from pages 8-9 of her budget book.

• High school staff cuts: One Housemaster at each high school, one security position at each high school, one Brien McMahon librarian, one school-to-career staff member at each high school.

• Middle school staffing reductions: One assistant principal at Ponus and West Rocks, 0.5 guidance counselor at Ponus and West Rocks, 0.5 guitar teacher at Ponus and West Rocks.

• Elementary school staff reductions: Two assistant principals (schools not yet determined), all Grade 1 instructional aides, intervention aides, three Columbus aides, one strings teacher (strings to start in Grade 4).

• Central office cuts: IT staff developer, full-time IT specialist becomes part time, 1.5 literacy coaches, two numeracy coaches, four reserve teachers for increased enrollment.

The budget also would cut the co-op swimming and hockey teams, as well as $20,000 from each of the high school bands.

Marks, who moved from Montgomery County, Md., to Norwalk in July, said, "I came to Norwalk to bring what I learned from my experience in a diverse school district. I came to raise the rigor and put in place programs. I'm disappointed. These are very difficult times," she said.

"As the economic situation improves, Norwalk must consider reinvesting considerably in our school system in order for our students to be competitive in the 21st century and ready for college," she wrote in the budget's introduction.

However, Marks said she was pleased the budget was created collaboratively, with input from union leaders, central office administrators and parents. "We are beginning to establish some good processes here." She also said the committee worked to make the budget document easily understandable for parents and community members.

Here are meetings you can attend to learn more about the budget or to voice your opinions:

• Jan. 3: School board finance committee to review, 7 p.m.

• Jan. 4: School board meeting to discuss the budget, 7:45 p.m.

• Jan. 6: School board budget work session, 7 p.m.

• Jan. 11: Special school board meeting to vote on budget, 7:45p.m.

What do you think of this budget proposal? What are your concerns?

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