I guess my question to you would be why is it that many private schools are able to provide good, solid educations to their students for a lower cost?
If you review the financial statements for a private school, you will see your question answered. Norwalk has unfunded mandates and provides special education, as well as reduced/free lunches that private schools don't have a requirement to. They also have healthy endowments to subsidize costs. Norwalk's debt leavel at 6/2011 was 1.37x tax revenue and is allowed to go up to 7x. What I am saying is that the edcuational programs for students should not be impacted by increasing costs for contractual services or pension obligations. This is not done for any other municipal work force. given the current AAA rating, it will be a while before Norwalk is bankrupt. I do agree that there needs to be more effort done to improve shared services and improved internal controls over expenses.
What always surprises me is when a comment like this is made -
High taxes - If you want to give the BOE more money, the only place that money is going to come from is higher taxes. The largest portion of the entire City budget is the Board of Education. And the largest portion of their budget is benefits and insurance and salaries.
Education is always the largest expense, given the number of facilities needed to provide education to a broad population. What cost is greater than salaries in a service business, which is what schools are? Rather than make remarks such as these, the focus should be on the following-
How does Norwalk benchmark against Stamford for testing results and costs per student?
A comment was made that we need someone local for the Supt. position. Did anyone read that Arlene Gottesman is interim principal for Darien High School? Why can't someone of that caliber be attracted to Norwalk?
Finally, take a look at the budget and see how much taxes have to be increased to support unfunded pension liability. At least with education, you are getting some type of service. However, BET does not want to finance any of the pension expense and chooses to cut back BOE support. So it's not a surprise that Dr. Marks is leaving when she is not supported on basic initiatives by a city that puts politics above education. View Comment
Why not finance the $6MM - $9MM of pension expense and use those funds to support the BofE instead? That way, no taxes have to be raised. Alsom, the City can put up Jersey barriers and create a bike lane on beach road. View Comment
Many seniors leave CT, whether Norwalk or otherwise, due to estate taxes and climate. This migration allows young families that can mange the tax base to move to Norwalk, but they will not move here without a strong school system. CT residents across the state need to support our legislators to enact responsible educational reform as indicated in today's article to ensure the best teachers are educating our youth. Increases in ECS and other grants should not be a basis to allow for cuts in the BofEd budget, but to provide more enriching and broader curriculums. If the only reason for a tax increase was to pay for a $7.3MM pension obligation, how much support would the increase get? These shortfalls need to be financed in the short term so that children in the school system aren't short changed by politicians that are focused solely on their own agendas. View Comment
Old Timer, I'm not sure what the validity of your reference to Fairfield's issue with Madoff and their pension investments is. It's a very unfortunate situation and will negatively impact many pensioners and citizens. Fairfield's pension board may have tried to improve their returns in an effort to meet the current actuarial level of 8%,which is hard to acheive in this economic environment. I think that Norwalk's pension board works very hard at ensuring the investments are being allocated appropriately-if you view recent board minutes "Mr. Podkaminer reviewed the key findings and explained that even with the recently lowered investment return assumption it will be challenging to meet an 8.0% target rateover the next 10 years based on Callan’s capital market projections. He added that the return expectations for optimal mixes range from 6.2% to 7.2% and the current funded status may trend lower over the next 10 years, even with relatively strong investment returns." This means, pension expense will continue to increase, and 7% is 2.3% of the budget with a 4% cap, I consider that significant and dwarfs the budget for Library and Historical commission by 100%. As far as contributions, you may want to check the current docs posted on the City's website-"Explanation of Benefit Formula. Your monthly retirement benefit will equal one-twelfth of the product of (A) and (B): (A) Two percent (2 %) of your Final Salary, multiplied by (B) Your Years of Service (up to a maximum of 35)." This means $60,000 for 35 years at 4% = $84,000 employee contribution and benefits of $60,000 * 2% *35 = $42,000 from age 60 for term of retirement." The Pension board has properly stated that there needs to be a shift from defined benfits to defined contributions, in line with what the private sector did decades ago. These pension shortfalls should be supported with additional debt financing so the current operating budget isn't significantly impacted by the current economic environment. Additionally, sharpen your pencil and figure out how unfunded the pension will be if the actuaries decide that 8% is to high of an assumption and it is reduced to 7% or less.
These costs would be reduced for the majority of Norwalkers if Rowayton was required to support these expenses, regardless of whether or not they have a volunteer fire dept. Good thing they don't have a volunteer police force as well. View Comment
The "City" will not save any money from privatization, since the majority of Norwalk's revenue comes from property taxes. It is just a shift in the cost allocation. This is similar to when the City kept taxes low by creating the WPCA, now you have a separate sewage fee, but you still pay property taxes and you can't deduct sewage fees from income taxes. Is anyone aware that Norwalkers that live outside of City limits already pay for private garbage collection and it's been that way for over three decades? The major costs that need to be addressed are pensions and health benefits. By privatizing, these costs are incurred by City Carting and other carriers. Privatizing allows citizens the choice of bringing the garbage to the dump themselves or paying someone to do it. Just like landscaping, painting and other labor intensive chores. The real savings that will come from privatization relates to reduced pension obligations, which will cost Norwalker's over $7 Million in 2012 and dwarfs budgets for services that all Norwalkers benefit from such as Parks and Rec. View Comment
It is time that Norwalk started to benchmark against Stamford. There are many areas where Norwalk is stronger and other areas where it is weaker. AS it relates to education, Norwalk spends $1,000 less per student than Stamford. Using that information, take a look at a comparison of test scores. Union benefits have contractual increases for salaries and health benefits. These are approved by your elected representatives. If the City is strong against the unions, you'd hear a bit more about contracts going to arbitration for resolution. The budget for the BdofEd should not be cut back as a result of contractual increases across the board for city workers. One way to reduce expenses is for the teachers union to pay the full cost for their elected president. View Comment
Mr. Prince makes a great comment with regards to cutting things that don't benefit taxpayers directly. $7.3MM is being paid for pensions and this expense probably includes make up for losses in the investments. So you end up paying twice or even three times for a service you never received. When will the citizens start criticizing the existing pension benefits as they do the Bd of Ed? View Comment
It would be helpful if the piechart broke out the expenses related to the Board of Education rather than just showing the one slice. As I understand it, the requested budget increase of $12.1 million to $166.9M from $154.8 million is a static budget, which means no more and no less in services in comparison to the prior year. The City will only support a $5.4 million increase (a $6.7 million reduction) and $4.6 million of the requested increase relates to increased health care costs alone.
This is similar to a $3.2 million increase needed for increased pension and benefit costs for City workers. However, there are only 648 City workers and there are 1,321 Bd of Ed employees. These employees teach approximately 10,875 students across the Norwalk in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Stamford spends $16,300 per student compared to $15,347 per student for the proposed $166.9MM budget, but only $14,731 per student on the $160.2MM reduced budget the City feels is acceptable. If Norwalk provided the same amount per student as Stamford, the budget would be $177.3 million. Budgeted pension contributions are $7.3MM and the continued increasing cost needs to be addressed by the City, but not by sacrificing our children's education in an increasingly competitive environment, which requires an highly educated work force. View Comment