Norwalk superintendent details $6.6M in potential school budget cuts
NORWALK — Cuts to central office staff, paraprofessionals, elementary vice principals and middle school guidance counselors are possible, as the Board of Education works to slash its budget request by $8.1 million.
Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski outlined $6.6 million in potential cuts at the board’s Tuesday meeting — held on the teleconference app Zoom — but urged the board to ask the Board of Estimate and Taxation for an additional $1.5 million back to pay for services related to an influx of English Language Learners.
“I’ve tried to, to the extent possible, limit these recommendations to those areas that indirectly effect instruction,” Adamowski said. “Direct cuts such as class size increases or cutting programs have been avoided.”
After a contentious month of back-and-forth between the school district’s finance director Thomas Hamilton and the city’s finance director Henry Dachowitz, the Common Council in February voted to cap the education board’s budget increase at a $9.9 million, or $208 million in total education funding. That increase represents a 5 percent hike, year-over-year, which some city officials have called the largest they’ve seen.
Adamowski attributed the recent large funding increases to years of neglect — pointing out a particularly devastating year of budget cuts in 2011 — and an increasing population, especially of high-needs students.
“And while it’s true that is the largest increase the city has ever made, if you were to put the special appropriation for ELL students, if you were to keep it in the base, which would be the conventional thing to do, the increase would be 4.4 percent,” Adamowski said.
The city approved a $1.2 million appropriation to the school district to aid in the education of an unprecedented influx of ELLs in the months prior. How to account for that appropriation has been central to the debate between the city and the schools.
Adamowski’s recommendation includes shifting funds from certain grants — like Connecticut’s Alliance Grant, which goes to the state’s most needy districts — partially away from certain positions, like elementary curriculum and instruction site directors. The idea, Adamowski said, is that the burden would be shifted back onto individual schools to fund the positions out of their respective budgets. Alliance Grant funds totaling $568,743 could then be shifted elsewhere.
Board members Mike Barbis and Heidi Keys both took issue with the proposal to cut CISDs. Both were on the board at the time the positions were added in Adamowski’s first year with the district — 2015 — in lieu of elementary vice principals, which had been cut years earlier.
“And while I know the savings are substantial, this is eating into a lot of different things,” Barbis said. “Personally, I think we need to look at some of the additions, like adding American Sign Language, and maybe some of the stuff in counseling. Those need to be delayed, and we need to keep these core positions because the consequences of some of this are material.”
Adamowski said schools could either pool resources or elect to fund the CISDs out of their respective budgets, perhaps by choosing not to fund certain coaching positions.
Six paraprofessional positions would be cut from the elementary school level, at a cost of $174,000.
At the middle school level, one counselor would be cut per school, slashing $347,469 from the budget. The Summer Reading Academy for sixth-graders and dean of students positions could be cut, for $220,000 and $276,000 in savings, respectively.
Among other recommendations at the high school level, ninth-grade course loads could be reduced from eight classes per semester to seven, at a reduction of $368,000.
In addition, 24 department head stipends would be cut, and “released time,” which excuses department heads from certain teaching duties, would be reduced, totaling nearly $2 million in savings — a proposal Adamowski characterized as “off the wall,” but potentially necessary to avoid direct cuts elsewhere.
Adamowski did not name the central office senior management position that could be cut, but said there were two possible options he could discuss with the board in executive session. That reduction, along with the reduction of a corresponding secretary, would result in savings of about $300,000.
“This one is, I never thought I would be in a position to recommend to you,” Adamowski said. “However, at the same time, I can’t imagine making a reduction, or recommending a reduction of $6 (million) to $8 million without reducing one of our senior management positions.”
Adamowski ended his presentation by noting his recommended cuts fell short of those imposed by the city, but he could not come up with another $1.5 million in cuts that wouldn’t directly impact the education of students. Instead, he suggested the Board of Education ask for that money reinstated into its budget.
“This issue of taking the special appropriation out of the base and making it a new expenditure, I cannot find another school district or municipality that has handled it this way,” Adamowski said. “This is creating, I think, the most significant problem in balancing the budget. I think that, despite the harsh and sometimes uninformed comments of the city budget director (Dachowitz), I don’t think it was anyone’s intent to place the school district in a situation where direct services had to be taken away from other students ... to provide legally mandated services for English Language Learners.”
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