Red Apples received the following letter from BoE Chairman Jack Chiramonte and we were asked to publish it. Red Apples will publish signed letters expressing different or opposing points of view, so long as they are polite, civil and stay on point.
Once again, I look at the editorials in the Hour and am amazed at the misinformation that is in our community concerning the Board of Education Budget. I offer this editorial to the community to which I serve. While the thoughts are mine, and may be shared by other board members, the facts are just that – Facts.
After several meetings of the BOE, the Common Council, the BET and the Joint Services Committee, I still hear about the 4 million dollars shortfall in the insurance reserve fund as being mysterious, conspiracist, sneaky etc. Apparently people like Peter Berman can’t grasp the facts, since they can’t report it correctly and prefer to witch hunt for their own political reasons.
Each year, the BOE allocates what it’s told is needed to cover a variety of accounts in our budget. If we are told $25 million is required for health benefits & insurance, then we budget just that amount into that account. However, there are accounts that are very fluid. In other words, we have to guess-timate what we think will be enough for that year for that particular account. It’s very much like the City trying to budget for snow removal. If we get a light winter, then that account is left with a surplus, if it is average, we may have just enough. If we get a heavy season of snowfalls, then the City finds itself short. That is exactly how it is for Special Education for the BOE. For example, if a special needs child moves into our City, we are required by law to educate that child. That might entail sending that child to a program in a different district that we have to pay for. We also have to pick the fees for transportation, nurses, doctors, therapists, etc. for that child. Obviously, it is very easy for this account to go into a shortfall. Apparently, when this special education account, and other accounts, went into a shortfall, monies were taken from the $25 million insurance account to pay off those shortfalls. Then when the money was needed to payback this account, it was drawn from this insurance reserve fund. Apparently, this has been the practice for many years.
The BOE is audited every year. Both the City’s Finance officer Tom Hamilton and the BOE’s, Elio Longo have stated that an audit would NOT of found this problem. It was Elio Longo that found this problem and has been praised by all for his diligent work. Every dollar was accounted and spent for proper bills. No money was missing or misappropriated! The drawing of monies from the insurance reserve was done for several years before Mr. Elio Longo’s arrival to this district by people who are no longer with the district. It was Mr. Longo who found it, reported it and took measures to make sure it will not happen again.
It turned out that we weren’t really short $4 million for this account as first reported. There were other funds that had not yet been accounted and added back to this fund. It actually was a 2.6 million deficit to the insurance reserve account, not 4 million. However, we also had a shortfall of 1.4 million in our Special Education account, which when added in, gave us a 4 million shortfall.
Now, some ask “Why didn’t we allocate more money for Special Ed? As I said, we have to guess-timate this account. We allocated very conservatively because if we had budgeted more, we would of cut last years budget of staff & programs by that same amount. If we added 2 million to the Special Ed account last year, then we would of had to cut that 2 million in staff & programs on top of what we cut last year. And you remember, we had already had steep cuts to personnel and programs.
What’s the answer?
If it takes $8 to $10 million each year, just to keep what we had in the schools the year before to the new year, how can we possibly keep up? We CAN’T! Over 85% of our budget is payroll, benefits and pensions, which rise year after year, needing more money then we get. If it takes $8 to $10 million additional dollars each year to keep what we have, and all we get is increases of $2, $3 or $4 million a year (one year we even got a ZERO,) how can anyone expect to keep our heads above water?
Eventually WE CAN’T.
When I first got on the board 5 years ago, we started to cut the fat in then Superintendent Sal Corda’s inflated budgets, and we have been cutting ever since. We have gotten to the point where there is no more fat to cut. We are now hitting the meat and bone of our educational system. As I have stated countless times, WE ARE SEVERLY UNDERFUNDED BY THE STATE IN ECS (EDUCATIONAL COST SHARING) FUNDS. Hartford thinks we are all rich in Fairfield county. The ECS formula is antiquated (over 25 years old) and was never fair to us from the beginning. While we only receive $956 dollars per students, the other districts in our group of “like districts” get 4, 5 and over 6 thousand plus per student! Danbury which is as close a carbon copy of Norwalk with student size, economics and household income, receives over 25 million per year, while we only receive over 10 million per year! I ask you, would we even be arguing if we had 15 million more right now for our schools?
NOW THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: The ECS committee will be in Bridgeport, July 12th for a public hearing. We need everyone we can get to go to that meeting and tell that committee how unfairly Norwalk is treated by the ECS formula. We need to ask them to come visit Norwalk! This committee will give its final report this October. I will be in touch with all PTO’s. Please check with your PTO for more information. While this gives us hope for next years ECS funding, we still have this years budget to deal with on our own.
Now I have said this from the very beginning, “If we all shoulder the burden of these cuts together and if everybody contributes something, then we’ll all get through this together. Well everybody has given….everybody EXCEPT the teachers union (NFT).
Quite frankly, I’m sick & tired of hearing the words “Union Bashing” and “Anti-Teacher” if we ask the Teachers Union (NFT) to take a pay freeze for one year. We know the wonderful job our teachers do and we very much appreciate them, but asking them to shoulder the burden along with everyone else is NOT being anti-teacher. We have all suffered in some financial way in this cruel economy. Every other union in the City, BOE, and everywhere in the country has been asked to take a freeze and our teachers can take one too, and save their fellow teachers jobs. Norwalk’s teachers have the second highest pay in the state and still would have one of the highest even if they took a freeze for one year. I would think the NFT would want to poll its teachers over this crisis on how they feel about it. I cant understand, If the NFT polls it’s teachers over which school calendar they prefer, then why wouldn’t it on an issue of such importance?
We all need to stand together as a community and ALL need to contribute to solving our problems. Jack Chiramonte