Opinion: Norwalk Board of Education plays same budget game every year. It's time for a break

Students dismiss from Brien McMahon High School Feb. 26, 2021, in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Students dismiss from Brien McMahon High School Feb. 26, 2021, in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

Here we go again with the Norwalk Board of Education’s perpetual “Big Ask” budget.

It goes something like this: 1. The BOE and Norwalk Public Schools management submit a very large increase for the upcoming year. 2. Next, they say they made a mistake and need even more money. 3. Norwalk’s CFO removes the fluff in the NPS budget. 4. NPS management and BOE are aghast and assail Norwalk’s CFO. 5. NPS’s own CFO says that they can cut just a few million dollars, but no more. 6. The state gives more money to NPS which says it didn’t know it was being given to them. 7. NPS management and BOE still want the original increase and are battling behind the scenes to get it. 8. Norwalk’s politicians tell NPS management and BOE not to worry, that the money will be given to them through special appropriations during the year and that these appropriations will not be added to the school budget. Let’s make it difficult for taxpayers to find out. Look for this scenario next year! Just how much money (through its budget and city special appropriations) has been given to Norwalk Public Schools this budget year? What’s the real per pupil spending?

The publication of Norwalk’s recommended 2021-2022 budget gives recommended tax rates. If approved by the Common Council it will again result in property tax increases of hundreds of dollars. It doesn’t include an increase in the separate sewer use fee.

On Jan. 13, the BOE met to discuss its budget. Mike Barbis of the BOE mentioned that school management still does not check for the Norwalk residency requirements of students who may be entering our school system fraudulently. Taxpayers complained about this a few years ago. The BOE wrote a new policy procedure and taxpayers expected them to implement it. NPS Superintendent Alexandra Estrella has now promised to look into it. Just how much fraud and inefficiency are taking place in our school system? Nobody knows. Let’s not even talk about the money spent on NPS teachers and staff who get time on Wednesday afternoons for reflection, yoga, and mind/body exercises. Where did the superintendent find the extra money to pay for this? Does NPS have a hidden “rainy day fund” to fund it? How much money is all this costing taxpayers? Will other City of Norwalk departments now demand the same treatment?

Next, will NPS hire full-time masseuses for teachers and staff?

This bunch just doesn’t seem to want to save taxpayers any money. The promised school efficiency audit needs to be done with results fully published for taxpayer review and implemented as soon as possible.

Many Norwalk taxpayers have been laid off. They are living on unemployment and government stimulus checks and need food assistance. They can’t pay their mortgages or rents let alone an increase in their taxes.

The mayor, Common Council and other departments need to be sensitive to taxpayer’s plight and give them a break in these challenging financial times. After all, municipal elections will be held this year.

Dennis Horvath is a Norwalk resident.