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Norwalk Schools discusses financial future

Alissa Widman Neese • Dec 12, 2013 at 1:40 PM

About 150 people packed the high school’s Fisher-Titus Learning Center on Wednesday night, hoping to offer input and suggestions at a community meeting.

After attending the event, it appeared many audience members had more questions than answers.

After all, evading five projected years of deficit spending is a complex issue that can’t be tackled in one night.

“We’re looking at everything, and we need to make some real tough cuts,” superintendent Dennis Doughty said. “We need to decide what we can do to go forward as a school district”

Norwalk Schools is facing a $1.8 million deficit at the end of the current school year and a $879,000 deficit in the upcomingschool year, according to its five-year financial forecast. The district has been deficit spending for several years and is set to spend all its reserve cash by 2017. Its budget is about $24 million.

Its staffing and programming has been reduced to near minimum, and staff members have agreed to no base salary increases in the past four years, Doughty said during Wednesday’s presentation.

To save a large sum of money, the district likely has two options, he said: make tough cuts or garner voter support for a tax levy.

“Alternatives proposed tonight are minimum responses to a major crisis in our school district,” Doughty said. “I’d love if someone had some great solutions, but everything is painful at this point”

Doughty’s primary suggestion Wednesday was a levy plan he called “five for five” which would provide the district the minimum amount of funding necessary to avoid deficit spending for the next five years.

The plan, in a nutshell: voters approve a five-year, 5-mill emergency operating levy, which would generate $500 for to pay for educating each district student.

If approved, the levy would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $175 in taxes each year. It would generate about $1.5 million annually for Norwalk Schools, enough to stabilize its budget for five years.

Community members, however, expressed mixed feelings about the proposal, given the district’s poor levy history.

Voters have not approved a new levy for Norwalk Schools since 1991.

“How are you going to convince a majority of taxpayers to spend more money they don’t have?” Norwalk resident Jerry Fraley said. “Anyone like me, who’s retired, has received zero pay increases. Where is this money going to come from?”

Doughty quickly responded by referencing the district’s lack of voter support, which ultimately harms students more than anyone else.

If voters don’t approve a levy, the district will likely be forced to eliminate teacher aides and art, music, physical education and business teachers, which are not required by state law, he said.

“Do you want good schools? Well, that costs money” Doughty said. “Someone paid for us to go to school, and kids today deserve that, too. I’m not going to make any excuses”

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