The theme of Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting seemed to be "too much information."
Members debated their secretary's minute-taking before moving on to a discussion about just how much information board members should be requesting from school staff.
The theme played out prior to talk of cuts needed to be made to the administration's requested budget.
Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia spoke to board members late in the meeting about the difficulties with the budget, saying Gov. Dannel Malloy's proposed budget cuts $1.3 million in aid to Norwalk. He said Malloy's increased funding to Norwalk via a recalculated Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula wasn't what it appeared to be.
"The $2 million extra that we're getting in ECS funds has more strings on it than Mario Puzo with `The Godfather,'" he said, referencing the movie's famed marionette-like logo. "The educational commissioner has said this has to be for new programs that he approves. It cannot help the city and the Board of Ed balance their budget. ... Big Brother in Hartford is now controlling us even more so."
Finance Director Thomas Hamilton has recommended Norwalk give the board $1.2 million less than the nearly $165 million it requested for its operating budget. Board Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis said the BOE must find about $370,000 in cuts so it can maintain its plan to put full-time library aides in the middle and elementary schools, and add intervention aides to every middle school. He reminded members that there are many escalating costs that the board has no control over, such as health insurance costs and contractual increases.
Moccia said the city's recommendation for the schools' capital budget includes $2 million for the switch to Common Core State Standards, which is prompting him to make cuts from many departments.
"People are going to walk up and say, `You know what, you're going to have to raise taxes,' " he said. "Then we're going to have people saying don't raise taxes. Then people are going to say cut here or don't cut there. My question to everybody: I can't cut anymore in the city. I can't cut anymore. We're down to 640 employees for a city of our size -- you're not going to find a city of 85,000 people that has less employees than we do. ... Tell me how I balance the needs of the taxpayers, with the minimal growth of the grand list, with the governor who is taking $1.3 million away from us?"
Barbis said the finance committee would hold a special meeting Wednesday night (after presstime) to discuss cuts and then attend the Common Council Finance Committee's public hearing on the operating budget Thursday.
Finances were not on the mind of the lone member of the public to speak at the meeting. Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion kicked off a 20-minute discussion when he said he had "deep, deep concern" about the inclusion of comments made by board member Sue Haynie in the minutes from the previous meeting. Mellion said he could not remember a board member being allowed to add something to the minutes. "Once this goes down this road it opens up a flood gate."
Board member Stephen Colarossi, chairman of the Policy Committee, said the offensive minutes came right on the heels of a vote to specify that minutes not include verbatim speeches by board members. "The public deserves to know that we are going to follow our rules," he said, after complaining that the minutes read as if Haynie had spoken for three or four minutes without interruption during a two-hour long presentation of a study done on the special education department.
Board member Migdalia Rivas said the minutes did not include any of the many questions she had asked in the presentation. Board Chairman Mike Lyons eventually asked the secretary to take another look at the minutes, and revise them accordingly.
Haynie said afterward that the controversy was based on a misunderstanding. She had handed her questions to the secretary, without intending that the entire list be used.
Haynie and Colarossi were also at odds about requests for information from school administration. Colarossi called them "somewhat burdensome," prompting Haynie to acknowledge that she was one of the people he was talking about.
"I know that under Dr. Marks, she would say as a board member you should be asking questions," she said. She said the staff had not decreased in size, and, "If something is difficult to get, then just say so."
Board member Artie Kassimis suggested that information requests go through BOE Chairman Mike Lyons. Others protested that Lyons already had too much to do; Barbis said going through the chairman would impede his committee's ability to make decisions.