School Funding

CFO questions ‘return on investment’ for increased school funding sparks debate in Norwalk

NORWALK — In the face of backlash from the mayor and school district leaders, the city’s chief financial officer has apologized for comments he made about education spending.

In a meeting Thursday with the joint council’s finance and claims committee, Norwalk chief financial officer Henry Dachowitz questioned the ‘return on investment’ when asked if more money could be made. added to the school budget. Dachowitz cited reports that “more than half” of Norwalk students are failing academically in subjects such as math, reading and science.

“So when you talk about what owners and taxpayers are willing to pay, I think the relationship between school outcomes should be tied to investment. In finance, you look at return on investment. I don’t care if it’s $100,000 or $10 million, if I’m going to spend some money and I don’t get a valuable return for the city, I say no,” Dachowitz said.

On Friday, Mayor Harry Rilling issued a statement disagreeing with Dashowitz’s remarks.

“I want to make it clear that I disagree with Mr. Dachowitz and am disappointed with his comments,” Rilling said. “One of my greatest accomplishments as mayor is the investments we have made in Norwalk Public Schools. I have always been an advocate for education and remain committed to providing a premier learning experience. order to our students.”

Rilling called the district’s teachers and professors “the backbone of our city and providing a world-class education for Norwalk students.” He reiterated his commitment to making investments in the school a top priority as officials refine the budget.

Superintendent Alexandra Estrella and the school district‘s chief financial officer, Lunda Asmani, also released a statement Friday in response to Dashowitz’s comments.

“We were disappointed to hear the comments made last night by the City of Norwalk’s Chief Financial Officer, Henry Dachowitz,” they said in a joint statement. “In our conversations with the mayor, he always stressed the importance of school funding. Therefore, it is worrisome to hear Mr. Dachowitz talk about the children of Norwalk in strictly economic terms. You can’t quantify the value of education and what it takes to prepare a child’s future just by looking at a financial metric.

Estrella and Asmani also noted their first-hand knowledge of a Norwalk public school education as parents of children enrolled or recently graduated from the district.

“A child’s development is not reflected in a single test result, but rather in a range of factors that contribute to their future. For this reason, our educators and staff have given their heart and soul to our children, especially during this unprecedented pandemic. It is disheartening to see the accomplishments of our educators and students diminished in this way. »

In response to the criticism, Dachowitz released his own statement, apologizing for his comments about the academic performance of Norwalk students.

“That was wrong and I apologize – I should have stuck to discussing financial matters only. Please note that my comments are my own and do not in any way reflect the position of the Mayor or City Council,” Dashowitz said.

“My goal is only to provide accurate and relevant information to the city’s elected officials – the mayor, the municipal council and its finance committee, and the council of estimates and taxes – so that they can make the best possible decisions in setting the budget. They are the ones who set the policy, not I. Obviously, my department and I will implement their policy decisions as they direct us.

Dashowitz has already faced criticism for remarks in previous budget seasons, including in 2020 when he called the Board of Education’s budget request “sneaky and misleading.”

On Thursday, Dashowitz presented the city’s recommended budget for 2022-23 to the common council’s finance and claims committee. The city is recommending schools receive a 3.75% increase to the current operating budget of $208.4 million, less than the superintendent’s request of 9.1%.

Dachowitz said a firm hired to analyze Norwalk’s education spending, “particularly compared to other school districts,” is expected to provide a final report in March.

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