NORWALK, Conn. – The bill is coming due on Norwalk Public Schools – just to keep things on an even keel, next year’s budget will be $4 to $5 million higher than this year’s Board of Education budget, sources say.
It’s the elephant in the middle of the room during this political season: no one seems to be mentioning it.
Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis confirmed the rumored dollar amount.
“If you look at our contractual obligations, you look at the inflation in health care insurance costs and provide the same services as this year, yes, the increase would be at least the amount you quoted,” he said in an email.
Contractual obligations is a reference to the pay raise due to Norwalk teachers next year. That’s after a wage freeze this year in the Norwalk Federation of Teachers contract.
“We got a hard freeze in 2013/14 from NFT. All other Norwalk unions had already given hard freezes,” BOE member Sue Haynie explained in an email. “The ‘rebuilding’ we did last year could not have happened without the freeze of the $2.8 million (Chief Operating Officer) Elio (Longo) had budgeted for NFT salaries/step in 2013/14 – things like the adding back of intramural sports, librarians, intervention aides, etc. Given that we had just gone through three really tough budgets years one right after another, that we had just lost a good superintendent and that we were in an interim situation yet again, which is never a good position for a district to be in, the ability to put back librarians, intervention specialists, etc. was important.”
NFT President Bruce Mellion said the wage freeze may not have been a good idea.
“We were within a heartbreath of getting the whole deal,” he said. “It imploded at the last moment. I think at the end it will prove to be more expensive this way than it was the other way. I have no question about that at all.”
That’s the way Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling understands it, Rilling said. If the teachers had gotten their pay raises every year the impact would be lessened in 2014/15, he said.
“Sometimes things are done in political years just to make things look good, and later on you realize that what was done in a political year to make things look good is doubled up on the following year when it’s not a political year,” he said. “People’s memories are short and a lot happens during a political year.”
Haynie, the chairman of the personnel and negotiations committee, disputed Mellion’s account.
“I am not aware of ever being a heartbeat away from a deal or of an implosion at the last minute,” she wrote. “The documents related to the NFT mediation and arbitration, and a lot of the dialog and conversation, is a public record and appears to bear that out.”
She defended the deal she helped broker.
“Mr. Mellion’s Last Best Offer for contract years 2013/14 and 2014/15 was $4,591,179 or 5.96 percent,” she wrote. “The BOE got the hard freeze, zero increase, in 2013/14; the arbitrators gave Mr. Mellion what he asked for in Year 2, which was a 2.5 percent ($1,927,009) raise in salary and Step value of another 1.73 percent ($1,332,085) totaling $3,259,094 or a 4.23 percent increase for the two years. ($1.3 million less than Mr. Mellion’s LBO) Also, the BOE got a $766,000 cost offset for Insurance for 2014/15.”
Mayor Richard Moccia did not respond to an email requesting comment.
How would Rilling deal with it if he is elected?
“A contract is a contract,” he said. “It’s got to be. Unless there’s agreement to look for other ways. If there’s a crisis that needs to be dealt with, you bring the unions to the table and you talk.”