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NPS told to prepare for ‘significant’ layoffs

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon, left, attends a Board of Education meeting in June. (File photo)

Updated 6 p.m., comment from Mayor Harry Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Public Schools are preparing for a significant reduction in force on July 1, as the Norwalk Federation of Teachers has rejected a move to a state health insurance policy, Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons said Thursday.

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon, in a Thursday statement, said teachers have historically worked with NPS to address budgetary concerns, and accused the BoE of mismanagement.

A fair offer had been made and rejected, she said.

The city allocated money for the 2017-18 NPS operating budget on the assumption that millions of dollars could be saved by switching NPS from a self-insured health benefit policy to Connecticut Partnership 2.0. But the BoE on Tuesday discussed laying off teachers, estimating 75 positions would be eliminated, if the switch were not made. The layoffs would likely be mostly new teachers, Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said.

Switching to Connecticut Partnership 2.0 would cost NPS $3.15 million less than the existing plan, Hamilton said. The BoE could then roll its insurance fund into the $6.6 million budgetary shortfall and address a remaining $800,000 gap without layoffs, he said.

Yordon declined to comment until Thursday afternoon, when she released this statement:

“The NFT recognizes that the school district faces significant budgetary challenges this year, partly due to decision last year to use health care fund dollars for special education needs. The district expects the bargaining units to simply walk away from the health insurance agreements that have been negotiated and agreed upon.  We have a contract and an agreement on health insurance that the district must honor. The proposed State health insurance requires a change in plan and network, and may offer our members benefits, but not the same benefits that we currently have. We are interested in doing our part to solve the problems that the city faces, and tried to work out the best way to do so.

“The NFT has historically helped the district in similar circumstances. In 2010, we saved the district millions of dollars by switching to a new health insurance plan. The district thanked us with a salary and step freeze in 2012. We are reluctant to find ourselves similarly “thanked” this time. More recently, our 2016-2019 contract has an increase of 2.66 percent per year, below the statewide average of 3.5 percent, according to the district’s own press release at the time. Our recent proposal of a retirement incentive that would have saved the district close to a million dollars was dismissed out of hand.

“We made a fair offer to the district regarding the health insurance changes, and they rejected this offer. If the district funded Special Education needs last year by raiding the health insurance fund, and this year funds schools generally by raiding health insurance agreements or layoffs, what will next year bring? Our district deserves better management than this. Our members deserve better than threats and closed negotiations brought to the front page!”

“They demanded a two-year contract extension (to an unheard of 5 years) with raises we can’t afford,” Lyons said. “And they did it not as a counter to 2.0 (which would save their own members money), but as a blatant attempt to leverage the possible layoff of their own members to force us to capitulate.  Which we won’t do.”

The Board of Education took $1.3 million out of its health insurance reserves last year, to contribute to a Special Education development fund, to address criticisms levied by the Capital Region Education Council (CREC). The theory was that creating in-house SpEd services would save the city money in the long run.

NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams said she didn’t believe calculations have been done to arrive at the number of layoffs necessary if only one union declines to join Connecticut Partnership 2.0.

“Most of them have been open to considering this solution,” Wilcox Williams said. “We hope that all our unions will decide to work in the best interests of both their members and our schools.”

“Others are close (as with city unions),” Lyons said. “We may be able to make a partial move, but the teachers union is by far our largest; if they refuse, we’ll be millions short and layoffs will be inevitable.”

Lyons, in a Facebook post, said, “We hope the union comes back to the table – they just gave us a flat out rejection today. Not only would the layoffs be bad in themselves, but they’d increase class sizes for the teachers who remain. This is all TOTALLY unnecessary.”

“I am hopeful the discussions will continue between the NFT and B. O. E.,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in an email. “The conversion is a critical component of the overall operating budget for NPS. I will encourage both sides to try and work this out.”

12 comments

Anne Sullivan April 20, 2017 at 7:24 pm

Could we hear what the union offer was, including the retirement incentive that the BOE turned down?

Sue Haynie April 21, 2017 at 7:03 am

Ms. Yordan states, ‘The NFT has historically helped the district in similar circumstances. In 2010 we saved the district millions of dollars by switching to a new health insurance plan.’ What Ms. Yordan fails to mention is that the health plan they switched to was still a Rolls Royce.

Below are some direct quotes from the Norwalk Federation of Teachers ‘Vanguard’ newsletter, January 2010:

‘Norwalk teachers have medical, dental, vision and life insurance and benefits that are unparalleled in each category and collectively in the State and the nation.’

‘New Norwalk teacher contract ranks Number One in State.’

‘Norwalk teacher’s salaries rank with the highest in the State…among the top three..’

Nora K King April 21, 2017 at 8:54 am

I don’t care what political party you are with – union reform is needed. The state of CT is a work at will state. The fact that Unions feel they have so much pull in these economic times is really crazy. Between Norwalk and the State – I would say lay everyone off. In the real world if you didn’t like the package you could find another job. The school board should have the same option. Find teachers who understand that no one has the “Rolls Royce” of Insurance policies. Though I do not think it is the teachers that are making this statement. I think it is the union leadership who is out of touch with their teacher base. In Norwalk the teachers need to find some leadership that actually has some business acumen. The current union leaders do not have this skill!!!

Donna April 21, 2017 at 9:25 am

The purpose of a labor union is to protect individual laborers, in this case teachers. Given that the contracts in place already are NPS teachers among the highest paid in the state, and that the consequences of rejecting the new state health plan is teacher layoffs, how is the NFT helping teachers? Also how do contracts that make little provision for removing incompetent teachers help better the schools? The whole last in first out union policy is a dinosaur. Some of the best and brightest teachers are also the newest.

In Westport, union leaders who were gym teaches worked tirelessly to preserve the gym requirement, which left less time for science labs. The effort was all about job preservation, since the proposal was to let students in varsity sports opt out of P.E. Any BOE that has the will to stand up to teachers unions is serving their city well.

The NFT is throwing a tantrum. Let them. Taxpayers need to realize that the biggest factor in annual Ed budget increases is “contractual obligations ” like guaranteed pay raises and pension commitments. Since when do white collar workers get any kind of a raise NOT based on merit? When the worker is a public school teacher.

Bob April 21, 2017 at 1:53 pm

These commenters seem like they don’t have a hat in the ring. Either high paying jobs or no kids in the system. So it’s easy to say “fire them all”. Have you seen the price of college recently? Pretty high right? All teaches in Norwalk are required to have a master’s degree. I guess we can have our kids coming out of an already overcrowded school system, not knowing basic skills. Do you see all the new construction around town where do you think those kids will go? The BOE and City need to get their butts in gear and see we don’t need any malls, but teachers and schools.

NonPartisan April 21, 2017 at 7:19 pm

@Bob

You may not be aware of this but
1- college costs are high only for high earners- who pay more to subsidize the others
2- college loans for teachers are forgiven if they remain teachers in a non profit or city job for 10 years.
3- student success has almost as much to do with parenting and family values as it does how much a teacher is paid, and how crowded the classroom is.

Tell me on what planet should it be acceptable for a handful of public servants to hold a city hostage- because they feel they deserve better benefits than the taxpayers that pay their salaries and benefits have for themselves.

Charter schools, charter schools, charter schools.

MarjorieM April 21, 2017 at 8:34 pm

No one here is mentioning central office. It is my understanding that some of the members of the Board of Education used to complain that central office was top heavy. Now there are more people doing the same job one person used to do, I.e. handling the media, etc. or in Human Resources.

There are extremely well paid people in central office. Why are we looking for cuts that directly affect students?

Donna April 21, 2017 at 8:53 pm

The science teachers I know who offered to teach extra sections to account for the loss of a teacher were discouraged by the union. Said it would make the lazy teachers look bad.

Also what kind of master’s degrees are you referring to? If they’re masters of education, those degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. An undergrad with a degree in physics is worth more to the NPS.

Yow! April 22, 2017 at 6:57 am

Degree snobs + misinformed! Limiting comment to health benefits – one of the unique features of Norwalk’s teacher contract is post-retirement coverage for those who retire before being eligible for Medicare, or for the dwindling number of educators who are not even eligible for Medicare. Protecting this provision is one of the reasons the salary % increases are slightly lower though TOTAL COST OF CONTRACT is comparable if not higher than many districts. Independent insurance consultants have advised other area teachers’ bargaining groups that the state plan is a good one, thus the willingness to make the shift.

Lisa Thomson April 24, 2017 at 9:30 am

So, let me get this straight? The NFT President gives her tacit approval to the 2.0 change, while the budget is being discussed (I remember acknowledging and thanking the union at the Feb. 23rd Finance Committee Meeting in the Concert Hall.) NOW, after all budgets are approved and set, the NFT leadership is trying to ‘extort’ not ‘negotiate’ an additional ~$5M in extended contract raises? Where did the cost ‘cutting’ memo get lost? Has this been put to a vote by all 900+ teacher/members?

It appears the NFT leadership thinks laying off 100 teachers or sticking taxpayers with a $5M bill are viable alternatives to somebody possibly having to change a doctor or two (not because the 2.0 plan costs them more money) but in fact is saves them money? Incredible!

Also, statements made by the union, of helping the BOE and district in some sort of third person language, is misleading. The BOE is not some corporation or private company that is short-changing its employees. The BOE represents the parents and taxpayers of Norwalk, who fund and have funded 90% of the budget and gold plated benefits that are no longer financially feasible and haven’t been for years.

The state, finally realizing its own fiscal disaster, is pooling resources and economies of scale by creating this 2.0 health care plan that towns are moving towards. It may be too little too late, as a state bankruptcy may still be in the cards. One final reality check for the NFT leadership in their ‘negotiations’ with the BOE, even Gov. Malloy notified state unions, last week that 1,100 workers could be laid off if cost cutting concessions aren’t realized.

Patrick Cooper April 24, 2017 at 4:36 pm

@Lisa Thompson – I get your outrage. Me too. Your argument is succinct: when faced with overwhelming evidence that health care costs are a death spiral, the Union under Mary & Joe used a “win-win” opportunity to extort “lose-jackpot” concessions from our BOE. Apparently once you’ve had taxpayer funded Rolls Royce level health care, moving towards a Mercedes is unfathomable.

Out of this mess may come real, tangible results. I urge the Teacher’s to mute the NFT leadership, talk to one another – and come to the collective understanding that Bruce Mellion is gone, and Mary & Joe should be voted out. Demand it – or collectively stop paying dues. Screw silence & secrecy – potentially 75 of their brethren are not only losing their health care – they are losing their jobs – because their current leadership values the perceived “strength” of the Union over the very people they pretend to represent. Further, the archaic LIFO approach (rather than meritocracy) clearly sacrifices the energetic new teachers for those who have simply paid their union dues longer. Norwalk taxpayers – remember this slap in the face come the next contract negotiations. Remember this when the NFT says “it’s all about the kids”.

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