Update, 1 p.m.: Comment from Bryan Meek; correction, 12:35 p.m.: Description of BoE Finance Committee meeting revised.
NORWALK, Conn. – The approach taken to this year’s Norwalk Public Schools budget shortfall is disheartening and disrespectful, Norwalk Federation of Teachers leaders said to the Board of Education on Tuesday.
“To publicly call for layoffs, to attack our leadership, to ignore and belittle our attempts to solve the budget shortfall is wrong,” NFT First Vice President Joe Giandurco said as a public speaker to the Board.
“When I hear district official mention headcount reduction or innovative disruption it makes me cringe,” NFT President Mary Yordon said. “This is not a business with widgets to produce. We are not data points, we are not head counts. We are not heads to be counted. We are seasoned professionals, individuals with histories and goals and we are all committed in our ways to Norwalk students. This commitment is being undermined daily by the instability of the budget combined with the pace of change and the way that change has been implemented.”
NFT officers sat in the audience, and some comments made by the pair were enthusiastically applauded by at least 10 people.
“Norwalk Federation of Teachers leaders are attending this meeting this evening to remind you that the Norwalk Federation of Teachers is an organization that represents individuals,” Yordon said. “We are individuals who are committed to success of this entire educational enterprise, the students, the families and the people we work with.”
The BoE is attempting to cut nearly $6 million from the 2017-18 budget recommended by Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski, a budget that was 10.1 percent higher than last year’s. Much of the increase was due to health benefits and the city predicated its 4.5 percent BoE increase on the assumption that the BoE would save at least $5 million by switching insurance carriers to to Connecticut Partnership 2.0, a state plan.
But the union has reportedly balked, and NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton has spoken of laying off about 72 teachers. Last week, Hamilton declined a request from BoE Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek publicly discuss the shortfall, saying that contract negotiations should be discussed in executive session. He did say that NPS is planning to go ahead with the shift even if the teachers are not onboard.
“Contingency plans are being drawn up for any case. Some of which do involve personnel decisions that can’t be discussed publicly,” Meek said in a Wednesday email.
Yordon said Tuesday that last year, the middle school teachers were stressed as middle school redesign was being developed, but this year it’s everyone.
“There are many gaps and unknowns for next year,” Giandurco said. “We are just a month away from the end of the school year and there is little to no information available about some of the massive changes for next year.”
“Elementary teachers are being shuffled like decks of cards from one grade to the next in some buildings,” Yordon said. “…We don’t know who will staff of the extra 6th grade students and whether they will be at Roton or at Ponus.”
“Everyone is waiting for the layoffs, whether the original 15 middle school and the Pathways Academy that were originally required, or up to 75 that has been so frequently mentioned in the press,” she said. “This evening, marks another week during which we continue to hear public statements that the district plans to move to the new insurance yet there has been no recent meaningful discussion underway with the NFT to resolve the resolve the impasse.”
“I have spoken to this Board for one year now and continually asked and reminded the ‘Board of Ed’ to engage the NFT in meaningful dialogue about various topics that affect our schools, our teachers and community as whole,” Giandurco said. “The traditional budget battle has many layers and levels to it. I find it very disheartening and disrespectful to the teachers when the budget battle is waged on social media and in the public eye.”
BoE Chairman Mike Lyons, in an April 20 Facebook post on the Norwalk Parents for Education page, said, “The union raised tiny issues about the 2.0 plan, which we addressed. 2.0 isn’t the problem. The problem is that they’re trying to leverage the risk of layoffs to force us into major contract concessions and extensions (essentially, they’re assuming we’ll be more concerned about teacher layoffs than they are, and we’ll give in to their other, unrelated demands to save teacher jobs). We won’t, because we can’t afford what they’re demanding – we’re not like the Feds, we can’t run a printing press to pay our bills.”
NancyOnNorwalk could not find any recent posts from Lyons about the dispute.
“The NFT has shown a willingness to work with the BoE to solve budget shortfalls in the past,” Giandurco said Tuesday. “Much has been made about the role of the NFT in the Norwalk school system. The role of the NFT is rather simple. It is to ensure a balance between management and its labor force. We must preserve the balance to ensure our members receive benefits in respect and benefits equal to our contribution to the educational system.”
Meek, at the end of the meeting, had some conciliatory words.
NFT treasurer Howie Ziperstein had helped his daughter do well on a math test, Meek said, calling the results priceless.
“For anyone to say that there is a constant struggle between this group or that group – you know, I see a partnership here,” Meek said. “Everybody has got a job to do. The pool only has so much water in it and we have to divide that water up fairly amongst all the constituents in this partnership. I think we are all just trying to do that here as best we can, with what we can.”