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Norwalk education roundup: Budget notes, Toper, new hires and Yordon’s kind words

Norwalk Board of Education member Artie Kasimiss, left, wanders the room Aug. 15 as BoE Chairman Mike Lyons works to get a quorum by telephone, 20 minutes past the scheduled start time.

NORWALK, Conn. – Here’s what we’ve got in education news for you this Monday:

  • ‘Reasonable’ NPS budget end includes $1.3 million SpEd overrun
  • Former Sped Chief Toper is selling real estate
  • A sparsely attended BoE meeting
  • Scads of appointments
  • NECC director among resignations
  • Yordon lauds BoE members’ service

NPS budget reconciliation’s happy ending

The Board of Education is asking the Norwalk Board of Estimate and Taxation if it can carry over $435,000 from a deceptively high unspent balance from 2016-17 – $2.4 million.

The figure includes $1.3 million for the Special Education redevelopment fund created last year; the Board was required to set aside the money in 2016-17 to be spent in 2017-18 to fund continued efforts to reduce outsourcing SpEd instruction and improve the department, so it’s not really a surplus. But the state includes it in the calculation to determine how much of the surplus the schools can keep, which is 1 percent of the total budget.

So, NPS is requesting that the BET allow it to carryover the maximum possible, $435,000, and turning over the rest of what’s left after an assortment of bills are paid, $200,000.

“We came in pretty much, I would say, as close to budget or on budget as you can,” NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said at the Aug. 15 BoE meeting, downplaying a massive overrun in Special Education costs.

“Special Education expenses for our contracted services did run substantially over our budget,” Hamilton said, referring to a $1.3 million shortage.

Hamilton in May predicted a $1.6 million overrun.

“Last year, the contracted services account was running $3.6 million over the original budget. So, this year, a $1.6 million overrun is not something – we obviously would prefer to have no overrun, but in the context of where we have been it’s a marked improvement,” Hamilton said on May 10.

The SpEd overrun was covered by a windfall from the state, as the Excess Cost grant came in at $1.2 million higher than had been budgeted for, he said.

“Out of district tuition was right on budget… that is a welcome development,” Hamilton said.

The SpEd overages are described as being in the “300 series” of expenses, which includes

  • $200,000 more than expected for legal fees
  • $1 million in contracted SpEd services
  • $200,000 for food service deficit
  • $100,000 for summer school deficit
  • $300,000 for other contracted services
  • $600,000 less Medicaid revenue than projected
  • $100,000 for repairs, security, other facilities

The “500 series” makes up for the deficits

  • $1.2 million in Excess Cost grant
  • $.5 million lower tuition to other local education agencies

About $.5 million comes from the “600 series,” supplies and materials.

“Where we end up is, I think, in a reasonable place,” Hamilton said. “Obviously, we didn’t overspend our budget, which is most important. We are able to turn some money back to the city.”

 

Toper: “Failure not an option’ – in home sales

A screen grab from a Hartford real estate website.

When Lynn Toper resigned as Norwalk Public Schools Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services in December, a scant five months after beginning here with much fanfare, her reasons were said to be personal and related to a family emergency.

Although Toper has a doctorate in education leadership, she is now real estate in West Hartford.

“I am pleased to share that I have joined forces with Berkshire Hathaway’s No. 1 agent, JOHN LEPORE, to devote my full-time attention to all things real estate,” Toper is quoted as saying on the Berkshire Hathaway Home Services website. “With my Bachelor’s degree in marketing and previous sales experience, I will develop effective marketing plans that highlight the unique and desirable features of your home to secure a fast sale.”

Toper states that while she was in education for more than 20 years she also “enthusiastically pursued my other passion, real estate, having bought, built, renovated, staged and sold many homes throughout Connecticut.”

“As a state trained mediator, I possess exceptional skills for negotiating the best possible purchase or sale price as well as navigating the challenging situations that sometimes arise in the process,” Toper is quoted as saying. “In each of my leadership roles in education, I instituted a school culture emphasizing the key trait of PERSEVERANCE, which I believe is the key to success in all things.  Given my proven track record, you can be confident that I will work tirelessly to find you the perfect home or sell your home quickly and for the highest price.  As we said in my schools, FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.”

 

Getting a quorum by telephone

It seemed for a while that the Aug. 15 BoE meeting might be called off – only Chairman Mike Lyons, Artie Kassimis and Yvel Crevecoeur were in attendance, along with an audience of pricey administrators.

Not to worry – the Board’s new policy to allow electronic attendance saved the day.

“I do appreciate you guys on vacation calling in to help us get this done,” Lyons said to Mike Barbis and Bryan Meek, who dialed in and voted on a variety of items via the telephone.

Lyons also mentioned that Heidi Keyes was traveling and unable to attend.

The connection was a bit spotty, as there was sometimes silence when Lyons asked for a vote. Barbis commented that he had to remember to take the phone off mute.

The occasion is marked by more than 40 minutes of silence on the Board’s video of the meeting, which captures Board members killing time as Lyons attempted to get a quorum.

 

Appointments galore

“One of the reasons we wanted to get the guys on the phone tonight so we can go forward is we have … eight pages of new appointments,” Lyons said at the beginning of the meeting.

That included Attorney Anthony Shannon as the new director of labor relations and assistant chief of human resources and Jennifer Sweeters as the .4 principal of the Pathways Academy at Briggs.

You may recall, with the declining enrollment at Briggs, NPS has cut the staff.

“Although the number fluctuates throughout the year, there were 47 students enrolled in NPA as of the October 1 annual report to the state. For 2017-18 budget purposes, a projected enrollment estimate of 70 was used.  Based on that, the budget includes 3.5 teachers and a .5 administrator,” Communications Director Brenda Wilcox-Williams wrote in May.

Sweeters is an “amazing person,” Kassimis said; only internal candidates were considered for the $108,000 a year job, the BoE packet states.

Shannon’s position is made possible by Director of Labor Relations Robert Dylewski’s “second” retirement, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.

“I can recall coming in on my first day… Bob was the only one here. It was me and him for a few months,” Adamowski said. “We’re very grateful for his loyalty to the district and sticking through thick and thin.”

Shannon worked at Shipman and Goodwin and is very familiar with NPS contracts, Lyons said, adding, “I think getting an in-house counsel there is going to be extremely valuable to us.”

Shannon’s position is aligned to the restructuring of the department, with responsibilities including labor strategy and Title IX compliance, Chief Talent Officer Cherese Chery said.

“We have been restructuring from HR to talent … We hope to be fully staffed by September,” she said.

Also appointed was Jaime DeJesus as a HR business partner, responsible as the contact person for 10 schools in employee relations, workforce training and legal compliance, she said.

Now, about those eight pages of appointments, here’s a list, complete with salaries:

 

  • Kristi Carriero, Brien McMahon High School headmaster $161,480
  • Emily Haire, Marvin Elementary School Speech & Language Pathologist $68,055
  • Shauna Sutton, ELL Teacher, District Wide $72,726
  • Kevin Devine, Norwalk High School math teacher $50,445
  • Samantha DeMatteo, NHS chemistry teacher $59,768
  • Shanda Haynie, West Rocks Middle School counselor $55,750
  • Ivy McFadden, NHS Special Education teacher $83,374
  • Jesse Wagenberg, Brien McMahon High School math teacher $55,750
  • Jacqueline Aquino, Ponus Ridge Middle School math teacher, $55,750
  • Phillip Konopka, BMHS PE and health teacher $55,750
  • Lynette Martinez, Norwalk High School PE and health teacher $61,777
  • Diane DiMarino, NHS Spanish teacher, $57,703
  • Lisa Manaster, Columbus Magnet School Special Education teacher $55,750
  • Paula Medina, Brien McMahon High School math teacher $66,046
  • Linda Meo, Brien McMahon High School art teacher $83,374
  • Elise Lake, Columbus Magnet School teacher $78,301
  • Lester Steinberg, Ponus Ridge Middle School accelerated math teacher $61,777
  • Amanda Perez, Jefferson Elementary School fifth grade teacher $69,311
  • Michael Piraneo, Jefferson Elementary School fifth grade teacher $72,073
  • Andrea Riley, Ponus Ridge Middle School health teacher $69,311
  • Julianne Howard, Nathan Hale Middle School math teacher $72,073
  • Marlene Leon, Roton Middle School English as a Second Language teacher, : $55,750
  • Jennifer Dunnaville, Roton Middle School Spanish teacher, $41,687
  • Barbara Sanon, Cranbury Elementary School third grade teacher, $57,759
  • Maria McCool, Tracey Elementary School fourth grade teacher, $61,777
  • Courtney LeBlanc, Kendall Elementary School, first grade teacher, $55,750
  • Tiffany Cavanagh, Jefferson Elementary School fourth grade teacher $59,768
  • Keisha Abney-Biko, Kendall Elementary School, fifth grade teacher, $64,037
  • Rachel Scicchitano, Kendall Elementary School, fourth grade teacher, $50,445
  • Latoya Lisle, Kendall Elementary School, first grade teacher, $61,777
  • Ian Golden, Roton Middle School Read 180 teacher, $55,750
  • Ashley Kirk, Tracey Elementary School music teacher, $59,768
  • Shelley Ericson, Tracey Elementary School first grade teacher, $63,786
  • Connie Jessup,  Nathan Hale Middle School science and social studies teacher, $78,301
  • Lynne Macey, Brien McMahon High School business teacher, $83,374
  • Gianna Fiorentini, Rowayton Elementary School, kindergarten teacher, $75,187

 

Hamilton later commented that part of the reason NPS ended the year in the black was, “savings in wage accounts due to higher than anticipated staff turnover.”

 

Mosher out

The Board also voted to accept resignations, a procedural step.

Among the seven resignations for personal reasons is Norwalk Early Childhood Center Director Kristin Mosher. Although the packet says that was effective July 17, Mosher’s LinkedIn page still lists her as NECC director.

 

Yordon thanks BoE

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon began the Aug. 15 BoE meeting by thanking Board members.

“I recently found myself defending the members of the Board of Education against some attacks that you were somehow in this position for wrong reasons,” Yordon said. “I really do want to state clearly my belief… that I have faith in the motivation of all of you, including those not present. We are all committed to the educational community here in Norwalk, to its improvements.”

“We may differ on how arrive at our goals. We may differ what those precise goals may be,” she said. “…. But our teachers generally, I personally and the NFT institutionally are grateful for the service that you and other public officials are doing so that our students can learn better.”

6 comments

Fact Checker August 28, 2017 at 7:32 am

So besides the BOE members in attendance & Ms. Keyes who was noted as on vacation, where were Shirley Mosby, Erik Anderson, Sherelle Harris?

Bryan Meek August 28, 2017 at 10:36 am

@Donna. More HS teachers were hired to make up for the shortage in course offerings we had historically. This is an effort to reduce the number of study halls and in line with the strategic operating plan to require 26 credits for promotion. This may give the appearance of high turnover this year, but our turnover rate is fairly low considering some 1200 headcount under NPS. Generally speaking, Norwalk has some of the lowest turnover rates in the region and teachers often remain on board years after reaching retirement eligible age. Hope this helps.

Erik Anderson August 28, 2017 at 11:33 am

@Fact Checker I unfortunately could not attend as I was ill. Earlier in the day I had communicated with Chairman Lyons that I would likely need to miss the meeting. At that time he seemed confident that a quorum would be present.

Donna August 29, 2017 at 9:41 am

Thanks @Bryan. But my question was in response to a quote above from NPS CFO Thomas Hamilton. In response to why the district ended the year in the black, Hamilton said “higher than anticipated staff turnover.” I wasn’t suggesting that all the new hires reflected high turnover. I was simply asking someone to expand on Hamilton’s comment.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.