Norwalk Schools chiefs’ salary raises put on hold

Norwalk Board of Education member Artie Kassimis, left, reacts Tuesday after realizing that his motion to table a proposal resulted in the first time Mayor Harry Rilling, right, was required to vote in a BoE meeting.

Correction, 3:17 p.m.: Erik Anderson voted against tabling, Bryan Meek was in favor. Updated, 1:48 p.m.: Paragraph to explain the charter-mandated role of a Norwalk mayor when the Board of Education votes on a motion.

NORWALK, Conn. — Raises for Norwalk Public School administrators will not be further considered until the state budget situation is resolved.

The Board of Education on Tuesday voted 5-4 to table the proposed increases, which had been worked out in executive sessions, with Mayor Harry Rilling breaking a tie by casting his first vote as an ex-officio Board member.

The Republican budget cuts Norwalk education funding by $79,000, Board member Artie Kassimis said in opposition to the raises, asking, “If that is the case, then what do we cut?”

The Board was considering changes to the salary ranges and compensation plan for non-union Senior Management positions for 2017-18 through 2019-20.

Senior administrative positions were slated to have their compensation levels adjusted upward to reflect changes in the Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) contract, a five percent raise, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said.

The recommended compensation range for the Chief Academic Officer, the Chief of School Operations and the Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services would be $189,000 to 209,000. The Chief of Technology, Innovation and Partnership, the position currently held by Ralph Valensizi, and the Chief Financial Officer would be $179,000 – 205,000.

Chief Academic Officer Michael Conner, who has been hired to be the Middletown Schools Superintendent, made $171,374.95 in 2016, according to city documents.

The range for the Chief Talent Officer would be $169,000 to $195,000 and the range for the Chief Communications Officer would be $112,000 to 139,000.

The changes in the compensation ranges would mean that:


  • Chief Talent Officer Cherese Chery would get a 5.5 percent raise, to $174,075
  • NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton would get a 3.5 percent raise, to $185,653
  • Valenzisi would get a 2.5 percent raise, to $189,374


The proposal also gives the administrators a one-year renewable contract instead of a two-year contract, which Adamowski said would make things easier.

Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) First Vice President Joe Giandurco spoke against the changes.

Budgets are frozen and NPS is “failing to give administrators the state-required training to certify them as evaluators,” he said, continuing to add that with the uncertainty about state grants, “those raises seem quite foolish at this time.”

The Board conversation was short and civil, with Yvel Crevecoeur the first to volunteer that he would vote no, given the state budget crisis and the status of Central Office.

“I would like to have further discussion on the policies and procedures related to this package to ensure that we are able to retain individuals in the district,” he said.

Shirley Mosby agreed, first citing the budget and then saying, “I am not comfortable with supporting a 5 percent increase when the administrative staff and teachers have received between 2 and 2.6 percent. I do understand about compensating for services but at this time until we get some kind of certainty as to what is going on… in state assistance and because of that reason there alone, it’s not toward the individuals, I will be voting no.”

Kassimis said he thought the administrators were worth their wages.

“My statements have nothing to do with the people that are in these positions. The word that comes to mind is the word ‘tact.’ The word tact is defined as sensitivity when dealing with issues. I believe this one specifically requires a lot of it,” he said.

The Board was prepared to make massive layoffs this year before the Norwalk Federation of Teachers agreed to a change in health insurance providers, he said.

An executive search company said that 60 percent of executives that change positions do it for reasons other than their salary, and 84 percent leave for promotions and other opportunities, he said, before making a motion to table the proposal until the state budget is worked out and the city releases its hiring freeze.

Bryan Meek, Mosby, Kassimis and Crevecoeur voted to table the proposal. Erik Anderson, Mike Barbis, Heidi Keyes and Chairman Mike Lyons voted against tabling.

All eyes turned to Rilling.

As an ex-officio Board of Education member, Norwalk’s mayor only votes when there is a tie. This is the first time there has been a tie since Rilling was elected in 2013.

“This is a very challenging time,” Rilling said. “We don’t know what we are facing. The city is facing up to $5 million to $6 million worth of cuts from the state of Connecticut and that is going to be a significant challenge. I, too, agree that we need to compensate people fairly, compensate them competitively so that we don’t lose people. I believe that the motion to table is quite appropriate until we have a better handle on what is going to be coming down the road from the state of Connecticut.”

Later, Hamilton touched on the state budget uncertainty, explaining briefly the state grants that NPS receives.

The legislature on Friday approved a budget formulated by Republicans, which is expected to be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy.

Because the bill wasn’t sent straight to Malloy’s desk, it will be days before he will have the opportunity to veto it.

“We have been trying to figure out a lot of what is going on,” Lyons said. “I have been back and forth a lot with (Republican State Rep.) Gail Lavielle, who herself is trying to figure out exactly what is going on. The Republican budget apparently reformatted a lot of the ways that these budget line items have been set up. People haven’t really figured out what the impact on Norwalk is of that reformatting. I think clearly what is going to happen is that the governor will veto then he is going to say, ‘Alright we have to find some kind of compromise, we’ll take the two bills and let’s work it out.’ When that happens we’ll know where our numbers are.”

After the meeting, Lyons said Adamowski specifically mentioned Conner during the executive sessions where he requested the compensation increases.

“One of the things you generally don’t want to do is having people at lower levels making more money than the people they report to. Part of the reason we wanted to do this …(Adamowski said) ‘I don’t want to lose good people like Michael Conner,’” Lyons said. “Artie is right. I think a lot of times when people make a lateral move it’s a career opportunity, they may not necessarily make much more money.”

BoE compensation changes 17-0919


Erik Anderson September 20, 2017 at 7:38 am

@Nancy Quick correction to this story, Bryan Meek voted to table the motion and I opposed tabling the motion.

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 20, 2017 at 10:05 am

Nancy, I’m a bit confused. What did the NO votes mean? No to tabling the decision on the raises or No to the raises? I agree with Adamowski that you don’t want to lose good people like Michael Conner because of compensation.

Great that seven weeks before Election Day, Mayor Rilling, who is seeking a third term, cast his first ever vote as an ex officio BOE member.

Seaworthy September 20, 2017 at 1:33 pm

@DonnaS {…} A little comprehension would allow you to know that this is the first time that the Mayor voted, because this was the first time there was a tie on the Board of Ed. But, hey, who needs facts {…}.
Editor’s note: This comment was edited to remove insults to another commenter, which is against the comments policy

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 20, 2017 at 1:56 pm

You’re right @Seaworthy. Rilling doesn’t have a BOE attendance problem. He doesn’t have a WestCOG attendance problem either. He didn’t fail to act when he got s letter from Firetree in 2014. And he didn’t help GGP change the LDA to eliminate the mixed use provision for Reed Putnam. And he was never part of Fix It First. I’m vile and angry and that explains a four year history of disappointment and mediocrity. Thank you @Seaworthy, whoever you are, for having the courage to call me out on it. You’re a brave man. Can somebody give this man a bike lane please!

Bryan Meek September 20, 2017 at 3:08 pm

Board member Anderson is correct. It was I who voted in favor to table the motion. As noted in the article these items were discussed in executive sessions, parts of which I missed due to personal conflicts (planned vacation). While I did participate electronically during my vacation to cast critical votes needed, our bylaws prohibit executive session participation in a virtual manner.

Given the increases would be retroactive to July 1st and other member concerns, I felt it was prudent to have further discussion with my colleagues on the subject in fairness to all stakeholders.

I’m inclined to agree with all or part of the adjustments in order to keep the district competitive and to recognize a very talented group of individuals who work tirelessly and have achieved a great deal in a short amount of time. As well, recruiting expenses have the potential to far outstrip modest increases so retention would likely save money in the long run.

To compare this group to other collective bargaining units that enjoy legal protections they do not have is a position I could not disagree with more. On the other hand market forces do need to be considered and the city needs to be on a sustainable path that taxpayers can afford.

Bottom line is I needed more time to be informed, so lay blame where you think it belongs. Again, we are talking about retroactive raises. Who knows? Given changes are a foot in the federal tax code, it may even be beneficial to defer some compensation to next year. We’ll see.

Donna Smirniotopoulos September 20, 2017 at 3:37 pm

@Nancy, I know the policy prohibits insults against another commenter, but I wish you’d let that one stay. Ad hominem attacks are a sign of weakness. Over the past few days, I’ve been called vile, unhappy, nasty and angry right on these boards, all because I’m a critic of the mayor’s record. When posters insult Rilling’s critics instead of offering specific evidence to the contrary, Rilling’s opponents win.

Isabelle Hargrove September 20, 2017 at 5:09 pm

It is also important to remind voters of what happened at the very beginning of Mayor Rilling’s first term.

That election was in the mist of the Fillow Street Mosque application. He refused to publicly address the Mosque situation during his campaign because of so-called legal concerns. He also took a donation from the head of the Al-Madani group while privately re-assuring voters he has their back.

It only took Mayor Rilling 20 days in office to swiftly move to a backdoor settlement that would have allowed for the super-store-Walmart-size mosque to be built in our residential area. It took a mutiny for our neighborhood and the relentless efforts of 1 of our councilmen, David McCarthy, to orchestrate a different deal. Part of it involved buying back the property which has still not been re-sold to generate tax revenue and recuperate some of our money.

People should also be reminded that John Igneri, who was already a District E (Rowayton, Brookside, and West Norwalk) councilman never lifted a finger to help. I am also not aware of any other time Mr. Igneri has done anything, especially for West Norwalk.

When people show you who they are, believe them.

US Blues September 20, 2017 at 6:04 pm

Seaworthy sounds like someone so close to Rilling that any criticism feels like salt in a wound… the only people who feel that way are usually the person himself or a spouse.

But this is just pure speculation.

Beaches September 21, 2017 at 8:46 am

Thank you Bryan Meek for tabling the motion to give top Adminisrtors an inrease. With all of the possible cuts to the district from the State, how could we give them raises. They already make too much! Mayor Rilling finally did the right thing. Of course it’s election time and his Assistant does all of his work. He just wants to get his picture taken at every new event in Norwalk. Maybe he will be on the next boat ride with Sen. Bob Duff!!

Beaches September 21, 2017 at 9:28 am

Forgot to mention Robert Dylewski (Interim Human Resources) is retiring in June 2018. There is a posting for whatever he does now, but they are keeping him on for two days a week. Why is is BOE keeping him on? If they have a full time replacement, then they don’t need him. Also, there a several retirees working in the Finance Dept. working 4-5 days a week because the staff can’t get the work done. There is also another retiree in HR who works a few days a week. This is another waste of money and some of the Board Members should look into this.

MarjorieM September 22, 2017 at 8:11 pm

I long for the days when the citizens of Norwalk were kind and supportive of people who served in the public sector. I may not admire all of the politicians and past school administrators, but I cringe over the public tarring and feathering of these folks. Not everyone who has served is a rotten apple, but the apples created rotten. Just remember, no one is perfect, and no one deserves the vilification that they receive from some of the public.

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