NORWALK, Conn. — Salary increases for seven Norwalk Public Schools administrators were approved Tuesday in a close vote, with four Board of Education members attempting to delay the decision until the state approves a budget.
“We should not go down this road because we don’t know what the budget cut is going to be. We don’t know what is going to happen and we have to take into consideration a lot of things because we might wind up cutting things that would benefit our children,” Board member Shirley Mosby said.
The commitment of $65,000 in additional expense for the 2017-18 school year came after new contracts for the Norwalk Federation of Educational Personnel (NFEP) and custodial and security staff were ratified.
These are the changes to the salary ranges and compensation plan for non-union Senior Management positions for 2017-18 through 2019-20 that were tabled on Sept. 19, due to concerns about the state budget. Board member Artie Kassimis argued that it had been tabled until the state budget was approved, but Chairman Mike Lyons said that under Robert’s Rules any tabled item could be reconsidered at the next meeting.
That set a tone for the topic, with Yvel Crevecoeur, Sherelle Harris, Mosby and Kassimis voting to keep the planned compensation changes on the table, and Erik Anderson, Bryan Meek, Heidi Keyes, Mike Barbis and Lyons voting to reconsider it, a voting result that would be repeated later when the changes were approved.
The plan had been adjusted to reflect market realities, Meek said, as the discussion began, asserting that the $65,000 in additional compensation would be less money than would be needed to recruit new people to the positions.
“We need to remain competitive with other school districts in Fairfield County, many of which pay significantly higher salaries than we do. We don’t want to be in the position where we are becoming the talent pool for Fairfield County, by developing talented people who then leave for greener pastures,” Lyons said.
The plan formed by Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski adjusts the compensation levels of senior administrative positions upward to reflect changes in the Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) contract.
The compensation range for the Chief Academic Officer, the Chief of School Operations and the Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services will be $189,000 to 209,000, as originally planned, but the Chief of Technology, Innovation and Partnership, the position currently held by Ralph Valensizi, was adjusted downward from the original proposal. That position was planned for $179,000 – 205,000 but was approved as $172,000 to $195,000.
The Chief Financial Officer was approved to be $179,000 – 205,000. The range for the Chief Talent Officer would be $172,000 to $195,000 and the range for the Chief Communications Officer would be $112,000 to 139,000.
- Chief Talent Officer Cherese Chery will be placed on the beginning step of her salary range, at $172,000 instead of the $174,075 that had been proposed
- NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton will get a 3.5 percent raise, to $185,653
- Valenzisi will get a 2.5 percent raise, to $189,374
Chief Communications Officer Brenda Wilcox Williams was not mentioned, but is currently below the range that was approved, according to the Board packet.
Crevecoeur said he wasn’t against giving the administrators raises – he thought they might deserve more, and wanted to discuss it in an executive session, he said.
“The salary range might be in range with other districts but part of the discussion I wanted to have was about the responsibility of the individuals because our administrators on the cabinet level may actually be doing more work than other administrators in the salary range,” Crevecoeur said. “…My no vote is not against our employees, it is not against the positions, it’s actually I am in supportive of the positions. I actually want to give them more.”
With Mosby repeating “5 percent” over and over, Adamowski said he wanted to clarify that it’s not an across the board 5 percent increase.
“The way this is set up, our non-unionized management team can get the same raises as the unionized administrators,” Adamowski said.
Harris asked if services to children might have to be cut because of state funding decreases.
“We may have to cut some teaching positions,” Adamowski said, explaining he would prefer to cut positions than lower the compensation ranges.
“I would much rather, if we are faced with that, have one less member of my team, one less cabinet member if that comes to be … than to have all of them not under contract, not paid a competitive rate, not paid in relation to the unionized administrators in the district. We can’t do business that way,” Adamowski said. “So, I think these are two very separate issues. If we are faced with a cut I am sure there will be cuts at all levels.”
Hopefully the city will cover any cuts with the Rainy Day Fund, “But, if that is not the case, our central team is going to be subject to cuts as anyone else in the school district,” Adamowski said.
Kassimis argued for a wait and see approach to the state fiscal crisis, and argued that studies show that 84 percent of executives who leave their positions do it for personal growth, not increased pay.
“I think they are fantastic,” Kassimis said of the administrators being discussed. “I think they love their positions here. I would love to be asked to give them a raise when the time comes but today is not the day and I feel like I am being forced to vote no.
The $65,000 expense is microscopic in terms of a percentage of the overall budget, Anderson said.
“For me to give individuals that are doing a fantastic job in helping to guide our district forward, under your leadership, Dr. Adamowski, it’s worth the cost,” Anderson said.
“What we are trying to do is rationalize these positions,” Lyons said. “All the other positions who work for us are governed by union contracts… This is an attempt to bring the same kind of order to the way the salaries are set for these positions as we have for all the other positions in the school system.”
There are 1,208 employees in the school system and if the plan was not approved than 1,201 would be getting raises he said.
“It does not seem to me logical to say that only the seven people who are playing the key management role implementing our strategic operating plan, heading up the initiatives that the Board has approved, that only those people shouldn’t get an adjustment on their pay,” Lyons said, explaining that the NFEP contract was costing an additional $370,000, the custodians was costing $112,000 and the raises for the Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) cost $257,000. The wage increases for the Norwalk Federation of Teachers cost $2.2 million and, “Just from those four unions … you’ve got over $2.9 million in wage increases in this year’s budget which nobody is proposing we cancel because we are waiting for a state budget,” Lyons said.
Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) First Vice President Joe Giandurco took exception to that as a public speaker at the end of the workshop session-meeting.
The teachers saved the district $4 million by agreeing to switch their health insurance carrier to Connecticut Partnership 2.0, preventing layoffs, he said.
“These reasons should not have been used to advance the raises for central office staff,” Giandurco said. “In a budget climate with so many unknowns and potential pitfalls, I can’t see how this raise is feasible and I would like to thank the four members who stood up and said ‘no’ to these raises. It’s not anything personal against the people who will be receiving these raises but in a time and a climate when we are missing funds in our building, where teachers are trying to do more with less, I don’t see how spending $65,000 on office staff is really that responsible.”