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NPS previews 2018-19 budget, expects $10.7M increase

Norwalk Public Schools Budget Coordinator Kristen Karzcmit, Thursday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – A preliminary foundation for the Norwalk Public Schools 2018-19 operating budget shows the Board of Education requesting an $10.7 million increase over the current budget.

The reasons for a projected 5.8 percent increase were discussed at Thursday’s Board of Education Finance Committee meeting, along with a brief conversation about Gov. Dannel Malloy’s holdbacks on the current state budget.

“We are still in a reasonably good place,” Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said on that last topic.

For starters, the 2018-19 NPS budget must factor in $3 million in additional salary costs, per the step increases, Norwalk Public Schools Budget Coordinator Kristen Karzcmit explained. Health insurance costs are estimated to go up $2.3 million, although the state hasn’t released its rates yet. Other contracts will go up $300,000, she explained.

Then there are the Board’s goals.

Supporting the intradistrict magnet schools would cost an additional $674,250, with 296 more students expected, she said, explaining that the magnet program at Silvermine Elementary was K-1 this year and will be K-2 next year, that Columbus Magnet School is adding seventh grade and that the Norwalk Early College Academy expects 400 students next year, up from the current 283.

The goal for NECA was always 400 students, Hamilton said.

Other magnet population increases are an additional 50 students in the medical academy (a total 150) and 168 students in the International Baccalaureate program, up from 112.

“We thought that was really important,” Karzcmit said.

In another priority, moving to eliminate high school study halls would cost $2.7 million. That’s 11 new teachers at Brien McMahon High School and 12 at Norwalk High School.

“Bottom line, it’s a three year program, next fiscal year is the second year of the program with the objective to get us to the point where there are no mandatory study halls,” Hamilton said.

That’s also part of a plan to require 26 credits to graduate high school in 2019-20.

“We want to be staffed up to accommodate a 26 credit program,” Hamilton said.

About $500,000 is planned for the last segment of Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski’s plan to end funding elementary school teachers out of the Priority School District grant, which he has said is a non-compliant use of the funds.

Elementary school teachers were billed as early literacy but really were just core teachers, Hamilton said.

The plan to add an additional school day to the elementary school calendar for at least six of the 12 elementary schools, and to add 30 minutes of instruction, would cost $496,847 for additional teachers and $558,656 for the additional day and increased time for support staff.

“The way to provide (teachers) the required prep time is to add a special. That could be any number of things,” Hamilton said.

“Specials” could be related to a magnet school theme or could be a library specialist, he said.

“There’s a number of options that could be looked at but this would provide the funding to allow that for the specials, to allow that in six of the schools,” he said.

Paying hourly employees for the additional 30 minutes accounts for $200,000 of that $558,656.

Barbara Meyer Mitchell, who is not on the Finance Committee, questioned the timing of the additional day.

“My experience at the elementary level has been that the last two plus weeks once the test has been done in May, are not substantively educational.  So, it would be interesting to know where Dr. Adamowski plans to add this extra day on the calendar,” she said.

“It’s just a budget item, we’re not going to get into it now,” Committee Chairman Bryan Meek said, while Bruce Kimmel offered the information that in New York City, after the standardized testing is done pupils begin work on what they’ll be tested on the following year.

In another goal, a move to begin fourth and fifth grade band instrument lessons at three schools, to reduce “pullouts” at the middle schools, would cost $200,000.

That’s an epiphany Adamowski had, Hamilton said.

“The fact that we wait until students enter middle school before there is any instrument instruction, in band instruments, is sort of one of the reasons there is an excessive number of pullouts,” Hamilton said.

Finally, adding funding to each high school to increase equity and manage the arts programs at a school-based budgeting level would cost $80,000.

Hamilton mixed the current state budget with thoughts of next year, at one point.

“I do think we’re going to have to assume, given the state budget situation, that we are not done when it comes to reductions to these grants, including the PSD (Priority School District) grant,” Hamilton said. “So, I would expect that we need to anticipate that there could very well be further reductions this if fiscal year and if the state budget situation continues on the trajectory is on there will be further reductions next fiscal year.”

Norwalk still doesn’t have the PSD numbers for this year, he said.

Word today is it’s $3.2 million but that’s not in writing nor is it confirmed, he said, explaining,

“Even at $3.2 million that is in the ballpark of what we had been anticipating.”

The state will only fund one school resource center and the plan is to keep the one at Fox Run Elementary, he said.

Meyer Mitchell and Kimmel suggested that perhaps a more centralized location could be found for a school resource center; Hamilton said Adamowski, who had been out from work recovering from knee surgery, hadn’t considered the issue yet.

2018-19 BoE state budget update 17-1214 20171214

2018-19 BoE budget preview 17-1214 20171214

29 comments

Rem December 15, 2017 at 8:19 am

Good for them I guess. But I do hope -if Zillow’s school rankings are a reliable indicator- that throwing money at a failing school district will improve results.

Also, while eliminating study halls might seem more efficient from a time management perspective, remember that people need downtime to process all the new information they’ve absorbed.

Laurie December 15, 2017 at 8:53 am

So you will reduce “pull-outs” for band in middle school but increase them in elementary school? Unless you are coordinating strings instruction and band instruction in elementary school, and I cannot imagine that will be possible because of teacher schedules and building constraints for practice, you are taking instruction away from elementary classes. When these children are pulled-out of class their teachers must halt core instruction because too many of them are not there to participate. That’s quite an epiphany.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 15, 2017 at 10:45 am

There is research suggesting that students who receive pullout instruction in strings, for example, outperform their peers on standaradized tests. Not clear why a teacher would need to halt instruction. My own limited experience with pullouts suggests that the students (my children) benefit enormously from both the break in routine and the pullout instruction. The only negative repercussions accrued to a gifted child via the regular classroom teacher who didn’t like the kid and resented the pullout. This child is mow a professional musician with a successful band. You never know which children will have their epiphanies in pullout music instruction. Even the non-musician kids derived intellectual benefits from music instruction—site reading skills for example—that are difficult to replicate in the regular elementary classroom.

Piberman December 15, 2017 at 11:08 am

City homeowners facing nearly a decade of stagnant housing values amidst a well defined Exodus of long time City residents with real prospects of declining values will not welcome higher property taxes to fund the BOE’s ambitious budget. Especially with a 3rd round of CT new taxes heading our way.

Will the Common Council and BET again play the “rubber stamp” ? Lets hope not.

Brenda Wilcox Williams December 15, 2017 at 12:24 pm

Rem, this is very far from a failing school system. Our graduation rates are above the state average, with students earning admission to Ivy League colleges, military academies, community and technical schools, and public and private universities across the country. (For a partial list of college acceptances for the Class of 2017, click here.) Educational opportunities now available in Norwalk Public Schools include NECA, the state’s first early college academy; a Bank Street magnet school in Columbus Magnet; a dual-language magnet school in Silvermine; an intra-district global studies center in the Center for Global Studies; health care and digital media pathways for high school students; and most recently, an International Baccalaureate diploma program at Brien McMahon.

The rollout of our CK3LI elementary literacy initiative is raising the number of students reading at grade level has earned recognition as the gold standard across the state. The launch of Teach-to One math has become a national model for implementation. We’re closing the Achievement Gap, revamping our Academically Talented program, and providing structural support students who need it in math and reading. For the first time in decades, Norwalk is investing in a School Facilities Building Plan that will provide modern schools for Norwalk families.

That’s just a quick list – more information can be found on our website. In short, there’s been a great deal of progress and innovation. Yes, there’s still much to accomplish. But rankings that are based on certain algorithms will always be a step behind what’s going on in a town. And unfortunately, they also don’t capture the full story about the intangible benefits of our wonderfully diverse school district. We’re fortunate to have a community that is very supportive of our students and schools, and we know that Norwalk residents like will continue to champion all that the city has to offer.

MJ Chironna December 15, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Brenda- I couldn’t agree with you more! My children have been in Norwalk Public School District for past 19 years and are achieving at high levels. I have chosen Norwalk over our neighboring towns just for its’ schools. There have been many positive changes to our school district over the past few years…..you won’t find anything like Norwalk in any other school district. Thank you to you and all of the NPS staff for your dedication and hard work !

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 15, 2017 at 4:02 pm

This is a projected 5.8% or 10.7 million dollar increase. Given the reactions to the 150k Fensore settlement, I would have expected more weeping and gnashing of teeth on this.

MarjorieM December 15, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Interesting that comments now claim that Norwalk is ‘very far from a failing school system.’ References are made to students who go on to attend Ivy League schools, etc……..
The Bank Street magnet school, the Silvermine dual language program and the Center for Global Studies were not created under the Adamowski administration, or even under the Rivera administration. Not too long ago, it was stated that Norwalk was a failing district because of “The old Norwalk Way.” Which is it? Seems to me “The Old Guard” incorporated some pretty fantastic and cutting edge programs into the Norwalk curriculum. Yet Norwalk administrators’ names were dragged through the mud. Seems to me that those administrators who were maligned are owed an apology. It takes many years to show that student achievement has been impacted from new programs. The hard work done by those highly criticized administrators is now showing results.

Teacher NPS December 15, 2017 at 6:44 pm

I’m a Norwalk school teacher and the “new” way is not good. It’s being run like a business. The new bosses are just changing things radically to do damage control of Norwalk’s “rep.”
If you parents only knew what was going on.
That’s all I’ll say. For now.

Education101 December 15, 2017 at 6:51 pm

While aggressive social media spin had fueled some euphoria for the “anecdotal” improvements in the school system, third party verifiable rating have barely budged from the “Pre – New Norwalk” sensationalism littering the blogs. The unfortunate reality is that BOE expenditures have hurt residents through material mill rate increases/stagnating to lower property values and flat to lower incomes, this despite a majority not matriculating students through the school system. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the new economic reality and hardships finally set in with the BOE to make the necessary sacrifices to cut expenses in line with the ordinary citizen and halt the exodus of long time residents fleeing the city.

Non Partisan December 15, 2017 at 8:25 pm

Until we reverse our sanctuary city policies my vote is no

Our sanctuary city policies
– significantly increased the ESL, ELL and SPED expenditures
– significantly lowered the bar and lowered overall test scores
– caused a significant influx of undereducated children thatbrequired special programs

I’m not paying for liberal, progressive fiscallv irresponsibility.

Non Partisan December 15, 2017 at 10:31 pm

And all should realize one very important point

For the past several decades when your local government raised your taxes- these taxes were deductible on your federal tax bill

Pretty soon those taxes and increases will not be as tax deductible and will be coming right out of our pockets.

This year a 1000 real estate tax increase only cost 5-600 dollars- in an after tax basis. Next year it will be a full 1000 cost after tax.

Local governments need to learn this very quickly – or the exodus of tax payers from blue states to red states will accelerate.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 16, 2017 at 10:06 am

@Teacher NPS, since you are posting anonymously with potentially damning allegations, why not spill the beans about the supposedly dire conditions inside our schools instead of leaving us with a cliff hanger? “Are Norwalk Public Schools the New Gulag? Tune in at 11.”

Schools run like businesses? Superintendents and BOE members being fiscally responsible? What is the world coming to? Let’s just keep throwing money at the system. After all, it’s for the kids, right?

There is nothing easy about running a large urban school system. Some initiatives require more funding. Most staff are valued assets. But contractual obligtiaons put the district, and taxpayers, on the hook for costs they cannot control. Nancyonnorwalk has provided extensive coverage of lawsuits and grievances filed by NPS staff, some of whom were or are still liabilities to the district and the taxpayers. And while many union reps and others rush to defend the indefensible, we are all still on the hook for the costs associated with either these employees or their frivolous litigation.

Tony P December 16, 2017 at 10:26 am

@Donna, thanks for the lecture re: pullouts. No empirical evidence, as usual. Factually, pullouts interrupt instruction, and students not only miss seat time, but then have to ‘make up’ whats missed (an assessment, project, presentation or instruction) on the teachers free time often times, taking days or weeks for them to actually come in to see me. I lived through this at BMHS – especially around concert time, when the entire ensemble would be pulled multiple times. Not right. But folks like you would be the first to jump on me for lower tests scores – maybe if they didn’t miss so much of my class, they might’ve gotten the material.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 16, 2017 at 11:26 am

@Tony P, there is abundant evidence that pullouts for musical instrument instruction do not result in lower test scores at the elementary level. The BOE is considering adding this at the Elementary level to reduce pullouts in middle school. I’m not sure what your experiences at BMHS have to do with the discussion. My empirical evidence also comes from my own children’s 4-6th grade experiences. However, high school students who participate in band and orchestra are typically academically motivated. Can you point to real evidence that your students performed poorly because they received pullout music instruction?

http://pmhmusic.weebly.com/uploads/1/0/3/2/1032798/pullouts_summery.pdf

The Fensore lawsuit was Fensore’s initiative. In addition to the 1-2 million in bills she left the NPS with, she added an additional 300k in legal fees and settlement costs. That’s on Fensore. The links have been posted repeatedly. Why don’t you take the time to read the court documents?

MarjorieM December 16, 2017 at 11:32 pm

Donna Smirniotopoulos, the Fensore lawsuit was NOT frivolous! Mike Lyons supporters on this blog cherry picked the statements that support your argument. If anyone actually read the abundant evidence, the conclusion that the lawsuit was frivolous would not exist. There are always two sides to an argument. We have not heard from the other side.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 17, 2017 at 12:21 am

@MarjorieM, what are we missing from the other side? Judging by the last NoN piece on the settlement, with 70+ comments, I’d say the “other side” has had plenty of opportunity to explain the legitimacy of the suit and have repeatedly come up short.

MarjorieM December 17, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Donna Smirniotopoulos, two replies to your statement (1) perhaps the other side does not wish to drag their side out in public and (2) since when did you become Mike Lyon’s mouthpiece?

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 17, 2017 at 9:04 pm

MarjorieM, as delighted as I am by your misapprehension, I believe Mr, Lyons would be surprised to learn I am his mouthpiece seeing as I have never been formally introduced to the man.

Skyler R December 18, 2017 at 9:00 am

Donna, don’t worry about Marj, who is a total gadfly and would defend Satan at Mike Lyons’ expense.

I laugh when I read the comments above regarding Old versus New. Under the Old Norwalk Way, there was no accountability and the system was run for the adults. A perfect example would be principals that would ban curriculum trainers from entering their building if they didn’t like the new curriculum — I won’t mention names as I don’t want to violate NON’s policy — but this totally happened. The Old Norwalk Way was out of control!

And, yes, the New Norwalk way brought the IB program, expanded the Silvermine Mano-a-Mano program, and the medical as well as media pathways. In addition, the New brought incremental funding to those pre-existing magnet programs that were struggling (Columbus, NECA, CGS). Marj once again doesn’t have their facts in order!

MarjorieM December 18, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Skyler R, expanding programs that are already in existence isn’t creating something new. As for principals running their buildings, I agree whole heartedly. The principals were given their crowns and scepters with the support of the State Department of Education. The theory was that if control were given directly to the schools, there would be more accountability. We can see how that worked out. The tide was already turning back to central control by the time Rivera was appointed.
As for accusing me to be a gadfly, you are welcome to your opinion. In the meantime, ask Donna Smirniotopoulos if she has any children attending the Norwalk Public Schools. Why does she spend most of her day defending Lyons and Barbis?

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 18, 2017 at 4:13 pm

@MarjorieM, I ask this in all sincereness. Do I have to have children in the NPS in order to comment on matters affecting the schools and issues before the BOE? Isn’t it enough that I live here?

MarjorieM December 18, 2017 at 7:22 pm

Donna Smirniotopoulos, if you care so much about the public schools system, why didn’t you choose it for your own child(ren)? And I ask that in all sincerity.

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 18, 2017 at 9:34 pm

MarjorieM, you did not answer my question. Do those who do not have children enrolled in the no rock public schools have a right to express an opinion on matters concerning the Board of Education?

My children are 23, 28, and 30 years of age. When the last one graduated from high school, I did not own property in Norwalk.

Are you a teacher or otherwise an employee of the Norwalk public schools? For someone who posts anonymously, you seem to have rigorous requirements for other posters. Through a pattern of false accusations, misapprehensions and inappropriate questions,you imply that certain posters should be disqualified. I believe the limiting factor for disqualification is the degree to which you disagree with them, and has nothing to do with how many children they have in the Norwalk public schools or whose Mouthpiece they are. But please, take off the mask and prove me wrong.

MarjorieM December 19, 2017 at 9:57 am

Let’s talk about your credibility, shall we? But first, I was correct about Rivera and I also warned about Adamowski’s spending habits. So what about you? Have you any experience with an inner city school system? Have you worked in The NPS in any capacity? Are you an educator? You post so frequently and with such confidence about your knowledge. Please allow us to understand from whence your expertise comes?

Donna Smirniotopoulos December 19, 2017 at 6:37 pm

Oh brother MarjM, you’ve really boxed yourself in. I’m an open book compared to you. You’re anonymous but you claim to have insider background knowledge, none of which you can substantiate because….you’re anonymous. It’s s conundrum.

I live Norwalk and pay taxes here. I don’t need special knowledge of inner city schools to voice an opinion and neither does anyone else. It’s possible to have well-informed and well-reasoned opinions without having first hand experience in the schools as either a parent or an educator. Using those guidelines as a litmus test for posters would kick most people off, yourself included because…you’re anonymous. If you’re going to take off the gloves, take off the face mask while you’re at it.

MarjorieM December 19, 2017 at 7:53 pm

We have a national Betsy DeVos and a Norwalk Betsy DeVos; both think they are the experts in education. As in Maryland, I am going to turn my back on the local one. I’ve had my fill. Over and out.

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