Norwalk BoE advocates for $10M increase in operating budget

Norwalk Public Schools have not been treading water due to a lack of state funding, they have been slowly sinking, Board of Education member Bruce Kimmel said Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Board of Education on Tuesday gave a unanimous blessing to the 2018-19 budget requests that have been drawn up.

“Whoa, this is a big deal here guys,” new member Bruce Kimmel said, expressing surprise as Chairman Mike Barbis moved on without fanfare after the $194 million 2018-19 operating budget request and the capital budget request for $15 million in 2018-19 were approved.

“Another day on the ‘Board of Ed,’” former Chairman Mike Lyons quipped in reply.

Kimmel noted, in being the first to advocate for the operating budget, that it represents a $9.9 million increase over 2017-18.

“I know this is the beginning of a process that goes on until the spring. I know also that a lot of people will say this is almost $10 million,” Kimmel said, predicting talk of the minimum budget requirement and other issues and asking naysayers to study the budget goals laid out by Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski.

“As a city, I think we have been kind of missing the boat,” Kimmel said. “On the one hand, we constantly rail against the inequities of the ECS (Educational Cost Sharing) formula and rightly so… yet on the other hand we have never really funded our operating budgets anywhere close to what we are losing through ECS. There has been a perception, I think, over the years that we were treading water, just hanging in there, despite the ECS formula doing the best we can…. we weren’t treading water we were really sinking.”

Kimmel said, as he has previously, that he was “blown away” two years ago as the chairman of the Common Council Finance Committee to learn that Norwalk Public Schools wasn’t offering Tier II interventions. Just last week, he learned that the Board is still struggling to eliminate high school study halls although that had been a topic when he was on the Board in 2008, he said.

“The last couple of years – I am pleased to be part of this, with Mayor Rilling, Dr. Adamowski, the Council and the Board – to really coming to grips with a basic premise which we’ve got to face as a city,” Kimmel said. “We’ve got a lot of good things going on, from the transit oriented districts, the mall, all kinds of good stuff but in the long run the thing that is going to make or break us as a city, first and foremost, is the quality of our schools.”

Board member Erik Anderson cited his experience as a Board of Estimate and Taxation member received BoE requests and presentations.

“What I am absolutely in love with is our strategic operating plan,” Anderson said.”… Yes, we understand that there were concessions in past years. We have seen the success though when we are spending the dollars in investing in the strategic operating plan.”

Lyons also cited experience on the BET.

“I remember what it was like six or seven years ago,” he said. “They couldn’t answer any rudimentary questions about what the money was be used for and there was no sense whatsoever of any kind of overall plan of how we were going to change things. That has dramatically changed over these last years because of these superintendents and their finance staffs.”

The relationship between the Board and the Common Council has “improved dramatically partially because the Board has gotten honest in its presentation on its budgets,” he said, concluding, “I am a conservative Republican but I don’t oppose spending money if I think I am going to get something for it … we have already seen results in closing the achievement gap from initial steps. I think this budget is going to continue some very significant motion forward for our school system.”

The capital budget does not change the overall numbers agreed to last year, Lyons commented. Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek noted that the capital budget reallocates some of the resources as plans have been fine tuned.

The capital budget request includes seed money to start design work for the International Baccalaureate school planned for Concord Street and the renovation of Jefferson Elementary School, as well as $12.5 million to improve existing schools, said Barbis, Facilities Committee chairman.

The only negative commentary came early in the meeting as Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) First Vice President Joe Giandurco asserted that the operating budget ignores problems in middle school redesign.

“I and many others across this district are concerned with how the budget has been constructed,” Giandurco said. “…In what is now year three of middle school redesign there is no additional funding to support the teachers, instructional aides and administrators at this level, despite plans for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) implementation. This is the level that has seen the most change and upheaval. It now receives no additional funding to ensure progress will continue and the vast difficulties created by middle school redesign will be corrected.”

Classrooms are overcrowded, teacher stipends were eliminated and correct textbooks are not available, he said.

Although a new music curriculum has been developed, it “cannot be implemented with high fidelity and rigor at the middle schools due to the weakened middle school program,” Giandurco said. “Some of the actions have allowed the middle school program to slowly wither and eventually (it) will die on the vine. In fact, some creative solutions have been proposed by music teachers, guidance counselors and other teachers which would allow students to enjoy the continued participation in the band program and receive the needed interventions that are required to raise their academic skills. These solutions have been largely ignored and passed over…. I ask the BoE to look for more creative solutions and allow more flexibility in how we steward the taxpayers’ money to create an improving school system.”

NPS operating budget18-011620180116

NPS capital budget18-011620180116

Board of Education member Mike Lyons, left, endorses the 2018-19 operating budget Tuesday in City Hall, as Mayor Harry Rilling listens.


Education101 January 17, 2018 at 8:15 am

More spending does not equate to better schools despite what the superintendent and BOE want the public to believe. The written description below the photo caption should read, “Norwalk tax payers have been treading water due to a lack of state funding, they have been slowly sinking.” The meeting was undoubtedly group think in motion with total disregard for the macro environment that has maintained Norwalk as a high tax district/decade long property value decline with long-term residents voting with their feet. The egregious multi year budget increases with little to show (third party school ratings remaining stagnant) can not be sustained. The superintendent and the rubber stamp BOE are incapable of crafting cost reductions which should be motivation enoughto shave down this request to sustainable levels. This would never be tolerated in the private sector and both the mayor and finance director will need to place their babysitting hat once again.

EverMindful January 17, 2018 at 2:29 pm

Kinda amazing that this is going to happen. The union itself seems more concerned with tax payer money than the BOE and Admoski do. I due feel we need to support and spend more to upgrade our school system however the past 2 BOE’s have supported Admoski and his spend first design later, and iron out the bump even later plans. I believe that if we plan better we won’t have these bumps and might actually spend the money more wisely but then whom I, but a tax payer.
Far be it for me to say it, but I will, Mr. Giandurco has spoken at great lengths about these plans, has no BOE member listened or engaged with him? Has the BOE leadership under former chairmen Lyons or current chairmen Barbis asked to meet and hear potential solutions… just wondering out loud.

Lisa Brinton Thomson January 17, 2018 at 3:18 pm

Agreed this is a big budget request and I am not comfortable given the current financial climate. I want to see the mayor (city et. al ) and BOE work together on revenue – grand list growth, new business or grants, rather than hitting up residential property owners or raiding the rainy day fund. The mayor needs to show residents the city’s strategic plan that supports the school system, otherwise there need to be cuts. The grand list is stagnant. Apartment growth is adding traffic and bodies, but not enough revenue to keeping up with city and BOE spending. The election is over. Time for elected officials to roll up their sleeves and get to work on revenues and quit talking in platitudes. Having repeatedly offered my services to the mayor the past four years – I’m still waiting for that call 🙂

Victor Cavallo January 17, 2018 at 7:26 pm

We might ask of Senator Duff at his forum tomorrow night what responsibility does he admit to for this huge proposed budget increase, given that his legislative actions – or inaction- has led to his Norwalk constituency being repeatedly short-changed on ECS funding in favor of Bridgeport and Hartford?

Non Partisan January 17, 2018 at 11:00 pm

I hate to sound like a broken record but

How much money do we spend educating our illegal immigrant population? How much would we save if we ended our sanctuary city policies?

How much would our city benefit by eliminating the 10 percent subsidized housing requirements until we reduce down to 10%

How much would our grand list increase if we allowed full gentrification of sono

How much would our grand list increase and mill rates go down if we enforced zoning and closed down the illegal accessory apartments and eliminated blight

Sue Haynie January 17, 2018 at 11:13 pm

Agree with Lisa Thomson.

The City and NPS administration need to join forces and pound the pavement for alternative sources of revenue besides besieged taxpayers. Forget the State, forget ECS, they’re pipe dreams. NPS needs serious outside funders…go find them.

Yes great schools increase property values but you can’t buy perception. It is what it is. Property values on my side of town have stagnated or decreased for several years now, yet taxes have increased. Three people i know in my neighboring community took their houses off the market last year because they couldn’t sell and get their money back. They’re stuck.

Do not raise taxes, they’re already ridiculously high. Do not rely on the Rainy Day Fund. Mayor Rilling, City of Norwalk..Work it. That’s what you’re paid for.

John S January 18, 2018 at 9:26 am

We (Norwalk) still spend less per student than any surrounding town and our students have greater needs than other districts.

As a taxpayer, I don’t like to see increases year over year but we need to be realistic in meeting the needs of our students.

Michael McGuire January 18, 2018 at 11:34 am

The State is broke so the logical course of action is to take matters into our own hands. That means GROW THE GRAND LIST.

Ways to do that – Create an environment that is attractive to business and customers, all the while making Norwalk a more attractive place to live.

1. Have the private sector build the Wall Street Train Station – this creates jobs here in Norwalk by making downtown Norwalk a true business location – ideal to meet the needs to the burgeoning tech industries here in SW Fairfield County. Most the smaller tech oriented firms want to locate around train stations in a cool downtown. That is why SoNo has been such a success (NPA business killing policies aside). Estimated benefit is $1.7-$2.0 million more per year in tax revenue just form the Wall Street area alone. And private sector developer indicated that they would be willing to building this station.

This also makes every apartment unit within walking distance much more valuable therefore increasing the Grand List.

2. Change the Restricted Industrial Sector Zoning on Martin Luther King. There is huge demand from the small contractors of Fairfield County for small industrially zoned properties. Right now the RI zone precludes most contractors and has a 1 acre minimum lot size – hardly conducive to meeting market demands. FYI this will help get the contractor business’s out of the residential neighborhoods.

3. Change the Norwalk Parking Authorities (NPA) business limiting practices. This will let SoNo “breath” and not hinder the Wall Street area if #1 is done.

4. Go after illegal apartments.

5. Have an open and fair conversation about the true cost of being a sanctuary city and the real cost to every taxpayer. Then let the taxpayer decide.

I’m sure there are many more good ideas out there – City Leadership only needs to ask.

Lisa Brinton Thomson January 18, 2018 at 12:10 pm

John S. – I totally agree – but then there needs to be a corresponding ‘revenue’ plan to go with the ‘spending’ plan. To date, the city is content to place that burden completely on property owners – hence the stagnating property values and rising taxes. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but with some political will and professional management – we could be 1) enforcing ordinances on illegal apartments and fining landlords who short-change the city coffers. 2) Writing more grants instead of replacing the position with a communications spin doctor. 3) Have a mayor touting the successes of our diverse school system to donors, boardrooms and foundations rather than on the ‘local’ campaign trail and 4) encouraging smart development that supports real TOD and businesses rather than where discussions have been headed, which looks to proposed 20-35% affordable housing of 2-3 bedroom apartments (read into that families with kids) that will place even more burden on our already stretched school system.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 18, 2018 at 1:40 pm

@John S, there are reasons student needs outpace taxpayer resources. If the city does not follow the lead suggested by Lisa Brinton Thomson, expect the problem to worsen over time.

Our students need more than students who live in the leafy suburbs, in which taxpayers, and boards of ed have created what are fundamentally private school systems where families gain admission mostly through the purchase of a home. Less than 5% of Westport students are eligible to receive free or reduced lunch. 42% of Norwalk students have eligibility. ELL is not a significant line item in the BOE budget in Westport. Here it’s a multi-million dollar investment. Per pupil spending is not only a reflection of a BOE’s commitment to education. The spending is also a function of employee contracts, cost of doing business in one’s municipality, ECS formulas, ability to receive grant money, and whoever screams loudest. Even if Norwalk’s PPS equaled Westport’s, it’s doubtful we’d be able to deliver the same goods. Norwalk needs to enforce illegal apartments to put some of the financial burden on crooked landlords where it belongs, and not keep foisting the costs back to homeowners. We need capable grant writiers. And for goodness sake, though our own Bob Duff is the senate majority leader, sometimes it seems that Norwalk has zero representation in Hartford. The funding component certainly leaves the NPS hanging out to dry.

Education101 January 18, 2018 at 1:49 pm

The trajectory of NPS school spending is simply unsustainable as witnessed by the decade long property decline from perennial tax increases. A city monitor should be installed to oversee the superintendent and rubber stamp board/ board chair as they have shown reckless regard by perennially straining the finances of the city by supporting outsized budgets with stagnating school ratings. It’s simply counter logic to state Norwalk spends less than others to justify out-sized budgets. Higher classroom sizes, imposing more fees to student activities and capping spending from top down should not be ruled out. Yes, the pipe dream is over and higher ECS funding or state funding will not happen as the next biennial state budget is to exceed a 4 billion deficit. It’s time to get real here and put meaningful cost controls and structural reforms over the BOE before more devouring of the city’s resources are consumed while more long-term residents are hitting the exits. There’s no secret that Norwalk’s trajectory is mirroring that of Bridgeport- time to put the brakes on before it’s too late.

MarjorieM January 18, 2018 at 10:04 pm

Yes, Adamowski and his ongoing, expensive budget requests that “break the bank” are problems that have followed him throughout his career. Ummmmmm, didn’t I say that when he was hired and some of these same people told me that I was wrong?

EverMindful January 19, 2018 at 11:40 am

Has anyone bothered to ask parents and staff about all these changes? I dont think they are all to pleased and informed about them. I am guess and I could be wrong that moral among all staff is low and being driven lower by these rushed and half thought through changes.
Parents need to be parents and advocate for their children. They need to understand the cuts or “changes” as they are often refereed as effect their children.
Larger class size and teaching multiple subjects does not close the achievement gap.

Wilton’s increase for the BOE is under 2% for the second straight year. Norwalk is nearly 10 million with an avg. increase north of 5 for each year admoski has been here. He gets his bonus and raise no matter what.

MarjorieM January 19, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Lisa, I don’t recall budget requests in the past that were anywhere near what Adamowski wants and what the BoE rubber stamps. In the meantime, I see you are admitting that my criticisms are correct regarding his ”breaking the bank” style of leadership.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 19, 2018 at 2:34 pm

@EverMindful, I believe Adamowski’s budget is the result of two things: contractual obligations and a Strategic Operating Plan that the BOE and Adamowski previously agreed to. Presumably, the goals of the SOP were the result of research into best practices and included parental input (though how much I do not know). Based on my experiences elsewhere, I believe that parental input should be limited to public comments at BOE meetings, email contact, and other public involvement but that parents should not necessarily serve too big a role on Ed Spec committees because it is too difficult to control agendas. I’ve served on curriculum committees in the past as a parent. Loved the work but wondered why one or two parents would be given the opportunity to influence curriculum for an entire school district.

If parents don’t like the SOP, they elected the wrong people to serve on the BOE. Parents, students and staff should be able to share their desires and concerns with the BOE. A good board will take those things into account when developing an SOP. And they’ll round out their plan using the Superintendent’s wisdom and experience (we do pay the man well) to guide best practices.

Donna Smirniotopoulos January 19, 2018 at 2:38 pm

Also Bruce Kimmel is quoted above as saying that the NPS had been underfunded for a long time. Perhaps this explains why Wilton only asked for a 2% increase and Norwalk has asked for more than 5%.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>