Adamowski professes ‘cautious optimism’ as Norwalk budget talks continue

From left, Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and Board of Education member Bruce Kimmel discuss Norwalk’s “Rainy Day Fund” after Tuesday’s BoE meeting in City Hall.

Updated, 1:35 p.m.: Comments from Laoise King.

NORWALK, Conn. – Two proposals are being developed to provide more than a “zero” budget increase to Norwalk Public Schools, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said Tuesday.

Adamowski said there had been a “constructive” meeting Tuesday afternoon in Mayor Harry Rilling’s office, where, “We had a very frank discussion over how the finance director has presented the budget.”

Finance Director Bob Barron’s recommended 2018-19 operating budget features a 1.9 percent mill rate increase, with increases in city-side budgets but flat funding for the Board of Education. Barron has explained that the Common Council should add whatever it thinks is necessary to fund the BoE, at a level it thinks taxpayers can afford.

Adamowski charged at Tuesday’s BoE meeting that Barron has taken “all the revenue” to make it look like the city’s budget is only increasing 1.9 percent. It would be 5.2 percent, the same as has been requested by the Board of Education, without “all of the revenue” going to the city, he said.

Rilling has promised to provide the Board with an unaudited fund balance, the amount of money in the “Rainy Day Fund,” Adamowksi said.

Barron has factored a $2 million drawdown from the Rainy Day Fund into his recommended budget and called that the most the city can afford, in accordance to the Board of Estimate and Taxation’s policy of maintaining a fund balance equal to the median of Triple A bond-rated Connecticut municipalities.

Barron’s budget also factors in $3 million from the insurance fund, wiping out its surplus, and $2.6 million in savings in the pension fund.

The BoE last year moved its employees to a state health insurance plan, Connecticut Partnership 2.0.

Adamowski said Tuesday that part of the pension fund savings come from NPS non-certified employees.

Adamowski said that be and Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King had made proposals in the Mayor’s meeting.

“Although I disagree with his characterization of the city side of the budget – I don’t think it’s constructive to get into that debate.  It does not move the conversation forward or lead to a solution,” King wrote in a Tuesday evening email.

She continued:

“Here is what I can confirm:

“The Mayor, Superintendent, BOE leadership, Council leadership and staff met today to talk about the budget. We left the meeting with the following understanding:

“A) this is not an issue of City vs. BOE. We have the same constituencies and concerns. We agreed it is not helpful or productive to trade barbs or try to mischaracterize each other’s motives in the press or online.  We agreed to work collaboratively on a solution. The Mayor has been consistent in his support of the BOE and his desire to have a good working relationship with the Board. BOE leadership and Dr. A are also committed to working with the city. We all intend to continue to work toward a mutually agreeable budget solution. We all support the BOE’s strategic operating plan and are impressed with its results so far. We all want to fund the BOE’s proposed budget at the highest level possible. Additionally, it is important for all of us (BOE and City side) to consider the impact on tax payers – particularly with decreased state funding looming, a revaluation coming up, and the state’s MBE requirement – all in the context of the new SALT legislation.

“B) BOE and City Staff are meeting later this week to hash out a mutually agreeable proposal to put to the Council and BET.

“I think it’s premature to talk about the discussions on potential solutions. Two ideas were floated in the meeting – but we have not crunched numbers on either yet and I’m sure there are many other possible ways to get to a good result. That is what staff will be figuring out in the next day or two. I will be sure to keep you posted.”


“Both of (the proposals), I think, have promise, at least in terms of treating the school district better than the budget director’s recommendation,” Adamowski said.

The Council is holding a public hearing on the operating budget Thursday, and voting on a budget cap Tuesday.

“It is unlikely that the recommendations will be finished and the Mayor make a decision before Thursday, but we are all cognizant that this has to be done before next Tuesday night,” Adamowski said. “So, I think everyone is shooting for Friday or Monday in terms of an agreement that hopefully we can all get behind.”

“My proposal shares the revenue,” Adamowski said. “It would enable us to use the money that has not been disclosed so far in the Rainy Day Fund that’s unaudited. Then that gets both entities to a position where they have to make some reduction in order to have a 1.9 percent tax increase, which the Mayor indicated is his goal. So, I would say I am cautiously optimistic following this meeting.”

“I just want to applaud you for working so closely with the mayor, which has been challenging in other years, and point out that it’s not two budgets,” Board member Barbara Meyer Mitchell said. “The school budget is part of the city budget. It’s absurd to treat it as something separate. So, I am very heartened to hear that we are looking at it from that lens.”

The idea that it’s one budget was the theme of Rilling’s meeting, Adamowski replied.

In another part of City Hall, Barron was speaking to Planning Commissioners.

The Tuesday afternoon meeting concerned the BoE’s request of $1.2 million for continued Special Education development, he said.

The Rainy Day Fund was also a topic, with Planning Commissioner Nora King asking why the $5 million building permit fee paid by GGP for The SoNo Collection was “shoved into the Rainy Day Fund” instead of using it for sidewalks or ballparks.

“The fund balance only increases if your revenues exceed what you anticipated, or if your expenses are less than what you anticipated,” Barron replied, explaining that the $5 million was anticipated and built into this year’s budget.

“I don’t anticipate adding anything to the fund balance because I have known intergovernmental revenue shortfalls,” Barron said, explaining that the state has announced a $2.9 million cut, which was adopted into the Norwalk budget.

The hope is to have “a neutral, or no reduction or no gains, in the fund balance,” he said.

Not only that, but the fund balance is meant to be a percentage of the operating budget, and as the operating budget increases the fund balance must also rise, he said, explaining that, “as the expenses go up, to maintain the same percentage of fund balance to those revenues you have to add to the fund balance.”


Piberman February 21, 2018 at 10:20 am

“At level taxpayers can afford” ? With a decade of stagnant property values costing homeowners over a billion dollars in lost property appreciation everyone knows what taxpayers can afford – no budget/tax increase. City homeowners can’t afford the Supt’s. Policy of matching salaries with our surrounding wealthy towns with 4 to 5 times the income.

Bob Welsh February 21, 2018 at 11:29 am

GGP agreed to pay Norwalk $3.5 million in exchange for permission to remove the mall project’s mixed-use requirement. South Norwalk Common Council members requested that the funds be used to support improvements for South Norwalk.

Was the money received and how was it ultimately spent?

Education101 February 21, 2018 at 11:34 am

“Cautious optimism?” The path to financial ruin is littered with good intentions and feeding the beast to no avail is the best way there. With multiple threats to city finances (state funding, reval/grand list declines and federal tax overhaul impacts) likely to hamper city coffers in the years to come, why are the BOE and 250k per year superintendent incapable of containing spending ahead of the terrain ahead? What alternative funding scenarios have been devised by the BOE to reflect likely severe funding shortfalls in the years to come?

The mayor should immediately:

1. Install a monitor over the BOE to safeguard city finances
2. Insist on zero based and negative growth budgets reflecting the likelihood of accelerated multiyear grand list declines
3. Safeguard the rainy day fund

The business as usual approach to not normalizing BOE budgets can no longer be sustained and are not reflective of the new economic realities facing the state and city. We can do better than this and taxpayers should demand more of a myopic superintendent and BOE who are incapable of understanding the macro environment they are operating in.

Debora Goldstein February 21, 2018 at 11:52 am

Rilling has promised to provide the Board with an unaudited fund balance, the amount of money in the “Rainy Day Fund,” Adamowksi said.

Since Mr. Meek has been asking for this information as an FOI request for months, let us hope he is copied promptly…

(Not commenting on the validity of tapping the rainy day fund, only an advocate for transparency and FOI requests being handled promptly).

Bryan Meek February 21, 2018 at 12:08 pm

Eduction 101 should go back to school and take Finance 101 and Econ 101. Or those are probably too tough, start with the electives we offer at NHS.

1. The mayor has an entire finance department responsible for city finances. Not to mention the Board of Estimate and Taxation who are already responsible for this function.

2. Negative growth budgets are illegal by state law. Perhaps you should focus your deep seeded hatred and anger of the school system towards the politicians in Hartford who make the laws that we must follow.

3. Safeguarding the rainy day fund? From what? Factoring in inflation it is still $30 million higher than it was during the recession when the city still had AAA. Not using the cash for high return investments (like the proven ones the BOE has implemented in the last 5 years) or not refunding it to taxpayers and letting it grow too large has already put a target on it by the Governor that has resulted in lowering of our grants.

While you are taking some basic business courses, pick up a dictionary. The scope of work this Superintendent has undertaken in this short amount of time is unprecedented. Myopic best describes your pessimistic view of Norwalk’s potential. I’ll take this board’s broad diverse backgrounds from academia, corporate finance, and small business operations over your constant drum beat of negativity every day. Keep in touch with yourself.

Education101 February 21, 2018 at 2:39 pm

@Meek. Your BOE intimidation act is getting old. Go take some solace with your closed Facebook cabal pals and keep drinking that punch and believing your BS. I would also suggest you take some lessons on civil discourse and poll the average voter in the city to understand the devastating impacts higher taxes/school spending continue to squeeze the average household. I also stand corrected, scratch the financial monitor over the BOE and install a babysitter instead. While you are it, continue to brown nose your superintendent and try to assist him with the issues/feedback referenced in today’s article, “high turnover in Central Office, low morale among school staff, and multiple challenges with communication and planning. “ Good luck.

Patrick Cooper February 21, 2018 at 2:56 pm

Just love when our highly competent BOE members respond with FACTS to the anonymous posters here on NoN – great reply Brian.

Let me add another perspective. Ever wonder why – in the face of tough business environments – companies choose to implement “hiring freezes” or even more severe – layoffs? Because the single largest line item on most company balance sheets and P&L reviews (outside of cost of good for re-sellers) is labor – and – the embedded cost of benefits. So @Education 101 – are you recommending firing teachers? Administrators (Asst. Principles?) Curious how that would sit with you.

I’ve not seen the details of this BOE budget proposal – but I would be curious what part of the increase is based on agreed raises to the NFT & NASA members? That is an unavoidable increased baked in to the contract.

No – @Education 101 – your issue – and frankly every property tax paying resident’s – is where is the mayor’s plan to grow the grand list? Latest number is .5% up – with housing values dropping – and the mill rate increase pegged at 1.9% (likely higher). No – he has populated the various planning and zoning committees with political cronies – who are now paying back his campaign contributors one spot zoning approval at a time. Please read some of the current NoN-articles to see how lousy assessments and unforgivable abatements turn these shiny new developments into the Grand List version of “the emperor has no clothes”. Further – where is the enforcement of illegal apartments? An easy fix – talk about myopic – but politically a bridge too far for “anyone seen Harry”? Where are the proposed cuts to staff in city hall (the largest employer) – especially any who do not perform essential services or generate revenue? The silence is deafening. Yet you choose to vilify the only part of the city that is working. For this – as a Taxpayer – I must give you a failing grade.

Debora Goldstein February 21, 2018 at 4:27 pm

The BOE already HAS a baby-sitter, see the Charter [emphasis in CAPS mine]:

(Sp. Laws 1913, No. 352, § 166; Sp. Laws 1915, No. 198, § 1; Sp. Laws 1921, No. 189, § 6; Sp. Laws 1929, No. 103; Sp. Laws 1967, No. 197, § 7; Charter Amendment 11-3-1970, effective 7-1-1971; Charter Amendment 9-12-2000.[1])

There shall be in said city a Department of Education which shall be under the control of nine members, who shall be electors of the City of Norwalk, and shall be known as the Board of Education. Its members shall be elected as hereinbefore provided.[2] Said Board shall hold a regular meeting each month. The MAYOR of said city SHALL BE, EX OFFICIO, CHAIRMAN OF SAID BOARD OF EDUCATION and shall preside at ALL meetings of said Board. … Said Board shall, at its first meeting and annually thereafter, elect from its number a CHAIRMAN PRO TEMPORE, who shall preside at all meetings of said Board IN THE ABSENCE OF THE MAYOR.

Donna Smirniotopoulos February 21, 2018 at 10:22 pm

The interested parties participated in a closed door meeting in the Mayor’s office. The takeaway, among other things according to “deputy” Mayor Laoise King is that they agreed to tone down the rhetoric in the press. What a surprise that Mayor Rilling would have a closed door meeting for the purpose of controlling the message!

Drewt February 21, 2018 at 10:34 pm

@education Why is your post name Education why aren’t you afraid to post your real name? Because maybe you don’t want people to figure out how u believable uneducated you really are?! Maybe you should re-read some of my posts or maybe take some classes like Bryan spoke about. Then again they probal Are to had for you. But his punch he is drinking is having very positive effects in our City namely our schools!! But I guess success in our schools is something that you and others can’t accept and like to continue beating the same old drum about the BOE Yadda, Yadda , Yadda..Who’s act is getting old now!?

Education101 February 22, 2018 at 8:01 am

@Drew. It is well known that you and groupie pals at the BOE can not provide cogent responses to criticism but instead engage in a racket of intimidation to silence the majority (perhaps why anonymous posters are permitted here). So for once, please take your child like head out of the sand and quit attacking. With school funding being the largest consumer of city finances and growing to unsustainable levels year in and year out, why is it so offensive to scrutinize this? What is the end game? Are 5% budget increases the norm? Is this fair to our senior community? There’s no secret of the spending track record of the superintendent. What multi-year plan has the BOE devised to deal with the macro environment and likely much lower grand list declines? Or can tax payers (majority without children in the school) continue to expect increases well above the inflation rate? When will the growth in school budgets level off? With all the fanfare, please show me verifiable third party ratings improvements. How is all that spending helping with “the high turnover in Central Office, low morale among school staff, and multiple challenges with communication and planning.”

@Patrick. The problems you highlight were years in the making and will take time to resolve. In the interim why is it so earth shattering to some to promote austerity across the board?

Drewt February 22, 2018 at 9:34 am

@education My head is clearly not in the sand if you’re paying attention. {…} let me just point out 1 very important fact to you and the others who think supporting education in Norwalk is a bad thing. The BOE unlike the City has an SOP. Strategic Operating Plan! They have benchmark goals. They have a long term plan. They are held to extremely high standards and accountability! And maybe if the people in Hartford like Cluelessness Bob and company GIVE NORWALK ITS FAIR SHARE of ECS funding we wouldn’t constantly have to ask for more money at the BOE. But the success are well documented and they aren’t hiding anything! Everything is posted online. {..}

This comment has been edited to be in compliance with the comments policy, which asks that commenters be respectful and not insult or bully fellow commenters. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Donna Smirniotopoulos February 22, 2018 at 10:44 am

@Education101, it is unfortunate that you take a dim view of education spending and dismiss those committed to the NPS as “groupies”. Maybe that is why you choose anonymity. Running a public school district for 11,000, where nearly half are entitled to free or reduced lunch—an indicator of need—is not for the faint of heart, nor is this an easy, cheap or uncomplicated business. YET, over the past few years, the Board of Education has stepped up to the plate to address historic UNDERFUNDING. This is why the requested increases have exceeded the rate of inflation. The BOE had catching up to do. Does the system run perfectly? Of course not. But compare the NPS to the City of Norwalk and its rather loose organization, lack of a plan, and absence of a City Manger, and you have a budget request that makes much more sense to many of us than the 5% increase the City is asking for and Barron (i.e. Mayor Rilling) is giving.

Here is my personal impression—and I’m sure my detractors will chime in to tell me how wrong I am—the City of Norwalk is in continual tug of war with the Board of Education. There is resentment, some of it of a political nature. Yes, the current chair is a democrat. But he notably did not support Rilling’s reelection. And in Norwalk, where political loyalty is rewarded with repeat appointments and other favors, resentments can reverberate against all reason and find their way into the Finance Director’s recommendations.

Consider the following:
1. Barron has recommended a 5% increase for the City and flat funding for the schools
2. The Mayor campaigned on support of the schools. Where is Mayor Rilling now?
3. One takeaway from Tuesday’s closed door meeting was the Mayor is interested in controlling the message, which leads to……
4. The CC subcommittee’s approval last night of the Mayor’s request to add a Comm’s person (select loyalist or perhaps nascent enemy the Mayor wants to control—not mere conspiracy theory).
5. The City has promised to fund SpEd. They have reneged on that promise.
6. Given recent events, it would be unconscionable for the BOE to lack the resources to secure the schools, yet Barron’s (Rilling’s) budget does just this.

The other issues you raise relate more to things the City should be doing but isn’t. And here again look to Mayor Rilling. There is lax enforcement of almost every code, regulation and policy with the exception of parking. The Planning Commission recently did a developer a favor, allowing a zoning text change amendment for a residential overlay in a light industrial zone. Increases in traffic are inevitable, notwithstanding the developer’s and some planners’ claims that residents will simultaneously drive to work AND take the train! We have been promised ZERO NET CHILDREN. And like the Pinnacle project, down the road this developement will cost the city millions in infrastructure improvements that the taxpayers will cover, not the developer. This year alone, Barron (Rilling) approved $4,000,000 in infrastructure improvements to West Avenue. Developers get tax breaks while they increase load on our roads and city services. And the taxpayers are expected to cover for this mess because maybe, just maybe, the developers contributed to certain campaigns. Is this sinking in yet? Because I’ve only lived here a couple years, but the incestuous cesspool of cronies that runs this place is robbing both of us blind. And the BOE is just about the only elected body in Norwalk with much integrity. Aside from a fundamental sense that education funding is an important market of a thriving community, I simply trust the BOE to do its job by several orders of magnitude over the Common Council.

Piberman February 25, 2018 at 10:58 am

Do you think we should be concerned that Norwalk median housing values have declined from $485K to $415K between 2010 and 2016 (US Census) ? With 20,000 units that’s a collective loss of over $1 billion dollars. When the nation is enjoying an unprecedented housing and economic boom.

Or should we continue merrily raising taxes to support our BOE/Supt matching salaries with the surrounding wealthy towns despite a markedly lower performing school system.

What happens during the next Recession ? Wholesale homeowners exit out of Norwalk ?

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