Adamowski lays out $4.4 million in ‘reductions’

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski, left, explains budget reductions Tuesday in Norwalk High School, as Board of Education member Heidi Keyes listens.

Updated, 5:17 p.m.: Minor copy edit. 

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Board of Education members worked Tuesday to deal with “budget reality,” while holding out a slim hope that the city will come up with maybe the $1 million more needed to eliminate Norwalk High School study halls.

Although the Common Council set an appropriations cap that allows the BoE a $5.5 million 2018-19 operating budget increase, the Board had requested $9.9 million more. With that in mind, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski at Tuesday’s Board meeting laid out options to adjust the Board’s approved budget, to include cutting the number of secretaries, guidance counselors and kindergarten aides, as well as closing the Pathways Academy at Briggs.

The goal in Adamowski’s recommendation was to make advancements according to the Board’s strategic operating plan, perhaps making it a four-year plan instead of a three-year plan. Making more cuts necessary is a move to strengthen school security in the wake of a massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

Adamowski’s recommendation includes an additional $457,099 to strengthen school security, and $496,236 in unemployment expenses. These strategies were discussed by the Board in an executive session.

The Board has sought to increase the number of credits needed to graduate high school from 20 to 26, two years ahead of the state’s requirement for that shift. Adamowski suggests, in his recommendation, that this be delayed for a year. The new high school program would debut in 2019-20 and the new graduation requirements would begin in 2020-21.

This would cut more than $1 million from the budget, but also mean that study halls would continue next year.

Norwalk can make do with less reserve teachers next year, because it looks like the enrollment increase is going to be very small, he said, explaining that the number of reserve teachers is specified in the Norwalk Federation of Teachers contract, but it’s a guideline and not a contractual obligation.

This could mean larger class sizes in the lower grades, potentially “a little over the guidelines,” he said, later telling Board member Bruce Kimmel that if every class is over the guidelines, another section will be added.

It’s recommended that K-2 classes have a maximum 22 children, while third through fifth grades can have 24, he said.

Eliminating four reserve teachers would save $462,734.

Norwalk has more teacher aides, para professionals and guidance counselors than other districts, Adamowski said.

Adamowski recommended cutting 30 of 42 kindergarten aides, a projected $814,072 savings.

Kimmel said he’d be reluctant to cut kindergarten aides but understood that the high schools are the priority.

Also recommended is the retention of 12 kindergarten intervention specialists, a cost of $321,578, bringing the kindergarten savings down to $492,494.

“We have the largest number of aides in the state,” Adamowski said, explaining that the Hartford School District, which is twice Norwalk’s size, has 300 aides while Norwalk has 200.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) says that the average for paraprofessionals to teachers is 2 percent, but Norwalk is at 16 percent, he said.

“I think this goes back to those days where the district was treading water and shifting responsibility from teachers: fewer teachers, more paras,” Adamowski said. “That’s kind of what we are dealing with now. What we need is more teachers, we need more highly trained expert staff working with our children, and just not a custodial function.”

The national standard for guidance counselors ins 300-350 students each, but Norwalk guidance counselors oversee 180 students, Adamowski said, explaining that each high school has a guidance counselor position vacancy, and he’d like to leave the positions open.

Nationally, most middle schools with 500-600 students have one guidance counselor, but Norwalk has three, Adamowski said, adding that the counselors have been scheduling the middle schools, which you would think a principal or assistant principal would do.

Cutting the number of middle school guidance counselors would save $362,405, and cutting high school counselors would save $316,052.

Cutting middle school guidance secretaries would save $262,972, and the consolidation of high school assistant principal secretaries would save $330,200. Two Central Office positions would be cut, a savings of $194,498.

There are guidance secretaries in the middle schools but not at the high schools, and at the high schools the Aps have secretaries, Adamowski said, caliing that “rare.”

“Even in our central office we have high level people who don’t have them. We share secretaries,” he said, after stating that organizations have fewer secretaries these days.

Cutting middle school sports would save $160,645. Adamowski’s recommendation also includes a savings of $187,978 by eliminating a Norwalk High School assistant principal, a position that is no longer needed now that the Norwalk Early College Academy is at full enrollment and there are fewer students in the high school, he said.

Board members agreed that it’s a good time to eliminate Briggs.

“We know this program has to end at some point because it can’t stay in that building, which can’t be remodeled or renovated because it doesn’t meet standards,” Adamowski said. “I think this is the time we have to do that. We will have a blended learning classroom at each high school by the end of this year so those students can continue their program, we can keep them on a flexible schedule like they are now. But the great advantage of having them in the high school is that so many of these students could benefit in taking subjects in other areas, which they cannot do at Briggs. So we are not doing justice at Briggs from an educational standpoint.”

Julie Corbett agreed that the students would have more of a high school program, and Mike Lyons said that when Briggs was established, the high school pathways and academies didn’t exist.

The savings are “huge,” and the students will benefit from working with typical peers, Heidi Keyes said.

“It will also eventually expand the city’s tax base considerably, which will help us craft fundings in the future,” Kimmel said. “That piece of property has been sitting there for ages and people are just staring at it. Who has a high school there, in a place like that?”

The recommendation would also eliminate the Naramake School Resource Center, which the Board kept going after the state eliminated its financial support last year. Adamowski also took out funding to complete a snow plowing deal the Board had with the Department of Public Works, “just to make a point.”

Corbett said she appreciated that the reductions had been spread out to target different areas of the education system.

“Tight fiscal times do give us a chance to reflect on efficiency and effectiveness,” she said. “So, it does seem like some things have been continued for years and decades and it is time to make some changes. This unfortunately may be a reason to make some of those changes and improvements.”

Erik Anderson asked if there were any options for cuts that would add $1 million, so the Board could eliminate Norwalk High study halls.

“I have no found a way that does not do greater damage,” Adamowski said. “I can say to myself that a number of adults will need to work longer, harder and differently, but basically we don’t have a big impact on students. We don’t have a big impact on student achievement, and we are able to address a majority of our goals, which will enable us to continue on the trajectory of higher achievement. I don’t know how to take another $1 million out of the existing budget without doing significant damage.”

Anderson said the lack of funding would stymie improvements.

The Board’s Finance Committee will vet the recommendations, and the Board will vote on the “tentative” reductions at its March 20 Board meeting, Adamowski said.

“’Tentative approval,’ meaning we still have a chance for the Board of Estimate and Taxation to perhaps do better than we did with the Mayor and the Common Council,” Adamowski said.

Joanna Cooper, a member of the public, spoke after the presentation.

“I think we are blessed to have such a great ‘Board of Ed,’” she said. “I am very angry with this city. I don’t think we have ever had it so good and I am going to be really upset if they screw it up.”


Enough March 7, 2018 at 6:13 am

Why not make middle school sports part of each schools budget since each school is autonomous anyways?

Very Concerned March 7, 2018 at 6:49 am

It is very disconcerting that anyone would even consider cutting counselors in schools in light of recent events in both Florida and our neighboring towns of fairfield and Westport. Who do they think identifies students who have mental health issues and helps them To get the services they need? By decreasing he mental health services less students will be identified and provided services and we are just asking for another incident to happen. This is a very dangerous plan .

Also March 7, 2018 at 7:02 am

Wow… Middle Schools have been FORCED to a redesign that DOES NOT WORK and now we are going to cut secretaries and guidance counselors!? 6-700 kids with less guidance counselors in a time where mental health is PRIORITY FOR MIDDLE SCHOOL KIDS! Amazing….Maybe the politicians in this town can do something to TRUELY help the KIDS in this town, or maybe they are still busy marching….

I understand cuts have to be made, however these are the WRONG ONES.

Quick question? Will the superintendent still get his “bonus” when teachers will have to work “longer, harder and differently” due to his cuts!?!

Rick March 7, 2018 at 9:35 am

This will make security in the schools a all time low, but we have a new mall coming with boat loads of cash coming,trouble will end up at the mall where most of our police officers will already be, its a win win for the mayor and overtime for our officers. Screw the taxpayer who else would be stupid enough to subsidize one of the last malls built, Norwalkers should be proud of what they have done.

Piberman March 7, 2018 at 9:45 am

Reducing the number of our highly paid but underperforming school administrators earning $150k to $200kplus doesn’t seem on the table here. Nor changing the policy of matching school salaries with those of our surrounding wealthy towns – among the richest in the nation.

Why isn’t the well paid Supt sensitive to declining City housing values and exodus of long time homeowners unable to afford high taxes supporting our school system that has always underperformed ourwealthy neighbors. But pays top salaries.

Educator March 7, 2018 at 10:01 am

Same old story year after year – “give us our money or we’ll cut teachers.” The BOE forcibly moved teachers to a new insurance plan to bail them out of a self-inflicted hole and now they are being punished with the threat of losing their jobs.

Eleanor Lx. March 7, 2018 at 10:31 am

Can parents be encouraged to pack lunches for their children and have some of those dollars from the free lunch program redirected to the school budgets?

Nancy Chapman March 7, 2018 at 12:23 pm

Dr. Adamowski’s recommendation includes cutting two Central Office positions, a savings of $194,498, as mentioned above. He didn’t know what positions would be cut but mentioned merging the talent officer role with another role.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 7, 2018 at 1:33 pm

Unless the NFT volunteers to renegotiate their contract and forgo guaranteed pay raises, the budget cuts have to come from somewhere else. Some states are beginning to consider SpEd funding as an adjunct of other needs based funding, like the School Lunch Program and ELL.

Last November when Ms. Goorevitch announced improvements in outplacement figures (i.e. reductions), some parents expressed reluctance to have their children moved back to the NPS. At the time, a familiar refrain from some of the parents was “it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the children.” However, the ability of the district to address learning disabilities within our schools not only makes economic sense. It’s also better for all but the most profoundly disabled children.

Students at the top have access to special services In the way of AP classes and the IB program. Students at the bottom, whether by virtue of special needs or financial need or language barrier, also have access to special services. The students who are short changed are the regular ed students. But we never hear from those parents.

We can tolerate larger class sizes in the elementary schools in order to reduce sfudy halls and improve academic rigor at the high schools.

U.S. Blues March 7, 2018 at 1:37 pm

@eleanor, wish we could but can not. God forbid parents take responsibility for feeding their kids or getting off welfare.
Same thing with teaching kids that when they get in trouble, they get punished but we can’t do that either. So there you have it, the new liberal ideology.
As for counselors, they only help if they care, pay attention or take action…as exemplified by the inactions of the teachers, counselors, police, social workers, school security and the fbi in Florida. All the counselors in the world won’t help if they don’t do their job.

Brenda Wilcox Williams March 7, 2018 at 2:24 pm

One important clarification — the $1M mentioned at the top of the story is not just to eliminate study halls at Norwalk High. This reduction will defer the expansion of the new HS Program of Studies and new HS graduation requirements, which we will legally be required to meet in several years, one way or another. The presentation last night also included nearly two hours of discussion on the well researched and comprehensive new HS Program of Studies, which was developed with the input of curriculum administrators, department heads and teachers across the district. Implementing the updated Program of Studies would reduce study halls by providing students with increased rigor and graduation requirements. Over the past several years, the implementation steps of the Strategic Plan have emphasized instructional improvements at the elementary level and on redesigning outdated middle school models. Attention to the High School Program of Studies is a much needed next step.

With $4.4 million needed to be cut from the BOE’s budget request, there are simply no easy decisions here. The proposal focused as much as possible on ways to continue making progress under the Strategic Operating Plan while meeting the realities of a reduced budget. Possible reductions across the entire district were reviewed, with a focus on finding areas where we are not aligned with current norms, practices and standards.

Educator31years March 7, 2018 at 3:37 pm

As a teacher of 31 years in Norwalk elementary schools, I know I speak for several of us who say “You want to save money? ELIMINATE the assistant principals at the 12 elementary schools.”
The BOE made a fancy title a few years ago for them “CISD’s”….Curriculum Instruction Site Directors.”
They are unnecessary. Dalio funded them for a year a few years back, and he soon stopped funding them because it was a waste of money.
One principal per elementary school worked perfectly fine for many years. We don’t need a second administrator. Cut those 12 assistant positions…the principals make enough money as it is…and the district will save approximately $1.6 million.

preschoolers act better March 7, 2018 at 7:05 pm

There are very good points here, but why take away from programs that directly impact children and the educational process? Central office is so top heavy with chiefs of this and that with assistants and secretaries. Norwalk does not have a lack of funding, they have a top heavy central office.

Ron Morris March 7, 2018 at 8:33 pm

Maybe you should be more concerned with the fact that most of the top paid in Norwalk are cops where the required education is a GED. I have no issue with school administrators making 6 figures considering all of them have advanced education.

Joe March 8, 2018 at 12:25 pm

If all of our municipal employees give back 1% of their weekly pay for the children that would be like at least $1,000,000. right? Maybe Two Million, I don’t know.

That would be the mayor, the teachers, cops, firemen, administrators, janitors, everybody that works for the city.

They’re already lucky, They have contracts and way more pensions and benefits than private sector people.

sped parent March 8, 2018 at 3:27 pm

@Donna, As another poster commented a little while back, you really should stay out of the special ed issue when it comes to anything other than your opinion. As your children acquired services in Westport, you can be forgiven for having no real knowledge of the quality of services in Norwalk. It’s one thing to bicker over how low the bar is in Norwalk in defining an “appropriate” education, but it is wholly inaccurate (based on numerous objective studies) to state that the regular education kids get shortchanged in Norwalk relative to the special needs population. And while it may be economical to education these students in Norwalk, that does not mean that the district knows how to educate them.

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm

@sped parent, there is a special logic loop in which only parents of special needs children currently enrolled in the NPS are permitted to have credible opinions on how our tax dollars are allocated. In some areas, all spending outside of regular ed is considered together—free and reduced lunch, ELL and SpEd. These groups all require allocations of taxpayer resources above the cost to educate a “regular ed” student. Since financial need is a factor already in place in determining school lunch, why can’t this formula apply to the other cost centers in the budget?

When a student is outplaced because his or her needs cannot be addressed in district, we all pay. As a society we have agreed to these costs. But they don’t always have to be tied to education budgets. The aggregate of the costs of the aforementioned areas—special ed, lunch and ELL—were they considered together might also improve our eligibility for grants. Since it’s a known fact that education varies from district to district, it goes without saying that SpEd also varies in like measure. At a certain point, it might make more fiscal sense for the NPS to do a worse job here so that consumers of these costly services are motivated to move to other districts that do a better job. Catering to the top and bottom ends of the student population does not make fiscal sense for taxpayers and is potentially unfair to the majority of kids who don’t qualify for anything more than regular ed.

MarjorieM March 8, 2018 at 11:14 pm

NPS is more top heavy in central office than ever before. I have heard that there are (maybe) ten people in Human Resources alone. What about curriculum administrators? What are their day to day work schedules like? They can’t write curriculum all the time. What is their purpose other than writing curriculum every 5(?) years. If they visit schools, what do they do there? Could some of these positions be replaced by consultants on an “as needed” basis? The savings would be enormous,,,,salaries and insurance costs!

Donna Smirniotopoulos March 9, 2018 at 10:01 am

@MarjorieM, there are many places to make economies no doubt.

I wish the public invested this much energy in the mayor’s budget, which seems to sail through with little fanfare.

How does this sound—$4,000,000 in infrastructure upgrades to West Avenue because of all the new apartments.

Another $9,000,000 for water treatment upgrades because of all the new apartments.

Plus money leftover for a new communications director.

The City has over 1700 full time employees, plus two thousand more seasonal and party time. The employment figures don’t factor in contracts for sidewalks and paving. Those are cap ex budget items.

So sure the BOE and Dr. Adamowski can probably tweak this and realize more savings, The fact that this board and superintendent are capable and willing to make economies seems to be lost on most of us. The City side of the budget is getting a 5% raise. The BET—all appointed by the mayor—is now where the board goes to plead its case. Public schools are too important to too many people, including taxpayers, for this to come down to seven men sitting around a table.

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