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Sheehan: Norwalk’s new urban apartments don’t contribute heavily to the school system

A school bus parked outside the Waypointe apartments Tuesday.

Updated, 2:23 p.m.: More information; PDF added. 

NORWALK, Conn. – The number of school children coming from new apartment complexes was debated Monday night at the Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting.

There are 25 students coming to Norwalk Public Schools from the Waypointe complex, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan said, with Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis replying that there are 67 students coming from new apartments overall.

Sheehan was explaining, to the BET, financial incentives proposed as part of a new Innovation District.

“A number of employers” complain that their young employees can’t afford to live in Norwalk, Sheehan said, explaining a drafted financial incentive as “a twist on the 10 percent workforce housing” regulation, “you do a set aside for people who are actually working in the district.”

Half the workforce housing units would go to people employed in the district, according to the Innovation District brochure.

“It’s a little understated, King Chemical,” Sheehan said. “It’s amazing how many chemists are brought into that facility very day. These are young people with graduate degrees in chemistry that are doing real science and we don’t capitalize on their presence in this corridor.”

Housing is too expensive so it would be beneficial to help King keep its employees in Norwalk boundaries, Sheehan said, explaining, “Get them into a district, get them meeting up with their friends in the business district and cross pollinating with folks from the hospital at the local nightclub. I mean, that’s all good stuff that you want in districts such as this.”

BET member Artie Kassimis, a former BoE member, asked if the taxes generated by large apartment complexes would cover the cost of educating school children in those buildings, given the 50 percent tax break as an incentive.

Sheehan said there are 25 school kids from Waypointe, Barbis said 67 overall.

On Wednesday, Sheehan provided information to show that there are 52 school children stemming from South Norwalk apartment buildings, in addition to the 25 from Waypointe, a total 77. That includes children from the Sheffield, which is not part of the recent boom in apartment construction.

New Multi-Family Housing Impact on School System

“Typically, urban multifamily does not contribute heavily to a school system,” Sheehan said Monday.

“I don’t think that’s true,” said Barbis, sitting in the audience. “Because look at where our  65 percent of students are Latino and … you can survey them, they all live in multi-family housing.”

The information came from Norwalk Public Schools, Sheehan replied.

“It depends on what you are calling multi-family housing and what we have done in terms of new development in the urban core. That new development has not contributed significantly to the Norwalk Public School system,” Sheehan said, then confirming that school children are coming from workforce housing units, a policy made by the city.

A lot of school children are coming from older multi-family housing, but not from the new developments, he said.

BET Chairman Ed Camacho later cautioned Barbis that it wasn’t a public hearing; Barbis said he needed to clarify the facts.

“That East Norwalk apartment complex, that was debated a lot,” Barbis said. “Zoning for the first time did some calculations and they thought that that building, I think ,was going to generate $800,000 in property tax a year. They also figured 20 students going to public school. That meant it would cost us $17,000 to educate a kid. Something like 75 percent of the tax revenue generated by this new building is going to be consumed by the schools. Between all the apartment complexes there’s 67 kids, including an outplaced kid going for special services. So it is having an impact. Tim, our schools are at 109 percent of capacity so every single additional student that comes to our school system is taxing us.”

Camacho said, “New schools are being built, too.”

An accounting of children in the Waypointe complex, provided to NancyOnNorwalk by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

13 comments

Lisa Brinton Thomson April 4, 2018 at 7:07 am

Note the picture of the school bus! Are you going to believe city officials or your lyin’ eyes 🙂

Perhaps if the mayor regularly attended BOE meetings (as per the charter) he would realize the strategic connection between the marginal revenue decisions and lawsuits his land use boards generate and the BOE’s marginal expenses, representing nearly 60% of budget.

Homeowners want tax relief. That also comes from generating economic growth. Where’s Norwalk’s economic director or council? Marginal revenue comes from grants and reaching out to foundations and corporations. Where’s the grant writer?

Whether he sees himself in the role or not, the mayor and his staff are responsible for generating revenue. Period!

I’m thankful the BOE is connecting the dots between land use ‘revenue’ decisions made by the city’s redevelopment agency and the ‘expenses’ they generate for current residents. Economics 101.

Mike Barbis April 4, 2018 at 7:25 am

Yes, we are building new schools but the earliest we will actually be adding capacity is September 2022 — which is 4 1/2 years from now. Our plan is for new space to open is September 2020 — and that’s an aggressive goal — but then we will empty both Jefferson and the old Columbus School to renovate those spaces.

So, the new capacity will not be available for 4 1/2 years — and that’s if everything goes according to plan.

Rayj April 4, 2018 at 7:33 am

Cost to educate 1 student $17,000 over the course of 1 year. 2 students $34,000. Why don’t those 2 students share a classroom to cut expenses?

Nora K King April 4, 2018 at 8:01 am

Those numbers that Tim Sheehan keeps throwing out there are not accurate. When you actually work with the bus company and use the many addresses in Waypointe the number is almost double. Tim needs to start realizing that he needs to be on the side of the city and protect us from the increase cost and drain on the school system. If we want to continue to add apartment buildings the city needs to plan to educate these kids and the head of the BET needs to stop complaining all the time about the cost of the BOE budget. It is amazing to me because he is involved in many Latino causes and one of the largest drains on our system is having to teach kids how to speak English. He should be a champion for funding these programs. Kids cost money!

The city wants to keep building but they don’t want to pay for the school budget with the increases that come with these students. I think for any new development their should be a 1% assessment that goes into the school fund. These buildings especially the affordable housing units come with students. Once again kids cost money!

Sue Haynie April 4, 2018 at 9:58 am

Sheenan ….’then confirming that school children are coming from workforce housing units, a policy made by the city.’

Norwalk’s affordable housing stock is over 12%, dwarfing the measly contributions made by our tony neighboring towns.
Change that! Enough! Norwalk has done its share.

Taxpayers are overwhelmed with stagnating housing values and constantly rising taxes. Enough

Donna Smirniotopoulos April 4, 2018 at 10:03 am

When Clay Fowler initially appeared before the Planning Commission to tout his 230 East Avenue TOD application, he used Ironworks as a predictor for the number of school children the city could anticipate out of the 189 unit East Norwalk proposal. On Monday night, however, Liz Suchy referred to the units as “multi-family”. In other words, as Mike Barbis told the BET when he corrected Tim Sheehan, all of these residential developments the city is leaning on will contain children and those children have to be educated. Meanwhile, the mayor does not appear to have a plan to grow the local economy. The apartment complexes aren’t delivering the economic gains. In fact, in the long run, they may hurt our pocketbooks.

I missed a good portion of the BET Monday night. Did anyone ask how the Innovation design district would be integrated into the 2018 POCD and which one would take precedent over the other? Does RDA have carte blanche because they’re funded through more federal tax dollars? Does it matter since all of the boards and commissions are appointed by Rilling anyway, and when it comes to these appointments, he keeps his hand pretty close to the vest?

Kevin Kane April 4, 2018 at 10:05 am

Call me crazy but it seems these folks are trying to understand how multiunit housing impacts school population yet it appears they do not even agree on the definition of multiunit housing. Agree to define the problem then develop a solution. No?

After comparing Webster’s definitions on multiunit housing, we need 2 very basic spreadsheets to compare. 1st – NPS provides an Excel spreadsheet with 3 columns: Student Name, Address the Student Lives At, School the Student Attends. 2nd – The Tax Assessor provides an Excel Spreadsheet with 3 columns: Housing Address, Housing type, and # of Bedrooms For That Address. Sync the 2 spreadsheets to figure out where the heck the kids are coming from and what schools they go to then adjust the taxes accordingly, with a focus on allocations to these alleged apartment complexes. This exercise also would expose any instances of 2 bedrooms but 6 students – seems odd, no? Or you could really get REALLY sophisticated and add 1 column to the NPS Spreadsheet that indicates English as the 1st Language – Y/N to test the hypothesis ESL and related issues might be driving the costs.

In addition, the concept of Fixed Costs, Fixed Cost Per Unit and Marginal Costs per Unit are all being conflated. If Seventh Grade Sally moves into town, something tells me West Rocks does not send a bill to NPS Central Office for $17,000 then another bill for $17k when Seventh Grade Sanchez shows up. It appears from the article these 2 marginal cost students are costing us $34,000 total. If so, let me know when I can get into the school business. Better yet, send these 2 marginal cost students to All Saints which is about $6,000 per student – NPS could outsource the 2 combined for $20,000, pocket the $14k and All Saints magically turns a $8k profit. Sounds strange, no?

Rick April 4, 2018 at 10:06 am

Sheehan brings up a great point , King Chemical has an active chemical lab, where does one find the evacuation plan for the thousands of people who live nearby?

The Ct Mirror just did a great story on plans like that in the state of Ct and and had plenty of questions, maybe our fire dept can steer us in the direction needed to read such a plan.

Im sure with a rail yard and King so close o the mall and Stepping stones there must be a great one in place.

Google from the air shows a lot of storage for chemicals, and I thought most were virgin with simple meds sheets.

Piberman April 4, 2018 at 1:18 pm

Encouraging renters is objectionable on 2 counts. First is that apartment owners take advantage of depreciation in reducing property taxes vs. homeowners who in normal terms are expected to see both housing values and property taxes increase. Second, apartment tenants tend to be more transient. Norwalk has long been Fairfield County’s most transient City. Renters according to US Census figures are now 40% of the City.

Those who see the “future of Norwalk” in more renters might ponder Bridgeport where renters comprise 60% of the City’s population. None of CT’s more successful cities or towns have high proportions of renters. So when City officials promote more apartment buildings they are moving Norwalk forward to place most would rather not be – a Bridgeport solution.

Reportedly many City home owners, unable to sell their homes in our sharply declining real estate market, are renting to multiple families. Further questioning why City officials are so keen on promoting highly profitable apartment development.

Years ago City officials enthusiastically supported apartment development downtown. Expecting the new tenants would encourage a major growth of retail stores servicing the new tenants. So far that hasn’t happened.

Stamford remains a fine example of uplifting a City by encouraging high value added business to locate in the City encouraging new service businesses. Norwalk is an example of focusing on apartment buildings.
As walking downtown on Washington Street day or night readily illustrates.

MarjorieM April 4, 2018 at 2:33 pm

Off topic, but if Norwalk is Fairfield County’s most transient city, how are we able to compare test scores from year to year? How is Adamowski able to take credit for rising test scores and score himself a large bonus? Our brilliant BoE should ask for 5 years of test score improvement for any promise of a bonus. Five years is the measuring point for change anyway. Sorry again; back to topic.

Steve April 4, 2018 at 9:49 pm

To lop all multi-family units as one seems silly. The terms used marginal revenue and marginal cost seem confusing as well since the refer to the change in cost or revenue generated by the sale or production of one more unit. The question here is whether the additional revenue produced by the newly built large apartment complexes are less than the burden created to the City by another student. The additional revenue may be primarily through property taxes but they aren’t exclusively. When people move here they create a multiplier effect, since they don’t simply come home and sleep but also purchase goods and services. The marginal costs of enrolling more students depended upon the capacity of the schools along with a host of other factors such as the likelihood that they need special services. No one denies that there are kids that live in the building, the fact that there’s a bus in front doesn’t say much since the bus stops in my neighborhood to pick up a total of two students. There’s.a lot of conjecture about how many school age students live in Waypointe and the like but the little hard evidence that exists seems to point to the fact that it’s a money generator for the City. Most of the units are 2 Br or less. The units are expensive and many families that can afford them would prefer to go to districts that have higher test scores. It makes sense that few families with school age children live there and to date, the evidence is consistent with that.

Bill NIghtingale April 5, 2018 at 1:04 pm

please tell me we are not giving 50% property tax breaks to condo developers. Are we?

The mall 50% tax break was enough already….

“BET member Artie Kassimis, a former BoE member, asked if the taxes generated by large apartment complexes would cover the cost of educating school children in those buildings, given the 50 percent tax break as an incentive.”

Concerned Citizen April 5, 2018 at 10:33 pm

WOW! It’s offensive that you are using the Waypointe and/or other multi-family apartments as a measuring tool. That spreadsheet! Please drive through the town of Norwalk and count the mailboxes on the homes with two to four or maybe more entrances. Do you see the home in a prominent intersection with over eleven mailboxes hanging out front? If you are really going to count children let’s do it right. Do these tenants have children? If so how many? How many children are living in these multi-mailbox homes? Can you please check your process and re-check your numbers and revise spreadsheet.

Norwalk residents should be happy to have such lovely multi family buildings in the area. They bring a diverse group of residents and non-residents that spend their money in Norwalk. Look at the Waypointe District for example. You can visit Endurance House for the Tuesday group evening runs, take advantage of their free shoe fitting services. BBQ, music, trivia night and family specials at Bobby Q’s. What about some dinner or Brunch at Sedona Taphouse. Get your hair, nails or other beauty services taken care of at JC Salons! Colony Pizza is crowded with large groups and young families all week and on the weekends. Go to Barcelona Wine Bar- families, couples and groups are enjoying happy hour, tapas and dinner. Dining outside hearing the sound of children’s laughter, looking at the pretty lights, listening to the fountain spouting water is a wonderful way to spend an evening at the Waypointe District in Norwalk. If your lucky enough to live at the Waypointe all you have to do is ride the elevator upstairs to your beautiful apartment next door to your awesome neighbors who have the cutest children who ride the yellow bus to the Norwalk schools! How lucky Norwalk is to have the Waypointe District!

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