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Norwalk BoE plans $12.7 million budget ask

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis talks about the 2019-20 Norwalk Public Schools operating budget, Thursday in the Cranbury Park bunkhouse.

Updated, 11:50 a.m.: PDF replaced; 9:52 a.m.: Added information regarding breakdown of increase; 6:36 a.m.: Copy edits, information added

NORWALK, Conn. — It’s time to go public with the $12.7 million increase that’s projected for next year’s Norwalk school budget, Board of Education members said Thursday.

Yes, the BoE is talking – now – about asking for a 6.7 percent increase in its 2019-20 school budget, because it’s necessary to go public much earlier than in past years, BoE Chairman Mike Barbis said during the opening day of the Board’s annual retreat in the Cranbury Park bunkhouse.

“We have been warning the Mayor about it. We have told them, I am sure they have all forgotten about it already even though we made it clear that next year was going to be really difficult,” Barbis said.

The current structure where the Board works through the holiday season to form a budget, then votes in early January to begin a “whole protracted battle… doesn’t help us,” he said.

The increase includes $7.4 million in new or increased salaries, $4.4 million in benefits, and $580,000 classified as “other”.  More details are available in this PDF:

Budget Consolidation Schedule FY 18-19 v.3 7-25-18

Multi-year model budget detail – selected items

BoE member Bruce Kimmel acknowledged that the increase is a “big ask” and said that Mayor Harry Rilling needs to get a promised education funding task force going.  The City and Board of Ed previously agreed during the last round of budget negotiations that a new Ad-Hoc Committee on School Funding would study “the historic underfunding of Norwalk schools and long-term education financing in Norwalk,” according to an April statement.

Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton blamed the increase in part on the City’s insistence during the most recent budget negotiation that NPS use its entire $3 million health insurance reserve in the 2018-19 budget year.

Barbis and others also cast some blame on illegal apartments together with approved large new multi-family developments.

On June 21 Board Member Bryan Meek predicted a challenging budget season in 2018-19, noting that a consultant forecast 11,300 students in NPS for 2016-17, and, “we have 11,700.”

“We have 300 more students inside of a year and a half that we did not anticipate,” Meek said in June, likening that to Wolfpit Elementary School doubling, “like a whole school appeared out of thin air in a year and a half.”

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski began Thursday’s discussion by advising the Board that its three-year strategic operating plan needs to become a four-year strategic operating plan.

“The budget is not living a life of its own even though it may seem it does,” he said. “It is in direct relation to the strategic operating plan … We are not going to be able to complete funding of the current plan in three years.”

The plan’s goal of extending the elementary school day is bleeding into 2019-20 because only half the schools are getting longer school days this year, he said.  The four-year plan would be complete in 2020-21.

Increased expenditures include increased magnet school allocations, $100,000 for a Montessori classroom (including furniture), $700,000 for the increased elementary school day; $50,000 for a marine science pathway at Brien McMahon High School; $400,000 for the second year of a pilot program in fourth and fifth grade music lessons; $165,000 for sixth grade summer school and $510,000 for a projected enrollment increase.

The 2020-21 school year’s budget is projected to go up 4.2 percent, an $8.6 million increase, while 2021-22’s budget is projected to go up 3.1 percent, or $6.5 million.

New for 2020-21 would be $365,000 for a Naramake School Rigor and Relevance Lab School. A year-round school option projected for that year has a price tag “to be announced.”  A projected enrollment increase is $867,000.

The budget factors in a $4.2 million increase for health insurance.

“Absent the sort of extraordinary situation that we have, which is in the current fiscal year, the 18-19 budget, we had a balance in insurance fund,” Hamilton said. “We had proposed drawing down roughly half. The city essentially dictated we draw down the full amount … Well, that $3 million is not available in 19-20 so it needs to be made up.”

Adamowski described the advance budgetary discussion as Barbis’ attempt to get ahead of the process “in terms of communication and work as opposed to simply waiting for the ax to fall from the finance director.”

The only way the Board has a chance of success is to have a multi-year plan, said Kimmel, who is a former Common Council Finance Committee Chairman.  Kimmel compared the budget to the facilities plan which has generated a high debt service but includes a plan for the debt service to come back down.

The Board needs to have a detailed budget document by Labor Day so it can sit down with the City and work together, as early as possible, he said.

“The demands on school systems are growing, yet we are still backed into fiscal corner and we have to figure out how a way to get out of it,” Kimmel said.  He added that Rilling recognizes the need to get a task force going and study how other towns reserve funds for education.

Barbis said he was hoping that the increase for 2020-21 wouldn’t be so substantial but it was “still in the right direction.”

It’s going to be called a luxury budget and, “They are going to say we can’t afford this,” Barbis said.

“We are in Fairfield County. Are you kidding me?” Kimmel replied.

“Even {Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King} gave this whole song and dance the other day, ‘no mayor has given the school system more than Harry Rilling,’” Barbis said, continuing to describe senior Council members as saying “enough is enough” in regard to school budget increases.

“I am not sure how we combat that,” Barbis said.

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell suggested looking for funding sources elsewhere and Julie Corbett said Norwalk’s student population is growing, bucking the national trend, and the BoE “needs to have conversations with city about planning and zoning and development.”

Adamowski said the enrollment is 100 above the projection made by consultants Milone and McBroom.

“Right there, that’s $2 million,” Barbis said.

“It’s the city’s growth and we are the front line, taking the brunt,” Mike Lyons said, describing the Mayor and Common Council looking at the Board of Ed like, “What the hell is the matter with you people constantly increasing your budget?”

“Figure out a way to shrink the population of the city and we won’t have this problem. By the way, building thousands of apartments all over town ain’t helping,” Lyons said.

“Enrollment when we look at it is actually an indicator that it’s a strong system,” Julie Corbett said. “I think there’s a double-edged sword there because if Norwalk was such a horrible education system, we wouldn’t have people coming to the city.”

While the Board needs “to look at demographics of who is leaving and who is coming… across the country we do use enrollment into a system as indicator of success,” she said.

“I think, as you know, Connecticut, and Fairfield County in particular, is a very unique structure with all these little towns and districts and you can’t look at it like another part of the country where you might have a county-based school system,” Barbis said. “The fact is our enrollment is growing because we’re affordable and we don’t have horrible schools.”

24 comments

Adam Blank July 27, 2018 at 6:47 am

Can someone list or link to a list of the cost increases that total 12.7mil? The article only lists a few increases. Hard to evaluate the ask without that price of info? Thanks

Another Opinion July 27, 2018 at 7:29 am

Given the magnitude of enrollment growth and larger than anticipated budgets, why not put the trajectory of BOE budgets on a ballot referendum? Without pointing any fingers, something is clearly amiss here. With all the new development and promises of material revenue growth, it will be the same old, same old, with mill rates being ever more raised next year to the determent of residents. It also would be prudent for city finance managers to begin proforma budget forecasts across entire departments sooner than later to promote public debate as most will find any more advertised mill rate increase not palatable.

Teacher July 27, 2018 at 8:25 am

History repeats itself again and again… Dr. Adamoski has a history of driving up budgets with programs and spending sprees that quickly evaporate once he finds the appetite of the the taxpayer can no longer stomach his DEMANDS!

Where was the leadership over the past few year to see this increase coming?

How much money was spent on McBroom’s projections that turned out to be completely wrong. Way to go in picking a professional consulting firm that blew the projections by several hundred students. The officers of the BOE should be proud of that decision.

Lisa Brinton Thomson July 27, 2018 at 8:46 am

@ Another opinion – none of our governance or financial decision making can change without charter revision.

nora k king July 27, 2018 at 8:54 am

This should not come as a surprise to one Common Council person. Take a look at the changing demographics of our school, the increased building of larger homes, new construction and the additional apartments. But let’s take a large look at all of the illegal apartments an issues we have with zoning that for some reason everyone has always turned a blind eye too. If the Common Council continues to turn a blind eye then they need to be willing to pay for the mistakes they continue to foster by not fixing the illegal issues we have within our city.

Mike Barbis July 27, 2018 at 9:02 am

Teacher, I sure hope you don’t work for NPS as your attitude is so unproductive. If you don’t like the way we are running things, feel free to go work for another district.

Milone & MacBroom are the pre-eminent demographers/engineers in the State … they got the direction right, they came up with 3 scenarios and we have beaten their fastest growing scenario. The study was done in 2015. The Board chose not to spend the money for an updated multiyear projection but after the student enrollment growth in 2017/18, I have asked our CFO to get an estimate for what an update would cost.

Lisa Brinton Thomson July 27, 2018 at 9:12 am

@Nora The Common Council PAY? It’s homeowners who pay with decreasing property values and increasing property taxes.

It would be nice to have a breakdown, but I think $8M of the $12 is due to contract increases. BOTTOM LINE: Grandl list growth is not keeping up with BOE and city expenditures, despite all the ‘development.’ The lack of a strategic city plan and ‘auto pilot’ nature of running this city is now imploding on us. This has been building up for years. Reconciling the BOE budget with our repeatedly poor land use begs the debate: Are We Spending Too Much? Are we underperforming as a city? Definitely.

Teacher July 27, 2018 at 9:37 am

@Mr.Barbis, thank you for your speedy response must you attack some for pointing out a mistake. If you deem my attack poor, so be it but the rude and snarky tone of your comments is just as negative and off putting. I simply made an observation based on facts and statements from the article.

Bob Welsh July 27, 2018 at 10:00 am

@Adam Blank

Nancy’s original story included a link to a spreadsheet showing the breakdown of the desired increase for 2019-20, 20-21, and 21-22.

A line has been added to the story explaining that the increase for 2019-20 includes $7.4 million in new or increased salaries, $4.4 million in benefits, and $580,000 classified as “other”. Of those numbers, $4.1 million relate to redesign implementation. For more details see:

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Boe-budget-Jul-27-2018-.pdf

Piberman July 27, 2018 at 10:20 am

We know Norwalk’s future when our BOE asks for an unprecedented budget hike with our falling property values, exodus of long time homeownes, punitive taxes and long stagnant Grand List. Our BOE’s policy of matching school salaries with our surrounding wealthy towns while overlooking our modest school performance clearly shows the BOE favors its public Unions who avoid living in Norwalk over Norwalk’s overburdened taxpayers.

Wasn’t the BOE elected to represent City taxpayers ? Did City taxpayers vote for punitive taxes, falling home values and exodus of long time homeowners replaced by renters not paying their fair share for City services ? Did City taxpayers vote for a school system that matches salaries with our high performing wealthy surrounding towns ?

Is our BOE aware of CT’s depressed economy, falling housing prices even in our Gold Coast and major Exodus from Connecticut ? Just who was the BOE elected to represent ? Doesn’t look like homeowners.

MarjorieM July 27, 2018 at 11:40 am

(1) Mike Barbis, you are {…}, plain and simple! I suggest you move and leave the BoE.
(2) Adamowski spends and spends taxpayers’ money. Definitely no surprise! Norwalk was warned on that one. What do we have to show for it? What are test score results for this year?
(3) Am I wrong, or are some who loved and adored appointing Adamowski now stating they are not so happy?

Edited to remove an insult, a violation of the comment policy.
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Lisa Brinton Thomson July 27, 2018 at 12:17 pm

Marj – the majority of spending is due to employee contractual obligations associated with salaries and benefits, coupled with increasing enrollment- please explain how that is the superintendent’s fault? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not happy about the expense and have my own views on solutions, but am curious what your remedy is?

Teacher July 27, 2018 at 1:24 pm

@Lisa,
Your wrong on the employee compensation part of the equation. The insurance change which this BOE championed saved millions of dollars. The teachers did that. Some one should like at the contract for supplies and other insularity materials. Waste is bountiful there.

Patrick Cooper July 27, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Pigs fly. Didn’t ever think I would see old Marg M hit moderation. Welcome to the club.

Now that all the finger pointing is underway – why not re-read the last line from Lisa Brinton Thomson – what’s the solution? In fact – why not ask the council – individually – what their recommendation is? Starting with the silent, complicit mayor.

For all the Trump haters out there – and for all the folks who feel so good about “Sanctuary City” status – see the results. Can’t have one and complain about the other.

How about the residents of Norwalk – who vote for a 14-1 democratic council and a mayor who has repeatedly failed the city, and then complain about the results? YOU voted for this.

So back to Lisa’s question: now what? We have a revenue problem, and we have an expense problem. Basic math. BUT – (big but) it’s about not having a comprehensive plan to address one to deal with the other.

Got news for you – it’s going to get worse. There are literally 1000’s of apartments in various stages of development right now – that when they become available – will only add more children. Oh, and these new kids (a whole school out of nowhere) are not just arriving from central America – if you haven’t noticed – there are more cars with NY state plates than CT plates in this city right now – because the Bronx has discovered Norwalk – and they are arriving in mass. As you are informed by the BOE – each of those children have a multiplier cost effect – especially when they require special services.

There are really very simple solutions that can be taken at the very next council meeting – if we can find a way to inject a spine into the 14. First: a moratorium on apartments – immediately. We have an abundance. Second: no more subsidized, low income housing – we are already way past the threshold. Third: Get the child off leading the ordinance committee, and put some effort into a city-wide sweep for illegal apartments. Pass new strict and punitive fines for landlords who steal from the taxpayers of this city. Forth: Demand every department head find 5% to cut from their current budgets – starting with overtime.

Lastly – for those who support Bob Duff – a significant part of this immediate problem can be addressed by sending a new voice to Hartford – Marc D’amelio. Face it – Bob is batting about .125 for Norwalk. We need fresh energy – a new voice – to take on West Hartford’s Fleishman and get Norwalk a fair deal on the ECS formula – or – the city is going to take an adversarial position on state issues, including the walk bridge – up to and including filing a lawsuit blocking its plans. Long term, he can lead the effort to un-do the public union friendly deals that hamstring local authorities to adjust as necessary. That doesn’t mean a war on teachers – no – it means a level playing field with the unions.

Bad news? We have a problem, and it’s only going to get worse. Good news? Our BOE (not the council, not the mayor, not Ed Camacho) is sending up flares warning us it’s coming. The best news? If (HUGE IF) we can set aside party colors and loyalties, support the meritocracy of ideas (even from pesky Lisa Thomson), and work more in unison – we can fix this mess.

Norwalk native July 27, 2018 at 5:37 pm

Use the requested budget increase to quadruple the staff investigating illegal apartments. End the problem at the source. I would vote for that.

Rick July 27, 2018 at 6:43 pm

GGP just agreed to sell for 15 billion dollars, days now Brookfield will own the mall.

This was in the shareholders notes

The urban areas where the malls are situated are extremely valuable, presenting a major opportunity for redevelopment, Brookfield has said.

Brookfield repurposes for residential development, office space and other commercial uses.

Its a good thing we are still getting a mall , with a blank canvas it could of been anything’

Back to the 15 billion , if they want to redevelop the mall ask for 12.7 million first.

MarjorieM July 27, 2018 at 7:02 pm

Lisa, check central office and the hugely paid people there. Have they made a difference in the test scores this year? Central office keeps growing.

enough July 28, 2018 at 7:46 am

I agree with Mike Lyons for once. It is very simple, stop building apartments and we won’t have this problem. Schools are over taxed as it is in regards to student enrollment. Our classrooms are bursting at the seems with class sizes of 28 at the middle schools alone. What was supposed to be small learning communities has turned into managing just large groups at a time. Plans are great, but you need the resources to implement them.

backwardation July 28, 2018 at 11:59 am

The unsuitability of city budgets contributing to higher and higher mill rates without offsetting revenues has positioned the city on a fast track for a Bridgeport style trajectory. The decade decline of property values here (adjusted for inflation) should have been a wake up call years ago and the finger pointing by both the BOE and city hall is getting old. I am sure there is blame to be shared on both sides. Just work together to fix this mess – this is not what I signed up for when moving here.

Lisa Brinton Thomson July 28, 2018 at 12:16 pm

@Marj I was not happy nor thought it fiscally prudent when the BOE voted to increase the salary range of the central office
C-Suite. It makes it difficult to keep collective bargaining salaries in check with the local taxpayer’s ability to pay and I believe the message of fiscal restraint needs to be consistent from the top down. Having said that, a dozen central office salaries are not the source of our growing cost problems. Poor landuse and ordinance enforcement is impacting revenues, while adding kids to the system. It must stop or we will become the next Bridgeport or New Haven.

Rick July 28, 2018 at 2:43 pm

@Lisa

We are there , check out the Norwalk pd arrest log daily Bridgeport,New Haven,and the Bronx this already is impacting our revenues and resources.

illegal apartments? Its easier to hide in a house filled with kids and they have right to be there unless they don’t fit the rules there, it’s one thing to prove an illegal apartments but what about the house slight of hand its almost impossible to go after that isn’t it? 7 cars for a single family home ? Norwalk is still low hanging fruit.

Why is it the city throws bones out when there is more to combat to this one issue? This just buys them time for the next election.

What we are seeing in South Norwalk is a large influx of kids moving in over the summer in single family homes replacing single living seniors .The word came from city hall don’t like leave. (Firetree)

Adamowski said the enrollment is 100 above the projection made by consultants Milone and McBroom.

Take walk into south Norwalk follow the sold signs and the ice cream truck the songs they are playing is not what
Adamowski is listening too.

Unless you live in South Norwalk the world your in is not the one that counts kids.

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