Norwalk BoE: A mysterious apology; skepticism and expectations

Norwalk Board of Education members listen to Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) First Vice President Joe Giandurco, Tuesday in City Hall.

Diane Lauricella, at last week’s State of the Harbor meeting in City Hall.

Updated, 9:24 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Some Norwalk Board of Education meeting activity for you:

  • Barbis issues public apology to Lauricella
  • Giandurco calls pilot school concept a surprise
  • Yordon pushes back, says teachers at three pilot school candidates are anxious
  • Ponus groundbreaking expected soon, Barbis says
  • Meek finds Barron notation encouraging; Rilling hopes for flat budget


What happened there?

Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting featured an unusual announcement from Board Chairman Mike Barbis, who  issued an apology to activist Diane Lauricella.

Before beginning the public speaking section of Tuesday’s meeting, Barbis said:

“Public officials, we are here all nine of us on the Board of Ed, we are doing this for free and there are a lot of calls on our time. We have many stakeholders we are accountable to – from our students, the families, parents, our employees, teachers, union partners, the City, taxpayers – there are a lot of different calls on our time. Sometimes you get a little overwhelmed and as a result, a little bit too much happens at the same time. You do some things or you say some things that we don’t mean to say.

“I have definitely been guilty of this and I did speak inappropriately to Diane Lauricella after a meeting, and I wanted to apologize for that.”

Asked for a response Wednesday, Lauricella declined comment on what happened but said that the apology is insufficient.  In an email to NancyOnNorwalk, Lauricella wrote:

“I have no response about the details yet as I have to ask {Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski} about the process needed to resolve this matter in a satisfactory manner.  While I heard that Mr. Barbis offered an apology on Tuesday, I was not in attendance and it appears to fall short about resolving the inappropriate comments that were directed at me.

“I was not in attendance at the meeting on Tuesday night because I had not yet heard back from either Mr. Barbis or Dr. Adamowski about how to achieve a satisfactory resolution to this matter, although I had tried for about three weeks.

“I hope to resolve this matter right after the holiday.”




Pilot school announcement ruffles feathers

Adamowski on Dec. 4 laid out plans for a three-year attempt to create a School of Distinction with a student body of more than 63 percent high-needs students.

“In just the last few weeks, teachers and all education staff across the district learned about the model school initiative through the newspaper and NancyOnNorwalk,” Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) First Vice President Joe Giandurco said to the Board on Tuesday. “No staff members were consulted or informed of this experimental program. Lack of communication with the staff leaves teachers and parents with many unanswered questions about their future.”

Giandurco said many good things have been accomplished by NPS in 2018, but he would like to see improvements in “communication and respect” in 2019.

The Next Generation Science Standard “curriculum rollout has not been as clean or effective as everybody hoped it would be,” he said.  Many of the curriculum bundles “are incomplete or require extensive editing and modifications.”

The kits were shipped with missing equipment and supplies and “teachers are now left to scramble, and find the needed resources and supplies,” he said.

“I ask you again, in order to move this district forward, the teachers in Norwalk need to be seen as allies and not enemies by members of the administration and the Board of Education,” Giandurco said. “We are here to support our students and achieve positive outcomes. As we turn this calendar page and head into 2019, we the teachers of Norwalk ask to work together with all of you, with the administration and with the Board members, to move Norwalk forward for the sake of all of our students.”



Yordon: School of Distinction idea creating upheaval

Brookside, Kendall and Jefferson Elementary Schools are interested in becoming the model school in the School of Distinction experiement, which would add five days to the school year, lengthen the school day by an hour, and implement different teaching models, Adamowski said on Dec. 4.

“I have spent a good deal of time working with the teachers in those three buildings and the anxiety is raising considerably among them as they contemplate some serious upheaval in their professional lives,” Yordon said Tuesday.

Teachers are eager for information, she said.  “We would love to know who is making decisions, we would love to see copies of the actual proposals from the schools.  We have very few details about anything but a concept. It’s very hard to make plans around a concept. Three full schools are wondering what will become of their professional lives, which has an impact on their families as well,” Yordon said.

Many statements don’t appear to be true, she said.

“I have spoken to people at Central Office,” Yordon said. “We need to negotiate details. We have an agreement about year-round schools; the details that were presented do not adhere to our contracted agreements, to our signed, mediated, arbitration interim agreement, so there is a good deal of concern on the NFT as well.”


New schools/facilities update

The RFP for Ponus Middle School construction generated 26 responses, said Barbis, who is also Facilities Committee Chairman.

Norwalk plans to expand Ponus to a K-8 magnet school with its new construction, the first new school since 1972, Barbis said. The cost estimate in May was $47.3 million, of which $14.4 million would be reimbursed by the state.

“It’s looking good and we are expecting to break ground next year, first quarter. That project is moving along,” Barbis said Tuesday.

The plan to build a new school behind the Nathaniel Ely preschool center is facing issues which Barbis believes will be resolved.

A “Department Of Administrative Services point person” has identified two problems in the application and Norwalk Public Schools is in the “process of correcting him,” Barbis said.

“He thinks there are problems but they are really not problems,” Barbis said. “So that is in the works. This problem has had its challenges but we expect things to be resolved, hopefully in short order.”

The new Ely School is expected to become the new home for Columbus Magnet School. The cost estimate in May was $45.5 million.

Also on the Facilities radar screen is problems at Brien McMahon High School.

In August, Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon called a leaky tunnel under the school a “critical need.”

“We have moldy classrooms right now. It’s a big deal. I feel like it’s sort of an emergency, we have sick teachers,” Yordon said.

NPS has hired UConn Health Extension to analyze Brien McMahon, Barbis said Tuesday, explaining that the report was due Friday but NPS had agreed to a two-week extension.


Meek appreciates 3 percent increase ‘placeholder’ in budget

A preliminary budget document presented last week by Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Bob Barron at a joint Board of Education and Common Council Finance Committee meeting included a placeholder for a 3 percent Norwalk Public Schools operating budget increase, BoE Finance Chair Bryan Meek said Tuesday.

That’s much better than last year, when Barron recommended a budget with a “zero” increase for the Board of Education, Meek said.

Barron’s budget last year had a “0” increase for the Board of Education: he said it was up to the Council to decide if there should be an increase.

Mayor Harry Rilling at Monday’s Democratic Town Committee meeting professed a desire to hold the city’s operating budget “relatively flat.”  He noted that the higher home valuations that many homeowners are seeing after the city’s revaluation do not equate to an increase in property taxes.  “If your home value goes up, and the operating budget of the city remains relatively flat, which I am planning on making that happen, your mill rate will go down and your taxes won’t go up anywhere near what your property values may be.”


Sue Haynie December 20, 2018 at 6:09 am

Yordon of the NFT-“We need to negotiate details. We have an agreement about year-round schools; the details that were presented do not adhere to our contracted agreements, to our signed, mediated, arbitration interim agreement…’

It’s too bad parents and their kids don’t have a Union too so that their voices/needs would be heard as loudly as those of the NFT.

The NFT says ‘it’s about the kids’, but read the 90-page NFT contract (not including addenda) and see how much you can find in there ‘about the kids.’

Sue Haynie December 20, 2018 at 6:19 am

Mayor Rilling spoke about the property reval, ’emphasizing that an increase in valuation does not equate to an increase in property taxes….’

Rilling says: “IF your home value goes up, and (IF) the operating budget of the city remains relatively flat..your mill rate will (MIGHT) go down and your taxes won’t (MIGHT NOT) go up anywhere near (OH, THAT’S ENCOURAGING) what your property values may be” Not if you’re property values by Tyler Tech have been hyper-inflated-like many of us in Norwalk are seeing.

M Murray December 20, 2018 at 6:52 am

Formula seems pretty simple. Figure out the percentage of additional time teachers will be working in these schools and add this percentage to salaries of those working in those schools. Create a transfer list for those teachers who want out of schools with extra hours and those who want in and see if you can accommodate those requests.

Patrick Cooper December 20, 2018 at 11:08 am

NoN – plainly ask the mayor if he can point to the cut’s he’s going to be making in the next budget to pay for the 1 million staff reorganization with all the $150,000+ management positions? Will there be layoff’s?

Also, ask him how he expects the BOE – as the de-facto head of the BOE – to present a flat budget when he knows union contracts already have million’s in guaranteed increases already baked in? That kind of financial acumen and brilliance must be shared.

Lastly – ask him if his sanctuary city proclamation has anything to do with our predicable enrollment increases – and the ratio of ESL and reduced fee students? That response would be a Tasmanian word salad like no other.

Merry Christmas Norwalk – you voted for it.

Piberman December 20, 2018 at 11:43 am

If Mayor Rilling manages a no property tax increase for the oncoming budget that would be a truly historic event in our fair City. Likely unprecedented amongst CT’s larger cities. And would capture the new Governor’s attention.

The issue with the Reval hike is that Fairfield County properties are believed 24% below 2008 levels and the City’s Grand list remains at 2008 levels. So a reported 13 to 15% hike in valuations between 2013 and 2018 looks like an “impossibility theorem”. Our new Revals show increases from 2008. How can that be true ? Faulty Revals only encourage even more long term homeowners to sell out. Lets remember our surrounding towns of savvy wealthy folks together have over a 1000 homes for sale. As do Greenwich and Stamford together. The CT Exodus is both real and unprecedented.

Mayor Rilling understands the importance of holding the line on City property taxes. Lets hope other elected officials rally round and support a no tax increase. That would go a long way to ending the Exodus. Long past time to put homeowners first. Just 60% of City residents pay 80% of the taxes.

Long time teacher December 20, 2018 at 11:56 am

Sue, to suggest that teacher don’t care about students because they questioned being told they would be working an additional 200+ hours, more if PD is during beaks, shows EXACTLY why teachers need a union. The administration didn’t tell teachers anything about this, we read it in the paper and on this site. That lack of respect shows EXACTLY why the union is needed.
Time and time again things are implemented without listening to or even asking for teacher input and many of these things prove to have glitches or simply not work out due to reasons that teachers could have predicted if only we knew in advance or if administration had only listened.
We all want what is best for children yet no one consults those of us who are actually with the students in the classroom daily.

Kathleen December 20, 2018 at 1:05 pm

All of this speaks to the need for the BOE to ask Adamowski to add reaching out to teachers, families, taxpayers and any other stakeholders in NPS to ascertain their views of what he is considering as his initiatives. His goal should concretely explain how he will increase his reach-out and measure the outcomes. To surprise teacher without their input is bad, bad management.

Patrick Cooper December 20, 2018 at 2:07 pm

@Piberman, I see what you’re doing there. You’re trying to trick him. Appeal to his ego, and ambition. It shows versatility on your part, kudos.

Curious Voter December 20, 2018 at 3:49 pm

We’re the comments to Ms. Lauricella considered unethical? If so the Board of Ethics would be a good place to start.

Alan December 20, 2018 at 5:10 pm

Ms. Lauricella, in my opinion, is a professional “activist” who knows enough to muck up the works but is pretty much ineffectual. She is, in my opinion,just a small change hired gun and looking out for herself first and the cause of the day,second.

Sue Haynie December 21, 2018 at 7:35 am

@Long Time Teacher, My comments weren’t about teachers themselves, the comment applied to the NFT and public school unions like them. Fact is, the 90+-page NFT Contract is not about students. The NFT Contract, and you refer to this in your response to me, is about adults and their salaries, benefits, job protections and work rules, etc.

If the NFT doesn’t like the aggressiveness and multiple changes of the pilot school model, then don’t take part in it. Let the district and the Foundations that are offering to help fund this pilot staff the school in the way they see fit, in whatever model they decide is the best. Some NFT and other union jobs may be affected, but how many children stand to benefit? Who comes first, the students or the adults?

That a district that wants to pilot a school that will aggressively address LARGE-SCALE, LONG-TERM HIGH-NEED-STUDENT FAILURE (where has the NFT been?)must first get approval of staff is one of the reasons why I, speaking as a taxpayer, don’t have much interest in supporting this pilot program. The NFT will add their work rules, exemptions, limitations, protections, and blah blahs, get them all contractually written in stone, and water down the essence of what would have/could have been a dynamic pilot. Let the Foundations fund the pilot and risk their $$. The pilot program sounds wonderful but taxpayers are cooked.

Non Partisan December 21, 2018 at 8:08 am

in this country we don’t have a failure to educate our children. We do have a failure to parent then.

Ask any teacher, police, athletic coach etc

Sue Haynie December 21, 2018 at 10:31 am

@Non-partisan, you’ve obviously never had a child who wasn’t taught to read. It’s an eye-opener.

Education’s purpose doesn’t get much more basic than knowing how to teach a child to read.

Piberman December 21, 2018 at 10:54 am

Patrick Cooper:
Trick the Mayor ? Not at all. Mayor Rilling is as least as capable as our recent Mayors if not more so. And surely is aware of the unprecedented numbers of homes for sale and major Exodus in lower Fairfield County, our long stagnant Grand List since 2008 and falling property values – down 24% since 2008 according to a recent Hartford Courant study. And I believe he understands the consequences of increasing renters not paying their full share of City taxes upon the remaining 60% of city residents – the homeowners – who finance 80% of our City budget.

Rising numbers of renters replacing exiting homeowners and the middle class together with increasing City budgets has dramatically impoverished every one of CT’s once formidable Cities save Stamford, Danbury and Norwalk. Stamford is CT’s only “real City” with a major business downtown. Danbury is unusually well managed – outlays 30% per capita below Norwalk. And Norwalk is CT’s only commuter City with renters now 40%.

Norwalk is closing in on Bridgeport’s 60% renter figure as ever more punitive property taxes drive out homeowners replaced by ever more renters. Without holding the line on taxes – something never done before in Nowalk – we’ll become another Bridgeport. And sooner than most expected. It’s not politics. Just basic appreciation of the economic and financial forces that changed CT’s once prosperous cities to among the most depressed cities in the nation.

I do believe Mayor Rilling has deep affection for Norwalk and does want to leave a major Legacy of an improved City. Given our stagnant Grand List since 2008 holding the line on our City budget and property taxes is an essential step in that direction.

Few realize the dimensions of CT’s unprecedented Exodus of homeowners. CT has more homes for sale than much larger Mass. Our 5 surrounding towns have over a 1,000 homes for sale. Together Stamford and Greenwich have another 1,000. Norwalk has about 400. And most expect new taxes from our incoming Governor. Norwalk’s fate as a viable City rests in Mayor Rilling’s hands. Why not give him every encourage to hold the line on City taxes. No Mayor of any City in CT’s modern history has ever done that. But the surge in renters from 30 to 40% in just a few years is not a mark of confidence. Just the opposite. As is that most City employees avoid living in Norwalk citing its high taxes and schools.

Norwalk’s future as a viable City rests in Mayor Rilling’s hands. Why not encourage him to do “the right thing” and hold the line on the City budget.

Diane Lauricella December 21, 2018 at 12:29 pm

First of all, your comments are false, nasty, and violate, in my opinion, the NON Comment policy.

Secondly, what is your real name? So easy for you to hide behind an anonymous post and attempt to defame me. Show yourself!

Long time teacher December 21, 2018 at 1:36 pm

I never said to ask the teachers, just inform them of this opportunity and that their school is applying. Those that choose not to participate can begin to make decisions. Teachers are not opposed to this as a concept but would like to have more details.
I also don’t believe that asking about compensation for 200 plus hours is unreasonable. We are highly educated paid professionals and this is our job, actually our passion, no one gets into teaching because they just need a job. Teachers have families too and significant changes in schedule impact their own children.
It would be nice to just know what is going on.

Also December 21, 2018 at 4:26 pm

@ long time teacher.

Teachers are not allowed to know what is going on, and also not allowed to add input. The “Research” speaks for itself!

(No research is ever presented when making these decisions)

Steve December 21, 2018 at 6:32 pm

While our discourse has gotten coarser and coarser over the years, we’ve taken quantum leaps in the past few years with the nastiness online and the guy in the White House who calls people names like horseface or Pocahontas and countries S***holes and most say nothing and many still support him. Thanks NON for only allowing civility. My guess is that the BOE member made comments that were more akin to the loud guy in the White House or the insipid name calling on the internet….if it was bad enough it takes more than an I’m sorry.

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