Updated, Jan. 20: link to 2015 document added. Updated, 9:37 a.m.: Added video of Costanzo. 9:10 a.m.: Copy edits
NORWALK, Conn. – In one year, Norwalk will be a majority Hispanic school district. Norwalk Public Schools’s Hispanic student population is now 49.4%.
So said Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski on Tuesday, in a presentation highlighting the demographic challenges driving Norwalk’s school expenditures, as the number of English Language Learners (ELL) swells – along with the percentages of children eligible for free or reduced-cost lunch and the number of students in Special Education.
Sixty-three percent of Norwalk’s student body meets the state’s description of “high needs.”
“I think you can see the challenges facing our schools,” Adamowski said.
In the same meeting, the Board approved a nearly $203 million operating budget request, about $12.4 million more than 2018-19, after deducting about $500,000 from Adamowski’s recommended budget and moving it over to the capital budget request. The deduction was for furniture and curriculum materials; Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell last week questioned why the items were in the operating budget.
Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis had requested a look at ethnicity, ELL, free and reduced lunch and Special Education enrollments, Adamowski said Tuesday.
“I think you will see in this report that you get much, much more information than we ever had before,” Adamowski said.
NPS is now 49.4 percent Hispanic, Adamowski said.
“Predictably, in a year we will be a majority Hispanic school district,” he said. When Adamowski became superintendent in 2015, the school population was 25 percent Hispanic, he said.
A document provided in 2015 by then-Board Chairman Mike Lyons shows that in 2012-13 Norwalk’s school population was 37.7 percent Hispanic. In 2001-2002, it was 22.7 percent Hispanic.
Tuesday’s document shows 5,721 Hispanic children of a total 11,588 students this year; the 2015 document shows 4,178 Hispanic children out of a total 11,072 students in 2012-2013.
Adamowski said the Asian and White populations have decreased slightly, while the black population is significantly lower.
There are 1,843 black children in NPS this year, or 15.9 percent of the population, according to the report. There were 2,232 black children in NPS in 2012-13, or 20.2 percent, according to the 2015 document.
The white population is 27.32 percent of the student body this year, and in 2012-13 it was 35.8 percent.
All of the 2018-19 statistics are as of Jan. 1, which means they don’t reflect what has become a regular spike in ELL students in January, Adamowski said.
The same occurred last year, he noted. “Right now, we are enrolling a good number of students … I am told that the school year in many Central and South American countries ends at Christmas,” so for many Hispanic families, January is a good time to move their children to America.
“We believe at least a part of that group returns to their country of origin in the summer and then comes back in January,” Adamowski said later, as NPS Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo reviewed residency investigation statistics.
Birth rate is also a factor in Hispanic student population growth, Adamowski said.
English Language Learners are up to 16 percent of Norwalk’s school population, with 1,863 children. That’s higher than ever, and for the first time exceeds Special Education enrollment. Students learning English are now the “fastest growing segment of our school population,” Adamowski said.
At Kendall Elementary, ELL students are 35.6 percent of the population, according to the report.
“That’s a third of the school learning English for the first time,” Adamowski said. “It makes their recent achievement in terms of their SBAC growth in reading and math even more significant. Certainly this is a challenge that we are going to need to meet as a district… this becomes an overwhelming issue at some point.”
ELL students cost about a third more to educate, he said.
The Hispanic population represents 16 countries. The largest segment by country of origin are from Guatemala and Honduras. ELL is “predominantly Latino” with about a dozen Haitians speaking Haitian Creole and then a handful of Polish and Greek students, Adamowski said.
Board member Erik Anderson observed that about 30 percent of the Hispanic population are ELL.
New students comprise 20 percent of the ELL population, Costanzo said. The federal government calculates funding based on Oct. 1 enrollment but NPS has added 200 new students since then.
Barbis said the total enrollment has only gone up 45 students.
“We lose students to other districts and private schools,” and there are about 80 students whose enrollment is still “pending,” as NPS waits for documentation, Costanzo said. Of that number, 30 are ELL.
“I think in urban districts we see an increase in transients, or student mobility. As a result of families losing their homes, needing to find a temporary housing, leaving a home country for a new country,” Costanzo said.
The free or reduced-cost lunch population is up to 57.4 percent of the student body, “the highest participation so far that we have had,” Adamowski said.
Lyons in 2017 said NPS had 50 percent free and reduced lunch.
“This is very telling,” Adamowski said Tuesday. “It essentially reflects what is happening in Connecticut … the schools are becoming more diverse and poorer, reflecting the immigrant population that is enrolling in our state. We are certainly not the exception to that.”
The Special Education population is up to 14.6 percent of the total, Adamowski said.
Connecticut classifies high needs students as those who fall into two or more categories of special needs, such as English language learners, special education, or free or reduced lunch.
Costanzo later explained that in 2016-17 the Board’s Policy Committee worked to create a system of investigating students who appear to be attending NPS but living elsewhere.
There have been 15 investigations this year, five of which were conducted by a private investigator at a cost of $1,000 per investigation, Costanzo said. Of the five, four children were found to have moved to a different part of Norwalk and one was found to be living in Bridgeport. The family of that child has filed an appeal, Costanzo said.
The NPS welcome center has had 153 ELL families come in to verify their residency this year, and less than five are homeowners, which is tough for a private investigator, he said.
“Clearly this is a challenging area for the district,” Costanzo said. “Residency is a challenge to manage and monitor, particularly when the new families who are coming in are renting spaces, sometimes legally, sometimes illegally, throughout the City. It becomes extremely difficult for us to be able to verify whether they are truly living in the residence that they are providing.”
There was a recent report saying that 80 percent of the state’s immigrants come to Fairfield County because they can get jobs in the service industry, Adamowski said. “This economic reality is what determines why we are receiving this level of immigration.”
Above, Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo discusses the process of confirming residency.