NORWALK, Conn. — Some doings at Tuesday’s Norwalk Board of Education meeting:
- Budget cruises to approval
- Interim Brookside principal appointed
- Montessori update
Budget approved without negativity
Budget season can be quite emotional in Norwalk and this year there’s a switch: no controversy, just relief.
“This is the first year since my children entered kindergarten that I haven’t had to rally the troops, protest – this is a real sign that Norwalk is finally really on the right path to working together in partnership,” Meyer-Mitchell said, after others had lauded the budget reconciliation, which has drawn no controversy.
The budget, under a compromise drafted this spring, cuts $1,788,183 from the Board’s approved budget request and represents a nearly $8 million increase over 2018-19, factoring in an expected $1.9 million in surplus money left over at the end of this school year. It increases the full-time employee headcount by 52 positions, adds a fourth specials teacher at six elementary schools and funds an additional credit requirement at the high schools, bringing Norwalk in line with a state mandated 25 credits for graduation.
Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said salary savings account for most of the $1.9 million savings, with the rest of it coming from supply accounts.
“Most of the turn-back dollars are in the wage area, which is attributable to vacancies as well as any delays there may have been in filling positions, and the salary differential between positions that turned over, between when the budget was put together and when those positions were filled,” he said.
The total increase is 4.2%, with 74% of the reductions from Central Office, according to Hamilton.
Board member Bruce Kimmel said that back in July at the Board’s annual retreat, when the “big ask” was originally discussed, he didn’t know “if they could pull it off” because it was “probably beyond what the city could afford to pay up front.”
He commended Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski and Mayor Harry Rilling, who was in attendance, for coming up with what is “one of the more creative and collaborative approaches to an operating budget that I have seen.”
Kimmel, a former Common Council member who also had a previous stint on the BoE, said it’s his 20th operating budget.
“They had problem, they worked together to solve it,” Kimmel said. “I hope we set an example going forward… that we will continue to work together to solve these budgetary problems that the city faces.”
Rilling said he thinks everyone wants to make sure the schools do as well as they can and Adamowski “was very creative in presenting things that we could say, ‘Hey look, this makes a lot of sense.’”
Former Board Chairman Mike Lyons noted that when he came onto the Board nearly eight years ago, things were 180 degrees different.
Just two weeks after he and Board of Education Chairman Mike Barbis took office, then-NPS Chief Operating Officer Elio Longo came to them and announced that $4 million was missing from the insurance fund.
The Board was already $5.7 million short of the money it had requested, Kimmel observed, noting that 84 people were laid off that year.
After those “terrible things,” the Board reversed a decision made by an earlier Board and hired a finance director, Lyons said.
“My congratulations to the Board members and staff who turned that annual chaotic process into a pretty smoothly running machine and developed a good relationship with the city in the process. The payoff is what you can see tonight and it’s not just the money, it’s the strategic operating plan and all the other things we accomplished were built on that foundation,” Lyons said, calling it “great” to watch a budget “cruise through” to approval.
“That was my first budget cycle as parent,” Meyer-Mitchell said. “It was a rude awakening for sure and I’m grateful that we’re not there today. So thank you.”
Crouch appointed to serve Brookside
James Crouch was appointed Tuesday to be interim Brookside Elementary School Principal.
The appointment was needed because Sandra Faioes is leaving the post to become Director of School Improvement, an appointment that was unanimously approved, along with the appointment of Adam Reynolds as West Rocks Middle School Principal.
Crouch has served at Roton Middle School and Jefferson Elementary and his currently at West Rocks, Adamowski said, commenting, “He has been the go to guy for this district and we are asking him to step up once again.”
Jefferson showed significant improvements in reading while Crouch was there, and, “He has a reputation for excellent, really incredible relationships with students and their families and is also an instructional leader that we can be proud of,” Adamowski said.
Crouch has been an assistant principal with Norwalk since September 2010, according to his LinkedIn page. He had elementary experience in New York state, Adamowski said.
Barbis called the appointment “really thrilling.”
“This is the good part of being on the ‘Board of Ed,’” Barbis said. “I knew Mr. Crouch when he started at Norwalk Public Schools and he was an integral member of my family, not only because my son went to Roton but we hosted these Chinese exchange teachers and he looked after them. He even went to the airport to see one off at 5 a.m. on July 4.”
Adamowski and others noted that Reynolds, Faioes and Crouch all attended a leadership fellowship at the same time.
Barbis lauded Adamowski for having the foresight to develop the training program and implement it.
Montessori at NPS
NPS has been working to create a Montessori magnet program at Brookside Elementary. Adamowski said all the slots have been taken by Brookside families.
Two classes for 3- to 5-year-olds are planned and in August, a total 32 children will begin their Montessori education at Brookside, he said. That’s eight 3-year-olds and eight 4-year-olds, leaving room for the children to move up next year as Montessori is a three year experience.
The seats were immediately filled by Brookside-area families after an April community meeting and there’s a waiting list, he said.
There were 88 applicants, Barbis said.
Furniture has been ordered and should arrive in July, and an internationally certified, experienced lead Montessori teacher has been hired, according to Adamowski. The process is underway to hire a second teacher. NPS had a Montessori-experienced paraprofessional on staff and a second paraprofessional is being sought.
NPS has hired Violet Simms, Ed. D., to be Brookside’s Curriculum and Instructional Site Director (CISD) who is capable to support the Montessori teachers, he noted.
Students will wear uniforms, and, “We’ll have very cute Montesorians running around before you know it,” he said.
Meyer-Mitchell asked Adamowski to explain how this wound up to be essentially a Brookside district Montessori school, with magnet school funding.
“If we could build a magnet school from scratch, we would open it city-wide,” Adamowski said. “When we utilize the facilities in existing neighborhood school I think we have a responsibility to give first preference to the people who would have attended that school in the first place.”
Brookside’s classrooms were the most compliant with Montessori standards, requiring very few modifications, he said.
Board member Heidi Keyes called Montessori “a great opportunity for Norwalk” and noted that the hope is to expand it.
That would happen in 2021-22, when, if the Board desired, a lower elementary class would be added, Adamowski said.