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NPS enrollment swells; additional new school possible

The Norwalk Board of Education considers enrollment issues, Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk’s growing school enrollment might necessitate another new school.

Enrollment is up 215 students as of Oct. 1, when the state certifies statistics for the school year, Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski said at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. It grew by 53 students in November, of whom 47 were English Language Learners.

The latter might mean that the $1.2 million special appropriation requested by Norwalk Public Schools to expand ELL services won’t last the school year, Adamowski said. The former may mean that Norwalk needs three new schools instead of two.

A school population is about 400 students, he explained. Plus, while NPS has an additional 215 students, its ELL population is up 237 as of Oct. 1. And of the 53 students who enrolled in November, 47 were ELL.

Add the 53 to the 215, and you’ll see that Norwalk Public Schools has 268 more students as of Nov. 1 than it did on Nov. 1, 2018. The raises the shortage of seats from 900 to 1,200, Adamowski told the Board of Education.

“When we began our building program, we needed 900 seats in order to get rid of portables and reduce overcrowding in our schools. And we have yet to complete a school building,” Adamowski said. “…We are no longer talking about two schools in order to meet our enrollment. We’re talking about three.”

 

 

 

Buying St. Philip’s?

The Board of Education in 2016 developed a plan to build a new school behind the Nathaniel Ely Center in South Norwalk, and then renovate the existing Columbus Magnet School. It also planned to expand Ponus Middle School into a K-8 magnet school, and then renovate Jefferson Elementary.

The Ponus plan is on track. The Ely plan is stalled.

Adamowski, responding to Board member Sherelle Harris, explained that the Ely plan hinged on using open space. The state requires that the open space be replaced with open space elsewhere in the city. Although most of the open space behind Ely is unusable, the community has objected, resulting in “somewhat of a stalemate” as far as state approval goes.

Harris asked what other sites were considered in South Norwalk. Adamowski said that there had been a comprehensive study of every single city-owned parcel of land in South Norwalk; the Ely site was “literally” the only one big enough to meet the footprint required by state regulations.

Back in 2016, there was talk of buying the St. Philip Roman Catholic Church property and using it to expand Tracey Elementary, at a cost of $75.6 million. Adamowski said Tuesday that this is back on the table.

It would be used as “swing space” for Columbus Magnet School, he said, mixing up the terminology a bit. Swing space refers to putting students in a school while their existing building is renovated, and then moving them back. Although  Adamowski described Ely as swing space for Columbus, the plan has been to move Columbus into the Ely school entirely, and then renovate the existing “Concord Street school” into an International Baccalaureate Academy.

“We desperately do need the schools in South Norwalk because most of our immigrant students are our residing there,” Adamowski said.

All of this will have a significant impact on the 2020-21 capital budget, according to Adamowski.

Mayor Harry Rilling on Thursday said, “We’ll continue to discuss options and make adjustments to the facilities plan as necessary.”

 

The statistics

Norwalk’s 2019-20 enrollment is officially 11,716 students, the count on Oct. 1. The racial breakdown is:

Racial/Ethnic breakdown:

  • 52% Hispanic
  • 26% White
  • 15% Black
  • 5% Asian
  • 3% Other

 

Also:

  • Special Education – 15%
  • English Language Learners (ELL) – 18 % (six schools more than 25%; one school more than 30%)
  • Free or reduced lunch eligible based on income – 61%
  • High Needs Students – 66.2%

And:

  • The total enrollment on Oct. 1 2018 was 11,501 students, with 1,810 ELL
  • The total enrollment on Oct. 1 2019 was 11,716 students, with 2,047 ELL
  • The total enrollment on Nov. 1 was 11,769 students, with 2,094 ELL

 

The Special Education population is stable at 15 percent, and has been for several years, Adamowski said. But ELLs are growing; “25 percent is considered the tipping point for school in terms of number of students who cannot speak English.”

Because the state considers free-or-reduced lunch eligibility as a category of high needs, the increase in low income students means that Norwalk has grown from 62 percent high needs to 66.2 percent, making the district’s percentage higher than Stamford’s.

In addition, the state’s funding is based on the Oct. 1 figure. There is no state mechanism for increasing funding if enrollment grows.

 

ELL special appropriation

The Norwalk Board of Education recently requested a $1.2 million special appropriation to cover the costs of an unexpected boost in immigrant students. “We are at a point where we have exhausted all of our current services,” Adamowksi said in October, and ELL Specialist Helene Becker explained that most of the new high school students are classified as Students with Limited and/or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE).

The special appropriation has been approved by the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) but not yet voted upon by the full Common Council. The Council Finance Committee moved it ahead early this month.

Adamowski has been assured by Rilling that he’ll get it and has already hired staff, Adamowski said.

The $1.2 million request was based on a projection dependent upon historical trends, but the students keep coming this year, Adamowski explained. The spike in September, which was unprecedented, has been followed with continued growth, and if it continues the $1.2 million will have been spent in March.

“This is something that we have to we have to monitor very closely,” Adamowski said. “These are required services. They are required by state and federal law. We happen to do a better job at this most districts in the state… That’s what we aim to continue for all the new students registered with us.”

ELL students cost one-third more to educate, Adamowski said. Connecticut does not have a grant to cover ELL costs. There’s a bilingual grant and a Title III grant, which total $400,000, NPS Chief Academic Officer Brenda Myers said.

NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said Monday that he thinks NPS spends about $5 million a year on English Language Learner services.

32 comments

Former Norwalk Resident November 21, 2019 at 7:00 am

My family moved out of Norwalk for this very reason. The school system has become a nightmare with immigrant and non-english speaking students gradually becoming the majority. I am all about diversity but there needs to be a line drawn at some point when it is negatively impacting the overall student body.

John ONeill November 21, 2019 at 8:36 am

If our officials don’t come clean on ELL crisis they should be thrown out…Including our teachers union leadership..disgraceful

John ONeill November 21, 2019 at 8:54 am

Thomas Hamilton’s numbers need to be audited. Those are bogus calculations. ELL student costs are much higher than $ 5 Million dollars…He should be tossed for either being disingenous or incompetent. IT’S TIME WE WERE TOLD THE TRUTH ON THIS!! HOLY COW — Magically, Rilling is able to dig into a hole and come up with the money. EVERY Norwalker should be raising hell. As far as our state legislators — What a freaking disgrace. I want those leaders to step up PUBLICLY and support this town. November 2020 is right around the corner..
MEMO to Norwalk Republicans: Here’s you chance to win back some state seats — Don’t screw it up.

Bryan Meek November 21, 2019 at 9:01 am

$1.2 million was needed immediately. Now it’s more. The BET only authorized $1.0 million and only after the election. 0.4mm was given to the health department. Hopefully that makes its way to some of the children and not more assistants to assistants. It’s not making its way to Cranbury School which is closing a section of Kindergarten mid year so they can accommodate the influx growth in 3rd grade. After Norwalk High, Cranbury had the largest jump in population.
Get ready for more squeezing of services and more taxes at the same time. Anyone seen Jim Himes lately? We know Duff is too busy working behind the scenes to kill Ely School to bother.

Who is the community that is opposed to a new school at Ely? The town hall meetings held there and across the city back when saw tremendous community support for new schools. The people blocking the new school are very few in number and seem to be intent on keeping things just the way they are. Time to “fix it first” and order more portables and mousetraps.

John Levin November 21, 2019 at 9:50 am

Easy: merge Norwalk’s school district with Wilton’s. Other than a three-student increase in 2011, according to NESDEC, student enrollment in the Wilton Public School District has dropped every year since 2008.

Wilton’s 4,048 students have only 1.7% qualified for free or reduced lunch based on income. That’s 69 students total. That compares to 61%, or 7,147 students for Norwalk. They need us. Wilton High School is 86% white, 1% black, and 4% hispanic. They need us.

Norwalk native November 21, 2019 at 11:38 am

Where are all these Illegals living? Where is Norwalk zoning enforcement? Why does a Mayor who won 55% of the vote in the Bluest of the Blue towns in the Bluest state continue to offer up more and more of my money to pay for the problem with no solutions offered???

Scott November 21, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Sent a copy of this article along with a link to NoN to Senator Himes’ office asking him to address this issue with the citizens of Norwalk.

Since he and our local officials are okay with sanctuary cities, we’d like to know his plans to address the additional funding needed to support these policies OR does he expect the tax payers of Norwalk to absorb it all.

Scott November 21, 2019 at 12:37 pm

Sent a copy of this article along with a link to NoN to Congressman Himes’ office asking him to address this issue with the citizens of Norwalk.

Since he and our local officials are okay with sanctuary cities, we’d like to know his plans to address the additional funding needed to support these policies OR does he expect the tax payers of Norwalk to absorb it all.

JustATaxpayer November 21, 2019 at 6:25 pm

These sentiments are widely held among many in Norwalk. Of course, making these comments publicly you’ll be labeled a racist. Our representatives need to address this issue. Forget global warming and grocery bags.

Nora King November 22, 2019 at 7:51 am

Where is zoning enforcement? It is nowhere! City officials have not enforced zoning for decades. It is getting crazy!

Mike Lyons November 22, 2019 at 12:23 pm

Duff and Rilling made us a sanctuary city, their invitation was accepted, and now the new kids are filing our schools. But Duff isn’t getting us any additional resources to pay for this, so Norwalk taxpayers will foot the bill for their ‘generosity’. We’ve done the best we can to take care of our ELL students, but can’t do it indefinitely without adequate funding. Building new schools is critical to absorbing a growing student body (including our ELLs). And who’s fought hardest to block new schools? The NAACP and it’s political allies. They’ll fill a room with chanting people and shout down speakers over an email, but do nothing to improve the education of minority children (in fact, they’ve fought against most such efforts to improve kids’ education). And the Mayor and the new BoE chair are doing their bidding. I fear that all the amazing progress we’ve made in turning our schools around over the last 5-6 years is now in serious risk of reversal.

Mimi Chang November 22, 2019 at 1:27 pm

@Scott, Thank you and I hope you get a response from Mr. Himes. We can also organize a group to schedule a meeting with him. Parents are fed up. Enough of us on this site know each other and can easily get in touch to organize a group. Let’s do it!

John ONeill November 22, 2019 at 3:12 pm

@Mimi/Scott: Don’t hold your breath. We need to raise hell, and hold legislators feet to the fire. I’ve sent notes to Bob Duff, Jim Himes, Lucy Dathan who represents the 142nd district. I’ve heard back from only Lucy Dathan. While Lucy on I do not agree on everything, at least she gives a damn about every taxpayer. This issue will not go away. I hope Rilling, Duff, Himes et al realize that…

Norwalk Lost November 22, 2019 at 3:21 pm

Norwalk taxpayers will see a major mill rate hike in the upcoming years to get ahead of the ELL funding needs in what will likely be a continued surge in undocumented minors into NPS. Further, taxpayers should not expect anymore state funding for this as Norwalk’s need pale in comparison to Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury. Duff, Himes and Rilling efforts have been futile in getting ahead of this issue which implies the status quo is acceptable within the one party ranks.

John ONeill November 22, 2019 at 4:00 pm

@Mike Lyons — Have you determined what your consulting fee will be when it’s decided Norwalk Schools need your help??

@Norwalk Lost — Not bringing home the bacon is unacceptable. If Duff and Co. can’t bring any support from Hartford they should be voted out — Completely unacceptable

If Republicans don’t use this issue as a center piece of their campaigns they would be foolish. It’s a situation that’s going to only become more complex. Again, I call for audit of Thomas Hamilton’s numbers. They are wrong. Everyone knows it.

Bryan Meek November 22, 2019 at 4:28 pm

@Norwalk Lost. Maybe in years past the needs of the corrupt cities of Hartford, Bridgeport, and New Haven outstripped us. Ganim had a large off the books payroll to fund and we had to pay for that. But, the influx of students currently is disproportionately hitting Stamford and Norwalk, due to the economic opportunities, housing availability, and decent schools. The inaction by Duff and company, while working feverishly to call everyone who questions their inactions racist, will not get the job done. When Duff should have been screaming for more money, instead he was blaming the governor for the grocery tax that Bob himself legislated and signed into law. Obviously the Governor isn’t going to take anything serious from this clown show, so Norwalk is stuck.

More irony for you, the story above this details the $40 million we are spending on a movie theatre and a fish tank, while people fight building brand new schools for about the same price. The 1200 kids we need schools for can sit in rat infested portables, while our seals get a new home and IMAX movie goers can get the thrill of shaking seats. But you won’t see any protests over this.

Scott November 22, 2019 at 5:08 pm

@Mimi – because I think there is a lack of response from Mayor Rilling and Senator Duff on this specific issue, trying to organize a group and have a collective voice may make more of an impact with Congressman Himes. If you’re up for it, let’s connect after Thanksgiving to discuss it further.

Mimi Chang November 23, 2019 at 9:24 am

@Scott – Absolutely. I and others are up for meeting to discuss. After Thanksgiving would be great. Are you on NextDoor by any chance? You can message me at Mimi Chang.

Babar November 23, 2019 at 10:04 am

I think this should be a great bipartisan issue but the politicians will always find a way to fight about it. No one should be opposed to any new schools, I think it’s the most important thing in Norwalk right now. Decent schools benefit everyone except politicians, they don’t want a smart educated population that sees through their garbage arguments.

No one should be concerned about “open spaces” right now. We have plenty and we have an amazing big beach/park that’s not going anywhere. Saddens me sometimes to see people stressing to save an acre of grass that nobody uses. I think it’s just a tool used to divide people and keep them arguing. Don’t get your talking points from politicians of either party, do your research and make your decision.

Bryan Meek November 23, 2019 at 1:19 pm

@Babar, that space is being used to dump old appliances and other stuff. I never thought I would say it, but the only logical conclusion is that some, very few, want the status quo of run down schools and putting children on busses for 10 hours a week instead of shiny new neighborhood schools. To your point, who is profiting off of this? Why does Roodner Court after subsidies cost as much as Avalon and why are the residents punished for saving to try to get out?

Jo November 24, 2019 at 7:18 am

@Bryan Meek, @Nancy, I would love to see an analysis of what subsidized housing costs. Curious, partially as my husband had a section 8 tenant (whom I encouraged him to rent to) that sadly, wound up being a bit of a disaster. On ours and the city’s dime.

Mike Mushak November 24, 2019 at 11:13 pm

Bryan Meek’s infatuation with “shiny new schools” (his phrase in his last comment above), speaks volumes about the obsolete 1970’s mindset of Meek and Barbis, who we believe were the main drivers behind the astoundingly stupid idea to demolish the beautiful and historic Columbus School all because of the long-debunked theory that “new is always better”.

Smart cities across the country and around the world have renovated solidly-built historic schools to save them while bringing them up to modern safety and educational standards. This saves money and energy, and also follows best practices from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Institute of Architects.

It is deeply disturbing to read that those of us who want to save Columbus School and renovate it “as new” with an addition and better circulation, are somehow “against kids” or “against education”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, preserving Columbus School would be the smart sustainable 21st-century solution, instead of the 1970’s “new is always better” approach that has long been debunked as a quaint throwback to go-go boots and beehive hairdos, and “urban removal” that resulted in disasters like 50 Washington Street that replaced blocks of beautiful historic buildings. We thought we learned lessons from that, but apparently not.

The “scorched earth” policy of personal attacks and toxic comments from our former friend Mike Barbis and his colleague Bryan Meek (two pees in a pod to be blunt) has cemented our resolve to fight to save the historic Columbus School as part of a new school plan, following NTHP and AIA best practices.

And for the record, David Westmoreland and I were never opposed to the new Ely School nor the new Columbus International Baccalaureate School, as Barbis falsely claimed in his now-famous email full of lies and disgusting racist comments that he absolutely should resign for, immediately.

Barbis doesn’t deserve to serve anyone’s children after that email, especially minority children. And the folks defending him should be ashamed of themselves, literally jumping through ethical and moral hoops to try to prove that saying “Blacks f*** Latinos” isn’t racist.

Get real, and stop embarrassing yourselves and destroying your own reputations defending this disgusting language and the obviously deeply-troubled person behind it.

Back to the point, and to be clear, the educational quality or safety of our children would not suffer with this plan to renovate the historic Columbus School as part of an expanded new school, according to the informed opinion of Dr. Adamowski himself.

It’s worth mentioning that the BoE consultant who recommended to demolish Columbus School has lost credibility in our minds, since they completely ignored the significant energy and environmental cost savings of not demolishing the old building and sending it to a landfill, essential figures in any comprehensive 21st-century financial analysis.

For the record, the beautiful historic schools Norwalk has previously (and proudly) renovated and re-purposed include City Hall (the former Norwalk High), Ben Franklin Community Center on Flax Hill, the Norwalk Senior Center in the old Roosevelt School, and the senior living centers at Marvin, Broad River, and Ludlow.

Perhaps the BoE should take a tour of these historic renovated schools all across our great city to get a new appreciation of what these preserved beautiful buildings add to their communities in terms of interesting architecture, historical context, community identity, community pride, and quality of life.

We hope the new BoE will see the light and save energy as well as millions of taxpayer dollars by preserving the cherished Columbus School which has been the heart and soul of our SoNo community for generations, besides being in the heart of our SoNo Historic District next door to the historic SoNo Train Station, and on Chestnut Street lined with many renovated historic brick buildings such as the Smilow Center (Open Doors Shelter) and the new Beinfield-designed project near Monroe Street.

Meek and Barbis’s “shiny new school” will indeed be shiny and new, but must include preserving the rich historical details and materials and cultural legacy of the existing Columbus School, which in our professional opinions would be a master stroke for the BoE to pull off by creating a beautiful world-class IB School with historic character in the heart of historic SoNo that we can all be proud of for generations to come.

Scott November 25, 2019 at 8:32 am

@Mr. Mushak –

I think your statement says it all. “…personal attacks and toxic comments from our former friend Mike Barbis and his colleague Bryan Meek (two pees in a pod to be blunt) has cemented our resolve to fight to save the historic Columbus School…”

Your’s and Mr. Westmoreland’s obstruction of a new school in South North are driven by your hatred of a couple BoE members and little to do with the new vs. historic nature of buildings. You have no skin in the game, it’s not your children that are being impacted by your political hijinks.

Meanwhile the children of South Norwalk and those attending Columbus Magnet continue deal with long bus rides and overcrowding.

I hope parents finally reach a boiling point and say enough is enough.

Bryan Meek November 25, 2019 at 10:34 am

Again, the children are the one’s who have to pay the price for very few individual’s sense of historic preservation. These same people are dead silent about the post modern mall that does nothing to maintain history, that fronts the gateway for South Norwalk. Hypocrisy defined.

The renovated school will, by current estimates, cost 95% of what a new school will cost without any guarantee that some environmental disaster will drive the costs up even further. And at the end of the day, the renovated school will still have the same drop off and egress pattern that is dangerous. The same library with WW2 era bomb shelter look and feel. The same dark, dingy hallways that are 98 degrees on an 80 degree day. And will still be off the beaten path as opposed to the post modernization of the main corridor. But again, safety and health of our children as well as comfort must be sacrificed so some can have a sense of history.

See how easy that was without name calling and aspersions.

Norwalk Lost November 25, 2019 at 2:12 pm

Wouldn’t the city serve the needs of the students more appropriately by heeding the counsel of respected BOE members? Anyone who has done major league remodeling understands the upside of building anew rather than tearing down and remodeling. This should not be rocket science. Further, members of the community are not helping by perpetrating a false narrative on this.

Tysen Canevari November 25, 2019 at 9:01 pm

Dear Mr Mushak,

What do you think of the mayor and his group sitting on Mr Barbis’s email for so long? Then they release it anoymously for political gain? Since you alwways defend your mayor I thought it would be a chance to hear your point of view.

Mike Mushak November 26, 2019 at 6:14 am

@Bryan Meek, nothing on the list of what you said about saving Columbus School is true.

There are no environmental disasters destined to happen in a fully gutted and renovated historic building, that will be throughly tested before construction. This is always a normal process before a project like this.

The hallways won’t be dark (the lighting will be replaced), the hallways won’t be too hot (HVAC will be replaced), and the site circulation can be fixed to serve the needs of buses and parents with a good site plan that the public is still waiting to get to analyze carefully.

Everyone agreed the plan to rest the school down was pushed through hurriedly, without proper analysis especially to justify spending up to $5 milliion more in taxpayer money to get the same outcome, a new fully up-to-date school that will provide a safe quality education according to Dr. Adamowski.

We forgive the former BoE members who were acting on poor information, when they decided to tear down the school and replace it without proper consultation. But once the debate turned into attempts at character assassination through a campaign of misinformation and personal attacks directed at us and other community leaders by Mike Barbis and Bryan Meek, we realized something else was going on here, and the decision-making ability of the BoE has been hijacked by folks with some hidden agenda to force a plan on us we didn’t want in our community.

We still can’t figure out why. Bryan Meek, your fear of darkly lit and hot hallways will easily be fixed in a renovation. The fear of an “environmental disaster” will easily be avoided with proper pre-construction testing and proper professional architectural and engineering skills as any historic renovation does.

As for your comparison of the mall to the Columbus school, I don’t get it. The mall was built on a urban renewal site designated for redevelopment over 40 years ago, long before anyone in City Hall was involved.

These weak arguments being made about hot and dark hallways won’t persuade anyone in our community including in our large historic preservation community that we need to spend millions more of taxpayer dollars to tear down a solid beautiful brick structure and build a brand new car-oriented suburban-style school surrounded by acres of asphalt parking lots, smack in the heart of walkable historic SoNo and right next door to our historic SoNo train station.

@Tysen Canevari, the release of the email obviously had no effect on Barbis’s electoral victory. So it’s a moot point.

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