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Adamowski lays out reasoning behind proposed $14 million NPS budget increase

From left, Mayor Harry Rilling, Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Heidi Keyes and Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski, Tuesday in City Hall. Adamowski’s proposed 2020-21 operating budget includes funding after-school programs at the Carver Center, a plan apparently partially inspired by legal complaints made by NPS employees.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski began making his pitch Tuesday for a $14.3 million increase in the Norwalk Public Schools operating budget.

The 7 percent increase would make Norwalk’s per pupil expenditure equal to Stamford’s, even as, for the first time, Norwalk has a greater percentage of high needs students than Stamford, Adamowski said in the Board of Education meeting.

NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams on Wednesday clarified that comment: Norwalk’s 2020-21 expenditure would be equal to Stamford’s 2019-19 expenditure, should the recommended increase be approved in its entirety.

The Board is expected to vote on Adamowski’s recommended budget at its next Board meeting. Common Council members will get their first review of the budget Thursday. Council members approve a budget cap in February and can revise the cap in April with a two-thirds majority vote, if they so desire.

The recommended budget assigns dollar figures according to goals:

  1. Salary and benefit increases due to contractual obligations, $5.6 million, or 2.8 percent
  2. Enrollment growth costs, $3.3 million, or 1.6 percent
  3. Expansion and enhancement of the English Language Learner (ELL) program, $1.9 million, or .9 percent
  4. Program support for students enrolled in choice, $700,000, or .4 percent
  5. New student transportation contract, $800,000, or .4 percent
  6. Implement phase II of Counseling and Social Emotional Learning, $400,000, or .2 percent
  7. Partnership with Carver Center for before- and after-school programs, $300,000, or .2 percent
  8. American Sign Language, $200,000, or .1 percent
  9. 7th grade summer school, $200,000, or .1 percent

 

“In our society, talent and intellect distributes itself but opportunity does not. , ensuring opportunity through equity is the job of the board of education and other leaders of our city,” Adamowski began, explaining that Norwalk’s high needs student population has grown to an “historic 66 percent of enrollment.”

“Currently, virtually seven out of 10 students attending our schools are from low income families, are English Language Learners or have special leaning needs,” Adamowski said.  “Many are in two or three high needs categories and require additional support to receive an adequate education.”

Stamford has 64 percent high needs students, he said, noting that Norwalk spends $1,245 less per pupil than Stamford.

NPS $ comparison to nearby districts 20200108_00011354

The per pupil comparison has been a feature of budget battles in recent years. Then-Council member Doug Hempstead in April 2018 called the comparisons “inflammatory” and a year ago speculated that it was an “apple versus an orange versus a pear” comparison. Mayor Harry Rilling has in the past noted the increases in school funding under his administration.

Rilling attended Tuesday’s BoE meeting but said nothing.  Adamowski took pains to throw him a bouquet, noting that “during the past three years our budget increases have exceeded the state average and the city has committed significant to building new schools and renovating those in disrepair.”

But, “This funding gap our students are still experiencing is historic in nature,” Adamowski continued. “Over at least the past 15 to 20 years, while other communities invested in their schools, Norwalk’s municipal government was concerned with building its unallocated fundamentals, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, now the largest of any municipality in Connecticut.”

Adamowski also highlighted what he called the “known inequity” of Kendall Elementary School funding, Norwalk’s lowest performing school for “several generations of students.” It’s the “normalization of failure,” he said, advocating for a complete redesign to make Kendall a year-round school and comparing the costs to Norwalk’s highest performing school, the Center for Global Studies, as “a little less than what is currently being spent per pupil annually” at CGS, a high school with only 34 percent high needs students.

NPS Kendall CGS funding comparison 20200108_00033282

Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton and NPS Budget Coordinator Kristen Karzcmit then went on to detail the proposed expenditures.

The proposed $216.5 million is about $3 million less than what would be spent if all the “various central office departments” got what they wanted, Hamilton said.

“The bulk” of the employee cost increase “has to do with benefits, the net insurance increase that’s projected for the 20-21 school year,” Karzcmit said. The increase for projected enrollment jumps could go up, because it’s based on a per-pupil calculation from this year’s budget.

The ELL population has increased “even more” since November, she said. The “choice” line of the budget includes $470,000 for Kendall.

The student transportation contract?

“This is consistent with the city’s efforts towards a cleaner environment… a transition to clean propane fuel buses and smart buses,” Karzcmit said.

That’s $125,000 and then there’s $457,000 to facilitate later high school start times, thought to be “healthier,” according to Karzcmit. Plus, there’s $265,000 to transport Jefferson students to Ponus, given that the new school there is expected to be complete, allowing renovation work on Jefferson to begin.

Adamowski stepped in to recognize Board member Erica DePalma as the spark plug behind the smart bus concept.

“This essentially is equipping school buses with WiFi so that it can do their homework while on the bus,” Adamowski said. “This will be particularly helpful to our high school students, as well as our South Norwalk students who spend longer periods of time on the bus.”

Karzcmit continued, pointing out the recent dissertation on social and emotional learning showing the proven results. Next, she said the $337,000 for Carver is an estimate based on “the best of our knowledge at this time.”

Adamowski recognized Board member Barbara Meyer-Mitchell as the inspiration for this initiative, a response to her concerns about the changed school start times and the need for before- and after-school programs.

“There was a time when we had a variety of after-school care providers. There were five or six,” but it’s “very hard to make money on after school programs or even sustain, because there’s a parent contribution,” Adamowksi said. “…So they have all dropped by the wayside.”

Labor contract complications have made it impossible to continue the After the Bell program as part-time paraprofessionals allege that their second job in After the Bell makes them eligible for full-time employee benefits, Adamowski alleged.

NPS was sued in July and accused of wage theft. The matter was transferred to federal court.

Given the contractual issues, NPS needs a third party “actually employing the folks on an hourly basis who work in the program,” Adamowski said Tuesday. The proposed $337,000 for Carver is “our skin in the game” and comparable to the money spent to cover the After the Bell deficits created by parents who couldn’t pay.

The goal with Carver is to develop a pilot program and establish a baseline for per pupil allocations, Chief of Digital Learning and Development Ralph Valenzisi said.

As for sign language, Karzcmit spoke of recommendations made by a world language task force. Adamowski said NPS is required to have three years of languages, in line with the University of Connecticut’s requirements.

“We are going to be in need of new languages that appeal to different learning styles,” Adamowski said.

Lastly, NPS seeks to expand its summer school to include students exiting seventh grade and entering eighth grade in an effort to close the achievement gap, at a cost of $245,00, Karzcmit said.

In pushing for his recommendation, Adamowski said, “Like John Winthrop’s ‘City upon a Hill,’ Norwalk has become a beacon to those who wish to earn a better life for themselves and their families.”

“It is a great place to raise a family, our schools serve as the engine for achieving the American dream of going to college for countless children and their families without regard to race, ethnicity, or economic status,” he said. “Our students have demonstrated that given the same opportunities, they will do as well if not better, than their homogeneous economically segregated neighbors.”

NPS budget goals powerpoint 20200108_00071335

2020-2021 Recommended Operating Budget updated 1-7-2020

NPS budget goals 20200108_02002280

img20200108_00241536 op budget request

NPS Adamowski budget message 20-0107

This story was updated at 2:54 p.m. to include more information and a clarification from Norwalk Public Schools Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams.

18 comments

Sue Haynie January 8, 2020 at 6:30 am

Interesting article, some great plans. However, as a reality check, Norwalk can’t be one of the only ‘beacons’ in Connecticut, it’s economically unsustainable for the city. Taking funds from the Rainy Day fund seem imminent given the comments made in this article, but what happens when the Rainy Day Fund is depleted? It doesn’t take too many 7%+ increases in the BOE budget to do that.

John ONeill January 8, 2020 at 9:26 am

Let’s see if I understand the current climate – 1) Rilling is requesting all departments submit a flat budget for next year 2) Lamont is having his budget people look to trim expenses 3) Norwalk School Board is looking for 7% increase after last year’s “one time” large increase — Does anyone else think this is ludicrous. 4)Did Rilling mention he’s got a call into Himes regarding ELL funding support? 5) Has Duff et State Reps brought anything to Norwalk for ELL financing. Please note that vast majority of “growth” of student body is made up of ELLers — Hence “real” ADDITIONAL cost of ELLers is $5 Million+ NOT $1.9 Million. — 7) So 2/3 of our students are needy — NOTE to BOB DUFF: Where the hell are you? Brochures may sell houses, but don’t solve our school crisis.

carol January 8, 2020 at 11:37 am

crazy,what does he care he is leaving norwalk as his contract is up. we cannot afford this increase,let duff do his job and get us funding. enough is enough.

Patrick Cooper January 8, 2020 at 11:53 am

Every taxpayer in Norwalk should be constantly reminded of the CT state law that does not allow municipalities to reduce the education budget from a prior years baseline. That is my understanding – and please, if I’m wrong – correct me with the facts (I would be overjoyed).

Said differently: this budget is never going down, only up. Same as your taxes.

Question: homework on the bus? Not Snapchat? Good to know our kids get it before Metro-North.

Whoever is running against Bob Duff – wake up. As sure as the sun rises and sets – you can be certain – he will not deliver the necessary state ECS funding needed to protect Norwalk. He should be isolated – questioned – and challenged. A potted plant would do more for the city.

As for our mayor – “Rilling attended Tuesday’s BoE meeting but said nothing”. Anyone surprised?

Elections have consequences.

Norwalk Lost January 8, 2020 at 12:11 pm

What homeowners should expect without adequate state funding and continued sanctuary policies:

1. Much higher taxes
2. Lower property values
3. Influx of greater illegal aliens
4. Continued exodus of long-term residents

It is no wonder there are ever so many more for sale signs.

Joe January 8, 2020 at 1:22 pm

Norwalk NPS is now truly suffering the financial consequences of open borders political correctness and
illegal imported cheap labor.

https://www.journalinquirer.com/opinion/chris_powell/how-many-more-illegal-immigrants-can-connecticut-afford/article_2df5d17e-31bf-11ea-9acf-0f8736b650d7.html

Norwalk commercial property taxes doubled last year. Doubled in one year! Residences are next. Mark my words.

We are a joke. Norwalk is a national example of open borders and political

Alexis January 8, 2020 at 3:56 pm

WiFi on school bus is not a necessity and shouldn’t cut into more important needs. It may benefit a few dedicated students, but encourages poor homework habits and enables kids to put off schoolwork for the morning ride. Majority will find ways to use it for social media and video games. Norwalk is paying for later start times to be “healthier” while also paying for extra WiFi when studies have been finding too much screen time is harmful for kids.

Huh? January 8, 2020 at 4:00 pm

Anyone else see B. Duff’s opinion piece in the hour last night? He claims he has fixed ECS and secured an additional $5m for Norwalk! Wait….

The fine print:
– Phased in over 10 years
– Basically an incremental $500k annually until we hit 10 years, bringing us from $11m to ~$16m

Bob states his goal as a state leader was to distribute $ equitably throughout CT and to bring $ home to Norwalk.

Wait, how is Bob’s exalted leadership position helping Norwalk? Why on earth do we keep voting him in if he advocates for ECS funding for any other town other than Darien/Norwalk!

The result he reported in TheHour is truly pathetic. $5m, takes 10 yeas to get there and meanwhile the BOE needs $7m more a year to keep the lights on. Good god we are sunk and Bob appears to have a permanent job he’ll never loose – at our expense.

But aren’t those Facebook updates about weather and traffic useful!

Al Bore January 8, 2020 at 4:31 pm

And we vote them all back in time after time, stop complaining you had your chance. No surprises here the home owning taxpayers will pay for it.

John ONeill January 8, 2020 at 11:45 pm

Let’s all go back in our memories as kids. How many of us actually did homework on the bus? What is wrong with these people? I’m doing my best to understand their positions, but Holy cow! Weren’t they young once? Don’t they remember bus rides? GET REAL!

Yeah sure January 9, 2020 at 10:08 am

once this (if this) is approved per state statute it will NEVER be reduced, as a consequence the Mill rate will increase to the point where no one will be able to afford the taxes causing eventual economic collapse of the city. This level of money grubbing is entirely unsustainable

John Miller January 9, 2020 at 12:09 pm

Let me see if I have this right. The BOE is asking the taxpayers of Norwalk to shell out an additional $14.3 million to essentially “keep up with the Jones’s.” The benchmarks they used to come up with this massive spending scheme are Weston, Westport, Darien, New Canaan, Wilton, and Stamford. The most current US Census data shows that the median household income for Norwalk is $82,474. The most current US Census data for the six “benchmark” communities the BOE used reflects the following median household incomes:
Weston – $219,083
Westport – $187,988
Darien – $210,511
New Canaan – $192,428
Wilton – $187,903
Stamford – $89,047
Even though Stamford’s median household income is the closest to Norwalk’s, there’s still a $6,835 differential, which is a pretty good chunk of change.

Do these people think that we are all economic morons and can’t see right through this blatant, self serving money grab? Maybe the additional $426.57 that each of Norwalk’s 33,523 households will have to shell out to “keep up with the Jones’s” on top of the taxes that we already pay may not mean much to tenured academics or those in City Hall with six figure salaries, but it could be a substantial burden to the folks on the bottom half of the median. And just think folks, once this increase becomes part of the BOE Budget Baseline, it stays forever.

By the way, only Norway spends more per pupil than the United States and yet some recent reports show that the US ranks as low as 27th among OECD nations in educational results.

One more thing. WIFI on school buses so the kids can do homework on the bus!!! As John McEnroe might say, “You cannot be serious.” It’s called HOMEwork folks, not BUSwork. Whoever thought this one up needs to take refresher courses in Economics 101 and Basic Logic.

George Bailey January 10, 2020 at 9:19 am

I love all the nostalgic memories of doing homework at home and the good times riding a bus. I wish I had those. I was one of those kids that rode a bus 45 minutes each way (once 2 hours)…. My kids homework today is done online and once they do get home they have sports practice, clubs etc. Look it is not about keeping up with the Jones, it is giving our kids the best possible tools to succeed. WIFI on the buses is a great tool to help kids do their homework on the bus and allow them to be more productive during the day. Also, for those who fear video games and social media, the WIFI has walls that can block those sites and keep the content educational….but there is a bigger point here, whenever Norwalk tries to take a step fwd, there is always a crowd trying to pull it back to their 80s, 70s, 60s, 50s upbringing. Once 5G hits, the world is going to change dramatically and our kids need to be best prepared for it.

John ONeill January 10, 2020 at 3:02 pm

@George: I feel bad you didn’t enjoy the social culture of bus rides home. It really was fun. My children went back/forth by bus to school, played a myriad of sports and somehow graduated from high school. (Guessing Mother’s DNA helped A LOT)I’m all for giving our students everything they need, but there’s a finite amount of money out there. IF our elected officials did a better job bringing needed dollars from the state or the feds, we would be able to support many more tools to help our kids become successful. The reallocation or resources due to ELL crisis is forcing administrators to squash ideas like WiFi on buses. If you think wifi is a good idea, you should ask your legislators why they have done practically zero to help support Norwalk in educating/assimilating newly arriving immigrants. And please don’t listen to argument about 2017 revision for ECS — As far as Norwalk’s concerned, the dollars from that change are minimal. We really are stuck in a difficult situation. Without outside support, I think we’re screwed. My guess is the idea of Wifi on buses may have to wait.(Maybe an internet provider might send us a grant to accomplish this?)

Alexis January 14, 2020 at 4:49 am

@ George, there are multiple ways to bypass a firewall and students have the ability to do so. I agree in theory about giving kids tools to succeed, I’d just expect abuse over homework use and caution what NPS thinks they are paying for. This also commits to a new service, which binds to increasing costs each year. Unfortunately it’s hard to consider bus WiFi a necessity with ballooning budget needs in other areas. There are still parts of homework or reading kids can do without the internet. Sports and clubs are great but kids should still have time for schoolwork at home or at the library.

Bryan Meek January 14, 2020 at 11:23 am

Trains still do not have Positive Track Control and School busses still don’t have seat belts, but we can all feel good that they’ll have WiFi soon. Both good ideas in a universe where we can print our own money, but moreover highlights the inability to prioritize. This has downstream effect on other programs and unresolved issues.

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