Barbis: Norwalk middle schools don’t need to reinstate intramural sports

Norwalk Common Council meets BOE Jan. 28 2013 070
Norwalk Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis pleads his case to Common Council members in January.

NORWALK, Conn. – Questions about fuel oil, unemployment compensation and other things that might inflate the Norwalk Board of Education budget dominated Monday’s Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting, but Mayor Richard Moccia went in the opposite direction with one item.

The mayor, who says his concern for middle school children is the reason the city is spending money for three new police officers, wanted school officials to consider reinstating intramural sports at a cost of $60,000.

“We need something for the intramural sports so we don’t keep losing these kids because they don’t have anything to do,” Moccia said. “To my way of thinking, $60,000, when we look at this budget, and there’s many areas we can change, I would think that would be one of the most important.”

Intramural sports were cut last year, BOE Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis said. On Monday, he told Moccia that middle school sports “haven’t been abolished completely” as “several of the schools have risen to the occasion” with fundraising to compensate for the cuts.

It doesn’t seem likely the BOE will take the mayor’s suggestion. “I’m not beholden to supporting these programs,” Barbis said in an email.

“There used to be teams for various sports at each middle school,” he said. “The coaches were teachers who are paid a stipend set in the teachers’ contract. As part of the budget cuts last year, we eliminated the bulk of the funding for these programs.

“Personally, I did not think they had much value, as they were not year round but for only parts of the school year.” Barbis said. “In addition, you had to compete for the teams so they were not inclusive – in my personal experience, I witnessed plenty of favoritism.”

Barbis said he wasn’t sure, but he thought the participation of students in the programs was less than 50 percent.

“At the same time, the Carver Center has an amazing program at each of the four middle schools. Their program is having a much bigger impact on these at-risk kids than the intramural program ever did. I think, on average, 25 percent of the student body is participating in their program of after-school work, tutoring and enrichment.”

Mayor Richard Moccia looks for items to cut in the Norwalk Public Schools budget last week.
Mayor Richard Moccia looks for items to cut in the Norwalk Public Schools budget last week.

Moccia had many questions at Monday’s meeting as he looked for “areas to change.” The mayor asked why heating fuel costs were so high when four schools had switched to natural gas and, in his opinion, this winter had been warmer than last year’s. He wondered why textbooks and software were in the school’s operating budget instead of the capital budget.

BET Chairman Fred Wilms said, “It’s a gray area.”

Barbis said the “really technical” nature of some of Moccia’s questions would require a reply from Chief Financial Officer Richard Rudl. But he said every school that could be switched to natural gas had been switched. He also doubted the perception that this winter has been warmer; it hasn’t been, according to NorwalkWeather.com.

Moccia and Wilms also thought the BOE might benefit from the unusual number of teachers retiring this year – at this point, three dozen teachers, three times the average, according to Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion.

Barbis refuted that, too. “Retirees don’t save as much as you think. There’s a payout,” he said, referring to a payout for accumulated vacation days. “Every year it’s disappointing,” he said. “The average retiree, we write them a check for $30,000.”

A perception that the rate of retirees might continue is also inaccurate, he said, as there are incentive dates for teachers to file by.

There might be a savings in replacing the retiring elementary school teachers, but Interim Superintendent Tony Daddona said science and math teachers are hard to come by, and therefore are more expensive.

Barbis said, though, that the talks have been constructive.

Wilms agreed.

“This reconciliation is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time,” he said. “It seems there are a lot of options, a lot of possibilities, a lot of things to look at. My gut sense is we’re going to get there.”


6 responses to “Barbis: Norwalk middle schools don’t need to reinstate intramural sports”

  1. Steve Colarossi

    Board of Education policy requires a middle school intramural sports program. The programs run in the fall, winter and spring with many opportunities for wide participation. The programs also build tremendous school spirit and sense of community in the schools– valuable intangible benefits.

  2. Bruce LeVine Mellion

    The average number of teacher who retire from NPS, if you look at the long average is about 36. A few years ago we had 49 then 19 and then 13 with a projection this year of about 40. Yes, three times more then last year but not three times more then the average.

  3. LWitherspoon

    What are the retirement incentives that have teachers retiring in droves? Will the City still be able to afford them ten years from now?

  4. oldtimer

    The uncertainty of working in a school system where every year there is debate about what can be cut probably has a lot to do with so many leaving. Of course intramural sports have value. Wether they are worth what they cost is another question and, for once, I agree with moccia. They should not be cut. If nothing else, learning to work as part of a team, at that age, is very important, even if no great athletes are developed.

  5. spanner

    Maybe the Mayor could focus on getting police cars ready to patrol in the snow. From the sound of some of his officers at Dunkin tonight, it would of been nice to watch the weather and prepare a few days back for this snow. For the Mayor to ask questions of the BOE and not breach the ones on why firefighters make more money in Norwalk than most of the state seems unlikely he will have the same kind of questions for his fire and police. Safe to say his votes are not coming from anyone from the BOE.

    It doesn’t seem to have any genuine concern for the kids until now before the election.

    Moccia this week told us all how great this new fireboat was and how Bridgeport agreed Norwalk was a good choice, yet to date has never told Norwalk how much this free fireboat has cost and will cost our city in the end. Bridgeport officials are smart they have heard of the U S Coast Guard and know what they have in the our local waters will be more than enough to go around in Long Island sound. That free fireboat and the budget this year to run both fire boats have exceeded 60 grand yet last year the police boats and their rescues cost much less and did a great job for the most part without the fire dept at all.

    Suppose the Mayor will be at the State tax hike meeting for heating fuel in the morning with his friend Bob telling them his schools are costing the city money, taking away from at-risk kids’ funds and adding any more money to fuel will hurt everyone.

    The mayor, who says his concern for middle school children is the reason the city is spending money for three new police officers, this is a great statement, this week alone most of the trouble in and around our schools would not have been when the officers were at the schools(police log). Whats that tell you for perfect planning? We need officers but not at the expense of the next election and our kids, Dick.

  6. Tom

    The three new officers are necessary but what the Mayor has done is a shell game. The department has an authorized strength of 182 officers. In past years, the Mayor has only funded 176 officers in the budget. Now he says he adds three but really, he is still only funding 178 leaving the department three officers short of authorized strength. Oh and by the way..ask how many officers are currently on active duty. Probably around 171. Election year polictics at there best.

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