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Letter: Norwalk has little hope of more ECS money

To the Editor

With budget time arriving the city’s share of the state Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) is always a good discussion topic raising questions about why the city’s Democrat legislators can’t shake the Democratic super majority Legislature for some more funding. According to Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) estimates for 2014 the city will receive a modest $300,000 raise (about 3 percent) to about $11 million.

Over in Stamford they did much better with a 10.5 percent increase of almost $1 million to $9.8 million. (Having a former mayor as governor seems to help.) Even Danbury did better with a $2.7 million raise to $27.3 million or 11.2 percent raise.

Norwalk looks like the odd man out. Maybe its Democratic legislators have to work harder. Even if Norwalk’s Democratic legislators worked harder the ECS gravy pot is limited. Overall, about one-half of the $51 million ECS pot goes to just 5 welfare wards of the state – Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury and New Britain. Together, those five cities have enough legislators in tow to keep the ECS more or less unchanged. Forever.

The original purpose of the ECS formula was to boost school teacher salaries in the state’s welfare wards – our major cities – and that purpose has largely been met, with half the total funding allocated to those five cities. Norwalk has done even better, using ECS funding to give its teachers the fifth-highest salaries in the state. Spread over 1,000 or so teachers, Norwalk’s ECS funding amounts to about $11,000 per teacher. That’s not a good case for boosting Norwalk’s share of ECS funding. Odds are pretty good that the public school unions would demand higher salaries from any increased ECS funding.

It’s also worth noting that the ECS formula spreads the gravy to rich and poor alike. While the five surrounding towns weren’t scheduled for increases, next year all together they will receive about $7.7 million in ECS. So here we have some of the wealthiest towns in America with roughly the same school population as Norwalk (but incomes two to three times larger on average) receiving all together about 30 percent less school aid than Norwalk. Norwalk’s legislators could, but haven’t, made the case that ECS for wealthy towns ought to be sharply reduced or even eliminated.

Here the ECS politics are pretty clear. Both Stamford and the surrounding towns largely fund major Connecticut politics. So it’s not surprising that the five surrounding wealthy towns plus Stamford receive about a third of total ECS funding. The rich get one third while the welfare ward cities get half with the rest left over for everyone else.

The ECS formula is Connecticut politics at its best. Hopefully, during the current round of school budget discussions, we’ll not be sidetracked into discussions about sending the mayor (or whoever) to Hartford to grab some more ECS funding to pay our already embarrassingly overpaid school teachers. The ECS formula is set in stone.

Peter I Berman

 

Comments

19 responses to “Letter: Norwalk has little hope of more ECS money”

  1. Bruce LeVine Mellion

    It is really most sad that Mr. Berman continues to write articles and letters to the editor that are factually incorrect, incomplete and offensive. His most recent item goes over the top when he calls five major Connecticut cities welfare wards. How offensive to these communities and the people who live there. Yes, they may not always be people of great means but they are good, hard working people who do their very best and certainly should never ever be labeled as such. In addition, ECS was not and is not about teachers salaries and that is why there is a major court case. Lastly, there has never been or is there a teacher who is embarrassingly over paid.

  2. anonymous

    @Bruce, interesting comment coming from someone who so often labels people and or writes or says things that are incorrect, incomplete or offensive. A role model you are not.

  3. jlightfield

    The ECS increase Norwalk was budgeted to get:

    “Of the $152.2 million, Norwalk could receive $3.4 million in additional Education Cost Sharing (ECS) funding by 2014-15, totaling a 31.9 percent increase from fiscal year 2012-13. Those figures put Norwalk near the top in both percentage increase and dollar amount increase.”

  4. Piberman

    To our esteemed Mr Mellion, NFT Chief

    Referring to the 5 cities as “welfare wards” has a very long history in CT municipal discussions. See the the extended public discussions of the “CT Business Opportunity Commission” created by the Legislature some 30 years ago. (I was a member.) See decades of testimony in Hartford. Public funds for ECS have long been defended as providing competitive salaries for teachers to encourage them to work in these cities. The facts are that despite tens of billions of state public assistance there are no reasonable expectations that these will become viable cities in the foreseeable future. Generally their residents do not have the required work skills and taxation rates levied to support public unions discourage new business entry and formation. Many of us remember when Bridgeport was once CT’s most productive city.

    As to overpaid teachers as a group in Norwalk they most certainly are overpaid – 5th highest in CT – relative to Norwalk’s income ranking – -19 th in CT. Ditto in terms of performance and evident hostility to the community. Witness the monthly Vanguard.

    As one who has held senior positions in some of the largest global business organizations and also fortunate to have held both professorships and administrative positions later in life at major universities from my perspective college professors are substantially overpaid both for the work they do and the results. American teachers are admired world over for their cushy life styles and virtually unlimited access to funding. Not because of their teaching dedication or student access. Our great universities are esteemed for their research, not for their teaching.

    It’s an old saw but teachers should always be underpaid so that those in it for the money be encouraged to seek other opportunities. Many long time residents of our fair City are utterly appalled at both the salaries commanded by our teachers relative to city incomes and their unseemly and unprofessional advocacy in our political life. There was a time when both our school system and teachers were the pride of Norwalk. Now the Vanguard’s diatribes reflects their core values of Norwalk’s school teachers.
    Rather than respect authority they seek as a group yo both influence the composition and policies of the BOE and our city’s governance.

    Compare the situation with our surrounding towns where teachers, administrators, BOE’s and the public mutually respect each other. And where teachers are highly respected because of their professional capabilities and composure. It’s an interesting comparison Mr Mellion.

  5. marjoriem

    Berman enjoys fiddling with numbers. He also loves to write about the really “wealthy” teachers in Norwalk. Berman, if you think teaching is such a lucrative, easy job, become a teacher!

  6. Bill Dunne

    Bruce… Ever hear of “rubber rooms”? Sure you have. But for those who have not, “rubber rooms” is the nickname given to the “reassignment centers” in the NYC public school system where, because union rules make it virtually impossible to fire them, teachers accused of child molestation and other forms of misconduct are given “work” space away from classrooms while collecting their full paychecks — for years at a time in many cases. Wikipedia says there were 600 of them at one point, costing the city $65 million a year. Okay, Norwalk is not NYC, but the statement that “there has never been or is there a teacher who is embarrassingly over paid” might warrant rephrasing, don’t you think?

  7. Piberman

    To Marjorieum

    The only issue on the table is Norwalk teachers salaries relative to the incomes of its residents. Our neighbors have incomes two to three times higher than Norwalk. Yet Norwalk teachers are 5 th highest paid in state. That’s excessive and unfair to City residents by requiring punitive property taxes and depressing property values. Why shouldn’t we protest ! We’re not yet indentured servants to our public employees.

  8. anonymous

    Mr. Mellion’s $100,000 plus salary package, paid for years by taxpayers, some might view that as worthy of embarrassment.

    The taxpayer-subsidized divorces, ex-spouses of NFT members insurance costs paid on taxpayer dime, embarrassing.

    It’s all about the kids right?

  9. David

    @piberman: “salaries relative to the incomes of its residents” has nothing to do with it. If there are other towns that will pay more in Fairfield County, then your ability to pay has nothing to do with it. If you walk into an auto shop and tell the mechanic you can’t afford the brake job because you don’t earn enough, you’ll be S.O.L. Who are the 4 towns/cities that pay more than Norwalks teachers? Are they our neighbors, by any chance? We live in the most expensive county in Connecticut, so I imagine the top 4 are located pretty close to us.

  10. marjoriem

    Berman, did you read the latest article that states Norwalk is on good financial footing? Looks like even more money is expected this year.

  11. Piberman

    David

    Please read the Arbitration Report. You’ll be surprised to learn where the other 4 are located. Fairfield County also includes Danburry, Fairfield and Bridgeport. The principle that communities pay their municipal employees relative to their available incomes and property values is well established across America’s 50,000 municipalities. By the way the medium family income in Norwalk is only about $70,000. That’s less than the salary of the average City employee. Many of our homeowners are surviving on just their social security incomes and their are almost 1500 families on assistance. Almost half our elementary children receive meals assistance. Drive around – Norwalk is not a wealthy town. Do you see any connection between punitive taxes, top City employee salaries and stagnant property values ? And why the grand Lists between Norwalk and Stamford have been sharply diverging ? Do you see many vacant store fronts in the surrounding towns compared to Norwalk ? Do you really think its fair that City taxpayers should pay their City employees higher salaries than in the surrounding towns where both incomes and property values are two to three times larger on average ? That’s the crux of the issue. Fairness to City residents. By and large City employees don’t live here any more – taxes are too high. It’s our City and we as residents have a right to demand the local politicians treat it as such.

  12. David

    piberman: I read the report. I looked specifically at the Appendix which shows teacher salaries. I see Norwalk placed behind our neighbors – the report even highlights that fact. That’s “the market”. Guess what, I don’t get to tell an Engineer at my company that I should pay him or her less because they work in Norwalk as opposed to Darien. I don’t get to pay them less because they commute down from Monroe or Guilford. They’ve chosen to make commuting a part of their lifestyle, that’s their choice. You can’t pay the bills? Then don’t live a lifestyle beyond your means.

  13. Lisa Thomson

    Good financial footing…perhaps at the expense of the taxpayer! My city tax bill has TRIPLED and my house value is LESS than double it’s original value when purchased in 1998. Not a sustainable financial model. And oh yes…I live it that part of Norwalk paved in gold – Rowayton. Private sector salaries have been flat for many years now – while at the same time, we all contribute substantially more for our health insurance. At some point something has gotta give. As for any more ECS money, that is very unlikely, given the financial state of Connecticut. But Mr. Mellion, accusing Mr. Berman of being offensive is kind of like the pot calling the kettle black. LOL. You forget, we read your Vanguard!

  14. longtime resident

    We in Norwalk have our own version of the rubber room. Only here, they are shuffled around to work with our most vulnerable students or just as interesting, written out for long periods of time for bogus medical reasons.

    They are fully paid, receive benefit packages, and even get pension credit for this time. They ARE embarrassingly overpaid.

  15. anonymous

    If the discussion turned to why the reading, writing, math scores of the Public School students in those 5 Connecticut cities are so dismal, in spite of huge influxes of ECS money to pay Union salaries, would Norwalk’s NFT union boss be saying, “they may not always be people of great means but they are good, hard working people” or would he be looking for a bus to throw them under?

  16. marjoriem

    Lisa Thomson, since Norwalk’s model is not sustainable for you, perhaps you should live elsewhere.

  17. piberman

    Years ago Norwalk had an admired school system, teachers were paid modest salaries in keeping with the incomes of the community and most lived in Norwalk. Now its a different kettle. Few teachers live in the City, they’re 5th highest paid in the state with average salaries substantially exceeding our City’s modest $70k median household income and the school system’s reputation to be charitable isn’t what it used to be. Not a good place for parents with Ivy League ambitions for their kids.

    Adding insult to injury Norwalk’s NFT reportedly is the most hostile teachers union in the state and vigorously enters our politics to bend the BOE to its liking and elect union oriented politicians. So we have the worst of all worlds: questionable teacher performance, 5th highest paid teachers in the state, teachers hostile to our BOE and active in City politics. Plus a monthly Vanguard that’s both nasty and mean spirited and an insult to the community.

    No doubt the NFT will pull all its punches this year to preclude the BOE from even thinking of going to arbitration with an assist from our new Mayor who campaigned on giving teachers “more respect”. But no matter how the contract negotiations end we can sure that as a group Norwalk public school teachers have anywhere the respect they once had nor that of their colleagues in surrounding towns. Few of their graduates ever return to Norwalk to live here. Not many people move to Norwalk anymore because of its school system. Our once vaunted PTO’s are a shadow of their former selves.

    Norwalk taxpayers are truly subservient to the NFT. Our stagnant property values 3 years running reflect the consequences of punitive taxes paid to support unaffordable teacher salaries. No doubt Norwalk’s teachers are proud of their financial “success”. A once proud and successful community is in retreat. Norwalk captiva !

  18. Bill Dunne

    What class do you teach, Marjoriem? Or are you one of Ditrio’s eminences?

  19. Piberman

    Curious that most Norwalk school teachers – 5th highest paid in the state – live outside Norwalk so their kids will have better education opportunities. Once upon a time the reverse was true – Norwalk school teachers actually wanted their kids to attend Norwalk schools by living here. So we have the best of worlds – – overpaid teachers who don’t want to live here because of the schools and taxes. Lucky us. Maybe they’ll move back into town if they get as Mayor as Rilling suggests “more respect.”

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