No labor pains for Norwalk BoE: NFEP contract approved, NASA deal is on the horizon

Norwalk Board of Education member Mike Barbis explains the Norwalk Federation of Education Personnel contract at Tuesday’s BoE meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – A “win-win” contract between the Board of Education and the Norwalk Federation of Education Personnel (NFEP) will cost about $300,000 but put more power in the hands of the superintendent, save money in the long run and make for better Norwalk Public Schools employees, BoE members said Tuesday.

The board unanimously approved the contract, while lauding BoE member Mike Barbis for negotiating the contract and noting that Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera was responsible for the “creative” and “collaborative” approach taken.

Also noted was the expected swift conclusion of negotiations with the Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA), as scheduled arbitration hearings have been cancelled.

The board was four members short. Missing were Jack Chiaramonte, Shirley Mosby, Migdalia Rivas and Rosa Murray. Chiaramonte, a jewelry merchant, is in Massachusetts at the Big E, BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said. He said he had no knowledge of the whereabouts of Mosby and Murray; another source said Rivas is ill.

Barbis, the chairman of the Negotiations and Personnel Committee, said there are about 405 NPS employees in the NFEP union, accounting for about $13 million in payroll. Negotiations to replace the contract, which expired in June 2013, began in March, and a tentative agreement was made in April.

Union members were hard hit by the budget cuts in 2012-13, he said.

“We felt we needed to rectify that situation and so we really wanted to give our employees in the NFEP more opportunities and to make them stronger paraprofessionals by providing educational opportunities so they will be even better and stronger employees,” Barbis said.

Hours for everyone from secretaries to middle school library aids are being restored, he said. Some of those will be implemented immediately. Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl said this will cost about $300,000. Barbis said the board has the funding.

BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said Rivera was responsible for a “creative approach.”

“Instead of giving a flat increase percentage, we take some of that funding and use it for enhancing positions, upgrade positions, provide better training and allow people to move up into a higher-level job responsibilities,” Lyons said. “It’s a very creative way of dealing with a set amount of money. … There’s clearly been gives and takes on both sides. Both sides have brought things to the table. The employees have agreed, as other employees have, to higher (health insurance) premium cost shares and deductibles.”

Attorney Tom Mooney said in a memo to the board that the contract features “significant changes in work rules” for employees.

“There’s been a lot of good changes in the contract language in terms of increasing flexibility of the superintendent and staff, in terms of filling the vacancies and promotions and things of that sort,” Lyons said. After many years of administrative authority being taken from the superintendent it’s now being given back, he said. “The superintendent really has the authority to run the school system,” Lyons said.

Plus, certain benefits are grandfathered in for existing employees, but will not be available to new hires, he said. “In the long run, this will reduce the impact on taxpayers as well,” Lyons said.

Rivera said he appreciated the hard work done by Barbis, who, according to Lyons, has the toughest role on the Board of Ed.

“All in all, this is what I would consider a win-win contract,” Rivera said. “It also in some of the enhancements, for example recognizing the role of school secretaries more and more as becoming the office managers and the kind of skill sets that are going to be needed as we go forward in the future, is very important.”

Barbis said some of the language in the contract has been cleaned up and clarified. For instance, the title of “switchboard operator” has been removed.

“We have joined the 21st century; we have cleaned this up,” Barbis said.

Plus, “We are going to create a kind of a in-house academy or university for our employees to get the latest and greatest in terms of training so they can be better employees,” Barbis said, crediting Rivera for the approach.

In addition, Barbis said, the first round of arbitration with NASA, scheduled for Friday, has been cancelled.

“Our esteemed superintendent, Dr. Rivera, did have a discussion with (NASA President) Tony Ditrio and they were able to agree,” Barbis said.

There will be positive changes in work rules, he said. NASA is the last union on old-fashioned health insurance and will go to a Health Savings Account (HSA), he said. He called it a “very acceptable compromise” and “another win-win.”

NFEP contract summary 091614001


15 responses to “No labor pains for Norwalk BoE: NFEP contract approved, NASA deal is on the horizon”

  1. John Hamlin

    According to another media source, there will be guaranteed salary increases over the next few years. How many taxpayers have had guaranteed enhancements to their livelihood and income over the past few years or have a guarantee of such enhancements over the next few? There are now two classes — the government class (with above average compensation, guaranteed lifetime employment, and generous pension and other benefits) and the rest of us.

  2. John, you’re essentially correct. This is the result of the collective bargaining system set up by Hartford. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (representing most of the cities and towns in the state) has been lobbying for years to change these laws to establish a more level playing field for the cities, but without success; the system remains heavily titled toward the unions.
    We’ve tried to make as much progress as we can in our negotiations within that biased system, and in the last couple of years we’ve managed to bring in wage settlements below state averages, while getting significant give-backs on medical and other benefits, and to also swing control over personnel matters back to the superintendent (where it belongs). These are major gains for the school system. But addressing the “two classes” issue is out of our hands, since we’re stuck with the mandates from Hartford.

  3. Anonymous

    If all these union jobs are as great as they seem to appear, why are more people not changing professions?

  4. Lifelong Teacher

    Well that would be a good question for that infamous poster who, anywhere and everywhere, complains about municipal employees.

  5. John Hamlin

    Maybe there aren’t any openings — no one is ever fired, and why leave a guarantee of lifetime employment and endless increases and a pension more generous than anything in the private sector.

  6. Anon, we filled 58 positions this year, including 23 middle and high school teachers and 29 new elementary certified staff. We have plenty of applicants for these positions. This was not all net gain; we have many offsetting retirements and resignations, too, so there’s regular turnover.
    John, there are a few firings (four or five in the last year), but its a small percentage. The new evaluation system we’re implementing this year will strengthen the ability of the school system to remove chronic underperformers (which has been extremely limited until now); see https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/08/norwalk-boe-approves-teacher-school-administrator-evaluation-process and http://www.thehour.com/news/norwalk/teacher-evaluation-plan-could-come-to-vote-tuesday/article_57945319-d320-5718-83b8-7d37c754cab0.html.

  7. MarjorieM

    Job well done.

  8. Anne Sullivan

    No, there are openings. Come on in!

  9. Hobbes the Calvinist

    Amazing what a competent superintendent can do when he is involved directly in negotiations. Has a lesson has been learned for future teacher and administrator negotiations (let the CEO lead the effort with advice from the BOE)?

    Amazing what a difference can be made after four years of impasses with the former (fortunately defeated) BOE negotiation chairperson.

    Amazing at the spin that the raises given to get employees to put in more hours is designated as the fault of the biased state labor system. If you’re on the BOE and you voted for the raises, then you are to “blame” for them. Mind you, if it’s a win-win contract, then it’s not “blame” you’d get but praise.

  10. Hobbes, raises were not given to ‘get employees to put in more hours’. The raises were across the board regardless of hours. The added hours were a restoration of cuts in hours made in the budget crisis a couple of years ago for certain positions, and which were going to be restored whether there was an hourly raise or not – a decision that has nothing to do with the state’s collective bargaining system.
    I certainly agree that Negotiations Chair Barbis and Superintendent Rivera have done a great job managing these contract negotiations, and I’m optimistic that similar good outcomes will be coming soon with the administrators and teachers.

  11. One and Done.

    Mike Lyons wrote…..”We have plenty of applicants for these positions”.
    In the real world that means you don’t have to pay as much. But in BOE land things like supply and demand don’t matter. They say its for our kids. We know who it is really for.
    I’m sorry, this whole bunch needs a 10% haircut across the board to get back to reality of things.
    No one else in the world gets a 10 week paid vacation and then gets a raise just for showing up to work after its over. Ridiculous.

  12. One, I suggest that you actually read the statutes governing collective bargaining. Your arguments have merit in theory, but in reality there is no arbitration panel in this state that is ever going to approve pay cuts for union employees (the best we’ve been able to do is wage freezes). Attacking the BoE for doing the best we can under that law (but not cutting wages) is like attacking us for flapping our hands and not flying — unfortunately, we’re subject to the law of gravity, too.

  13. Mike Mushak

    Great job, Mike and Mike, from Mike.

  14. Mike Lyons

    Thanks, Mike! 🙂

  15. One and Done.

    Mike thanks for your pointing out how we are restricted by state laws, which points out the need for change. You are doing a “lyonshare” of work here for us and it is appreciated. My nagging isn’t directed at you.

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