NORWALK, Conn. – The proposed Norwalk Public Schools budgets were approved Tuesday by the Board of Education after encouraging remarks from Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera and questions about the plight of Briggs High School and the status of Deputy Superintendent Tony Daddona’s position.
Both the operating and capital budgets were approved to be sent along in the process by a majority of Board members. While there were no dissenting votes, Shirley Mosby abstained.
After the meeting, Mosby declined to say why she had abstained. She was late for another obligation and didn’t have time, she said.
Rivera said the nearly $171 million operating budget would be 2.87 percent more than the current budget, but it’s likely the most economic budget in Fairfield County. He said he had been tracking his colleagues’ budgets, and seeing numbers that began with a 3 percent increase and went as high as a 3.7 percent increase.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if, at 2.87, we may the only district in Fairfield County that has come in at lower than a 3 percent increase. That has been because of the work of staff and others who have paid attention to how we can create an efficient budget,” Rivera said.
The capital budget request is for $4,424,788.
Rivera was not present at the previous Board meeting, where Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl presented the budget to the Board and the public. Murray said something had been left out of discussions.
“I didn’t hear it in Finance and I know I didn’t hear it at the Board meeting – did we take and eliminate the deputy superintendent position and we actually replaced it under operations and curriculum?” Murray asked.
Rivera said yes, but played it down.
When the Board voted to reorganize, months ago, “We created one chief operating officer position and also retained the chief academic officer position,” Rivera said. “… (We were) assuming we wouldn’t have both a chief operating officer position and a deputy superintendent position.”
It’s been broken out into two chiefs, he agreed.
“There are two senior positions – chief academic officer and deputy superintendent,” Rivera said. “So what we simply did, in looking forward, assumed, made some assumptions, that we would create the organization that I initially envisioned, which would have a chief of key areas across the organization. So you have chief operating officer, chief business officer, chief human resources officer, chief academic officer. That’s the kind of organization that I have been familiar with operating and that is how we are going to operate.”
There was no mention of where Daddona fit in the new structure.
Mosby honed in on Briggs, where she said the roof is leaking and there are other problems.
“That’s not part of the capital budget and that’s fine, I just want to find out if there are any plans in place that’s going to address some of those concerns, because Briggs has always been a stepchild,” she said.
She was just trying to get a solid indication of what is up, she said.
Rudl said the study that was mentioned months ago is underway, and it is hoped that the report will be delivered in the next two weeks. It would then have to go in the capital budget for 2016-17, he said.
Rivera said the intent is to have an architect look at the options, which might include a complete renovation or the construction of another facility. There needs to be a thoughtful appraisal of the study, which would begin with the Facilities Committee, he said.
“I think there’s a process step here. But please know that Briggs is on the agenda, has been, but we want to come at it in a thoughtful way with a really good assessment with what is going to be needed for that school,” Rivera said.
Mike Barbis said “the transportation logistics at Briggs are a nightmare.”
“It’s not safe because it’s a state road. You can’t get a crosswalk and those kids are dashing across that road to try to get those buses,” Barbis said. “Now if you talk to the principal there it’s just one issue after another. I think the design of the building, the way it is separated, is suboptimal, also. So my impression was, if you could leave it would really make more sense to move the school to a better location so you could get a better location. … It would be kind of a black hole to try and fix it, you’d be better off at another site. That’s what I have heard.”
Rivera said that there are transportation funds in place in the 2015-16 budget to offer an alternative to public transportation to Briggs students. There also are talks underway with Principal Marie Allen to try to resolve the transportation “nightmare,” he said.
But, as a sidenote, he said, “I have loved going over to that school and seeing these young people and just watching the improvements in the program, instructionally, and hearing the state people who have been monitoring it pretty closely saying incredibly positive things about how things have changed there. So I think as Briggs evolves as a program, I think eventually … you’ve got to have a decent facility where the heat works and you don’t have classrooms flooded with water, and you don’t have all of these physical plant problems that you have to continually wrestle with. If we can’t get those under control then we seriously need to consider a second option and go after it aggressively.”
Mosby said she remembered that years ago, “That school was a place to where children could go there and they had all kinds of things for them to do. … It can be great again.
“People there were extremely proud. I know a few Briggs graduates who are doing extremely well,” Mosby said.
Murray said there has been much talk about improving the school in the past but nothing ever seems to develop. She suggested studying the dollars that have been invested to see where they went.
Rivera then launched into a speech about the budget:
“This is not what I would describe as the superintendent’s budget or the superintendent’s initiatives,” he said. “These are initiatives over the last year and a half that people have, in this organization, have contributed to. Not only at the Board level as we discussed our strategic plan but as I came about and met with folks out in the community and with our school staff, recognizing what our strengths are, recognizing where we had needs. We eventually created a series of initiatives that we believe are central and have got continue. It is not about one individual, whether this superintendent is here or not here, but rather think about it in terms of that these are initiatives are the right thing to do.”
For the Power Point budget presentation, click here.