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Norwalk BoE approves Adamowski’s $14M ask

Norwalk Board of Education Finance Committee Chairwoman Barbara Meyer-Mitchell, Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Board of Education members on Tuesday approved a request for a 7 percent budget increase, offering many thoughts on why the expense is warranted.

“One of the things that I keep hearing, I think a lot of us keep hearing is that one of the main reasons people leave Norwalk is to go to other school districts. And to be to the extent that we can address that in a fiscally responsible way, I think this budget goes a long way to doing that,” Board member Colin Hosten said.

The vote on Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski’s recommendation for a $216.5 million budget, a $14.3 million increase over this year, was unanimous.

“I’m impressed with the targeted choice of the goals in the discretionary portion of the budget,” Finance Committee Chairwoman Barbara Meyer-Mitchell said. “They’ve been worked on by Committees that have represented many different layers of stakeholders, often for over a year with support from consultants that are the top of their field. So this sets a new standard of excellence for Norwalk.”

She went on to comment on the budget goals, one by one:

Goal One: Salaries and benefits relative to contractual obligations, a $5.6 million increase

“I think it’s important to remember that we have new contracts with all of our unions … it’s a commitment that we make to our employees as the second largest employer in the city. It is also a commitment that we make to our community because many of our educators are also people who live here and are our neighbors.”

Goal Two: Enrollment growth increase, a $3.3 million increase

“We obviously were hit with an unexpected increase and we don’t know if we can expect that next year, but we certainly need to be prepared for it so that we don’t cause trauma to the system by not being staffed up and ready.”

 

Goal Three: Expansion of ELL (English Language Learner) programs, a $1.9 million increase

“This is a legal mandate. This is not a ‘nice to have,’ this is a ‘need to have.’ And if this isn’t fully funded, we’ll have to look for that funding somewhere else in our budget which is not good for our overall ecosystem.”

Goal Four: Provide program support for additional students enrolled in choice, a $744,000 increase

“Goal number four is part of our strategic operating plan that was started way before I was elected to the Board. The theory of action behind this is that we are a district of choice. And each building has a theme or magnet programs… In order to provide this we needed to evaluate how our magnets were functioning previously, which was that they were providing a theme but without any funding to make it happen. So Dr. Adamowski and the previous Board started rolling out this $1,000 per pupil to support that extra work being done in these buildings. Sometimes that is also helping us drive racial balancing in traditional magnet programming, but it’s also giving us extra muscle in different buildings in different areas.”

Goal Five: New general student transportation contract, a $847,000 increase

“This was due to be renewed and it’s a very happy coincidence that we can roll in the Jefferson/ Ponus relocation costs as well as our Healthy Start cost to that number. We have done a lot of research to back up the scientific necessity of looking at our start times to better support our students.”

 

Goal Six: Counseling & Social Emotional Learning, a $400,000 increase

“This has been a key piece of looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy, that student needs to be housed, a student needs to be fed, a student needs to feel safe – and then they can learn. …That department has not had professional development or oversight for 20 years. So this is to bring us to best practice and free up their time to actually work with our students so that we are available to them.”

 

Goal Seven: Carver Center Partnership for Before and After School Programs, a $337,000 increase

“This is an important piece because our families rely on before- and after-care in order to be able to be at their jobs. We have already seen earlier in meeting the high level of free and reduced lunch in our schools, these are families that need support, so that they can raise enough money to live in Norwalk. We need to provide that and this is we have studied and decided that this is the most efficient and effective way to do so, with the allotted money.”

 

Goal Eight: American Sign Language (ASL), a $165,000 increase

“It’s kind of self explanatory.”

 

Goal Nine: Seventh grade summer school, a $245,000 increase

“We have been on a multi program of expanding our summer program so that we are not playing catch up during the year that we are preventing summer slide, we are helping the learners who need help the most get that outside of the regular school hours.”

NPS budget goals powerpoint 20200108_00071335

 

Hosten had queried Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton about the enrollment projections.

“The district does use the services of a recognized outside professional demographer, in developing these projections,” Hamilton said. “…It’s a pretty involved process that uses statistical analysis and statistical techniques to develop these projections and they are really highly accurate.”

“There’s actually a very sophisticated formula for any apartment building that’s built for example, that deals with they can predict based upon the number of bedrooms, the income that’s required for that building, so you know how many children that we will get from that building. That’s been very accurate so far,” Adamowski said.

“I think you’re finding more families now wanting to stay in Norwalk because of all the programs,” Board member Heidi Keyes said. “…, I think for many years, by the time kids got to middle school, right, they thought, ‘you know what, we’ve got to move.’  We’re not having that now.”

“I mean, the programs we have now are just incredible, which you’re not going to find in our neighboring districts,” Keyes said. “But we need funding to keep that going. So I think the momentum is here, we have a lot to offer. We’ve got really the best, best things offered for our students at this point from the elementary, middle, and especially a high school level. And I think that’s only getting enhanced.”

18 comments

Bobby Lamb January 24, 2020 at 7:46 am

I’m confused. I thought the BOE got $198 million last year so I just double checked. They did. So Isn’t this a request for $18m more not $14m? That’s almost 10%?!? What’s with the fuzzy math? They said last year was the last big increase they needed. I’m all for investing in education but this is crazy. They are out of control. Out of control.

Tom Belmont January 24, 2020 at 8:52 am

“There’s actually a very sophisticated formula for any apartment building that’s built for example, “I think you’re finding more families now wanting to stay in Norwalk because of all the programs,” Board member Heidi Keyes said. “I mean, the programs we have now are just incredible, which you’re not going to find in our neighboring districts,” Keyes said. “But we need funding to keep that going. We’ve got really the best, best things offered for our students.

Really? Is there any mention of the TAXPAYER??? Year after Year the City’s plans exclude the TAXPAYER. THE TAXPAYER SERVES THE CITY??? For what purpose?

John ONeill January 24, 2020 at 8:54 am

Some quotes from last year’s budget request:

1) Bruce Kimmel – ‘We understand our ask was a big ask. I think almost all of us were aware that that was what I call the last of our “catch-up budgets”.
2) Mike Lyons — “We’ve occasionally used the military term “surge” which is a short term, significant increase in resources that you’re pouring into something whether it’s a military campaign or a school system”.
3) Joe Giandurco — “Dr. Adamowski’s budget is a very large and aggressive one. Many items within this budget are extremely costly.

If these are accurate, then why is this year’s budget request even LARGER than Norwalk’s “surge” from last year. The so-called last of our “catch-up” budgets? — Either our schools are in crisis (which I think they are) or this year’s Board’s ask is out of line (which I think it is) — The answer is both and something needs to be done. It baffles me that our parents aren’t marching on Hartford to demand support from Hartford. This borders on the absurd.

John ONeill January 24, 2020 at 10:00 am

One more quote from last budget season
John Kydes, Common Council:

Undoubtedly, (Norwalk has had) the largest Board of Education increase in the state for the third year in a row. which I am proud to be a part of,” Kydes said. He went on to issue what he called a “personal” message to the Board: “This may not be an option next year so please spend the money that you are getting this year wisely.”

Just some food for thought — Most people in Norwalk have no idea how our tax money is spent. We’re too busy working, raising our children. Based on all these quotes from last budget season, how is it possible the Board of Ed wants another 7%? The Common Council should have them resubmit a serious budget and not waste their time. OR, have the Board of Ed tell us what’s really going on in our schools.

Norwalk Lost January 24, 2020 at 3:40 pm

Goal 10 : Raise taxes high enough to fund the BOE that residents are exiting in mass due to out of control spending all of which the taxpayer is absorbing with minimal state relief – Bridgeport here we come!!!!!!!!!!!!

Patrick Cooper January 24, 2020 at 3:42 pm

Unsustainable. Every home owner is damaged.

Colin H. – your either grossly misinformed, or deliberately creating a false narrative. Which is it? People are leaving because the policies of Harry Rilling are destroying property values – typically every families largest investment / asset. Get real.

Kydes – of course. Just look back – this is the “Harry” playbook. Crush the taxpayers on “off” election years, and then make a huge fuss about holding the line during the silly seasons. I bet we may even get the “real” grand list valuation numbers (myriad unsettled – NoN disclosed lawsuits) – of course, after an election. Real numbers are terrible for business.

I am thoroughly disgusted with our elected leaders – who seem utterly indifferent to the long time Norwalk taxpayers. We simply don’t matter.

I know I’m moving. I can’t wait to sit in traffic outbound from CT – behind all the other moving vans.

Unsustainable. No one is going to rescue CT – a failed state. It’s criminal – and it’s heartbreakingly sad.

John Miller January 24, 2020 at 4:10 pm

My wife and I have lived in the same in town (District A) neighborhood for 43 years. We also happen to be native Norwalkers. Over the years, numerous families with young pre-school children have moved into the neighborhood to take advantage of Norwalk’s lower real estate prices. When the children of those families have reached primary school age (not middle school Ms. Keyes) they have all, without exception, moved to the towns that surround Norwalk to take advantage of the good school systems in those towns or, the ones who can afford to do so, send their kids to private schools.

It’s a well established fact that the population of Norwalk is increasing. However, moving here Is one thing but staying here and paying Norwalk property taxes when you don’t plan on spending your kids to the Norwalk Public Schools is another thing entirely. Does the BOE really think that we are that stupid.

The actual reality is that, based on the student population numbers quoted by the Superintendent, those that choose to stay probably do not pay property taxes which will ultimately leave those of us who do pay property taxes holding the bag and will eventually force us to move out of Norwalk.

This is totally out of control and unacceptable. The Council needs to send the BOE spending proposal back to the drawing board. Unfortunately, I fear that our current Council is just going to rubber stamp it as is.

Banks January 24, 2020 at 5:45 pm

Was there a 5-year plan in 2016, is this budget request close to that plan because it will be helpful to know where this is headed in the next 5 years. Enrollment slide shows 8% increase in students since 2012, with largest 3% increase expected this year. 3% more students costs 7% or 10% more.

People say Norwalk struggles to have prosperous companies because Norwalk doesn’t attract younger tech-oriented talent, so there’s rush to build apartments. At what point will the extra school spending help.

“According to state test scores, 38% of students are at least proficient in math and 50% in reading.” Meaning 62% of students are not proficient in math and 50% of students are not proficient in reading?

Quick ask for money, slow with results

https://patch.com/connecticut/westport/connecticuts-best-school-districts-2020-new-rankings-released

Bryan Meek January 24, 2020 at 10:18 pm

@PC. We’re doomed.
@JM. Lather, rinse, repeat.
@Banks. The BOE hatched a 3 year plan in 2016 that for the most part was achieved including measurable test performance. What we are seeing right now is massive pressure due to growth outside the control of the BOE. Simply stated, our state government decided to embrace sanctuary policies without budgeting for it. The result of that is being borne upon Danbury, Stamford, and Norwalk without state aid, which is never coming thanks to their fiscal insanity. This is only going to get worse, I hate to say it.

John January 25, 2020 at 6:20 am

Few things here:

1. You can save 800k by not doing later start times.

2. Does anyone realize that if a kid fails a class they don’t have to go to summer school anymore? It is only if they get 25% or lower on their nwea reading test. How about making kids pay for summer school again? Or retain kids who fail!!

3. Let’s just slow down and fix the problems before making new ones.

John ONeill January 25, 2020 at 10:00 am

@Patrick Cooper – To reinforce your point. The President of Norwalk Teachers union and her husband (Harry Rilling’s campaign mgr) packed up and moved from Norwalk to Easton. If Norwalk is the beautiful mosaic the Board claims, why on Earth would they leave town?

Banks January 25, 2020 at 10:03 am

The sanctuary scenario is tough which I understand stems beyond Norwalks control.

Randomly looking at Bethel, 35th on the list where: 54% of students are at least proficient in math and 68% in reading.

Does Norwalk have the ability to improve to those levels or is the reality urban areas can’t reach much higher. Stamford’s scores are not much better.

Another Opinion January 25, 2020 at 11:31 am

With heightened anxieties taxpayers are facing by a grand-list that cannot keep up with school budgets, the city can expect more residents to vote with their feet all of which will be detrimental to future year school budgets in the end. The sad fact is that despite the good intentions, the BOE is out of sync with the economic means of the city’s tax base. We all understand that ECS funding share is inequitable but this should not be the excuse but more the reason to enact policies of economic prudence. Despite reassurance that last year’s “big ask” would be the last, the Board fails to see the macroeconomic environment they are operating in by practicing a scorched earth policy looking to devour every last city resource (i.e, reserves). Norwalk can do better.

Jordan Grant January 25, 2020 at 12:40 pm

Somebody has to flat out ask the question. How many of the hundreds of families moving to Norwalk are legal US citizens?.Its flat out stated in the BOE disclosures that these families are flocking here for all the free programs . This free stuff is all paid for by Norwalks tax payers. How is this a good plan with the bulk of new students families standing there with their hands out from the minute thay get to town?. Is anybody home at city hall?. Vote these morons out next election is all I can say but sadly its the new Norwalkers that will be voting them back in to keep all that free stuff coming . No taxation without representation is the oldest saying in the book!

MarjorieM January 27, 2020 at 12:13 am

Maybe now everyone will believe the people who posted that Adamowski will bankrupt Norwalk. So many people argued with me when Adamowski was hired. Is all the money that has been thrown at the BoE worth it? The State test scores certainly don’t show it, not proportionally to the $$$$$$$$$$$ spent.

John ONeill January 27, 2020 at 10:04 am

@MarjorieM — I hate to break it to you but test result comparisons are basically worthless due to significant change to our student demographics. Do you think a 12 year old child who has never been formally educated before will be able to take a standardized test? That’s Norwalk’s reality right now. I give our top teachers credit for hanging in there during this difficult period. HOWEVER, the union that represents these same teachers gets a freaking ZERO. There is a crisis going on in our schools. Individually, teachers can not comment publicly for fear of losing their jobs. (Some are speaking with their feet .i.e. quitting)BUT, their union leaders should be speaking up. All I hear from union leadership is the sound of crickets. Someone owes it to taxpayers to let us know what the heck is going on, and what’s being done to garner State support to alleviate the problem. IF I’m wrong, someone please let me know.

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