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Norwalk BoE approves plan to restore ‘decimated’ central office, beef up Special Ed

Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera explains his planned central office reorganization at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.
Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera explains his planned central office reorganization at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Updated, 3:17 p.m., PowerPoint added.

NORWALK, Conn. – The rebuilding continued at Norwalk Public Schools with a vote Tuesday evening to  approve Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera’s central office reorganization plan, with a strong emphasis on Special Education.

The vote came despite the protests of three Board of Education members who said they wanted more information and more transparency.

“This is continuing the process of rebuilding a damaged system and I think making it better than it was even before,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said. “I also appreciate the fact that a lot of these central officer positions are oriented in another direction. These are not simply paper pushers in headquarters. These people will go out into the school system.”

The vote to approve the extensive plan was 5 to 3, with Lyons, Heidi Keyes, Jack Chiaramonte, Artie Kassimis and Mike Barbis voting in favor and Shirley Mosby, Rosa Murray and Migdalia Rivas voting against the plan. Sherelle Harris was not present.

“I do have concerns that we have taken quite a bit from the schools and just haven’t a balance in place,” Murray said. “Here we are looking at some positions that I think could be more creative. I think we are going from one extreme to another.”

The plan comes as part of the continuing response to the 2012-13 budget cycle which resulted in many cuts. The school’s central office was “decimated,” Lyons said.

(Continue reading after the chart)

 

A new flow chart for Norwalk Public Schools.
A new flow chart for Norwalk Public Schools is shown in Superintendent Manny Rivera’s PowerPoint presentation. The presentation is attached below.

Rivera’s plan includes turning three full-time administrators of special education into four Special Education instructional supervisors — a net gain of one position — and turning a Human Relations executive secretary and an HR assistant into three full-time HR specialists. The net gain overall is 2.8 positions.

Rivera said the board had previously approved money for HR. That money and the cost of former Chief Operating Officer Elio Longo’s salary added up to $980,000, he said. The plan spends all but $574 of that, he said.

One position is in support of a grant that hasn’t been announced yet – the Dalio Foundation has awarded NPS $1.1 million, according to a memo Rivera sent the board. That will be spent over two years, Rivera said Tuesday. It is directly targeted to improve reading scores by the end of third grade, he said. The position is funded by the grant.

One goal of the plan is to reduce out-of-district special education costs. Rivera said he had talked to principals from Meriden and Bridgeport last week; Meriden has reduced the number of special education students being bused to other districts from 150 to 68, “saving millions,” he said.

“We want to look into creating our own programs that can serve some of our own children without sending them on buses,” Rivera said. “We have a plan to get that under control. We think it can reap substantial savings over the next few years. There may well be some start-up costs in the next budget associated with some of these programs, but, in the long term, it will save money.”

That would be achievable with hearing-impaired children and with those diagnosed with autism, he said.

“We are under contract with an outside agency,” Rivera said, referring to autism. “That outside agency actually hires behavioral specialists — I think they’re called AB — they hire behavioral specialists. We pay a fortune to them to hire AB specialists. We could be operating our own classes for children.”

Mosby said information provided to the board should have included salaries for the new employees, as well as the raises Communications Director Brenda Williams and Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl will receive when their positions are expanded, as defined under the plan.

She made a motion to table the item for two weeks. Rivas seconded it. They were the only ones to vote for it.

This drama repeated itself several times over the course of the meeting. Mosby and Rivas advocated for a cause, receiving no debate other than brief comments from Lyons. They then made a motion based on their cause only to have it go down in flames. Murray voted with them once and abstained on other occasions.

Mosby also objected to the process of approving the plan. Rivera’s plan was listed in the agenda under information and reports, not under actions.

“(I think it’s wrong to) put it under information and reports and then push quickly to possible action without even involving the public, without giving them the opportunity to hear what is going on, to digest what is going on,” Mosby said. “It’s pushed through without salaries and all of that stuff. … I would understand if this was something were all inclusive and we had discussion and we were on top of this, but this is just coming down at the 11th hour.”

Rivas agreed.

Lyons answered those complaints. “I can think of a dozen examples where we have had discussion under possible actions without objections of board members,” he said.

He cited one example from earlier in the meeting, the approval of a five-year contract with Whitson’s Culinary Group.

“We have been talking about this reorganization since the time we had the board retreat and talked about it,” Lyons said. “It’s been in the strategic plan, it’s been presented on multiple occasions by Dr. Rivera … and it’s in our budget. All of these changes are in the budget that the board approved. All we are doing is going through a very systematic, very logical process. Then you get down to the nitty-gritty of contract approvals. I think the way Dr. Rivera has been doing this has been consistent with all the other changes we have made.”

Rivera explained that the plan will enhance school operations.
“We have been operating fairly thinly and we really have not, and I will tell you very frankly, we have not spent the kind of time in the schools that we should be,” Rivera said. “We have not spent the time really out in the field providing support and guidance, the higher level of oversight that we ought to have in our schools. We do not have standards in place, quality standards for our schools.”

The plan includes a third-floor receptionist who will greet families as they come off the elevator and prevent them from wandering around confused as they do now, Rivera said. The new chief academic officer will enforce curriculum quality standards as Common Core State Standards are instituted and allow Rivera and Deputy Superintendent Tony Daddona to focus on leadership. HR has been “way understaffed,” Rivera said.

Kassimis lauded the plan. “I especially like what I see with the Special Education Department,” he said. “I know none of us are going to forget the CREC (Capital Region Education Council) report.”

Barbis said the changes are needed.

“Some of our teachers have not gotten the support they needed from human resources, especially teachers on maternity leave who were berated and kind of abused in HR,” Barbis said. “These are teachers that work for us, there is a lot going on in their lives. … We should be supportive. Not returning phone calls, not giving information on insurance – it’s not acceptable.”

Chiaramonte referred to “horrendous budget seasons” that “caused us to chop up our staff and jerrymander” positions. “Things got lost,” he said, calling the plan “well thought out.”

“I very much appreciate what you have done,” Chiaramonte said. “You’ve gone to other districts you’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. As long as the money is well spent and you find ways of spending money that is more efficient, that’s exactly what this district needs.”

BoE proposed reorg 061714009

NPS-CO Reorganization 6-17 v1

Comments

11 responses to “Norwalk BoE approves plan to restore ‘decimated’ central office, beef up Special Ed”

  1. Aunt Bea

    Fantastic, Manny has got it going on. Everyone knows the sad situation with sped and the enormous costs that could be much better spent on students in district rather than bossting margins for profit llc’s. Perhaps in the not to distant future we can even take out of district sped students and give them a better learning environment. Long, long overdue. Hat tip to ya, Dr. Rivera. To Rosa, Shirley and Migdalia, this is good move, give the man a little elbo room, he is taking us in the direction we have worked so hard and so long to steer. We hired him to do just what he is doing, give a kid a chance. A little credit where due, no?

  2. Lifelong Teacher

    Let’s hope, Aunt Bea, let’s hope. He has a plan, he sees what the desperate needs are, and knows where NPS needs to go.

    My worry is that it will result in shuffling people around, putting a new name on it, and nothing changing. Don’t estimate the forces of inertia, For so long, this system has operated based on adult needs and not those of children.

  3. C.G.

    This is way off topic but does anyone know what happened to the education channel 78? Are meetings just not taped anymore?

  4. anon

    Fantastic leadership in this Superintendent, the likes of which Norwalk has never seen. He has a plan.

    Board of Education members Murray and Rivas, of districts A/B, and Mosby, representing students with the most to gain, voted against the plan–mind-boggling.

  5. Oyster

    As long as he sticks around to see it through, we should give him the benefit of the doubt.

  6. MarjorieM

    Research tells us that the most important leaders with the greatest influence on achievement are in the schools, the principals. Will these new (and some shuffled people) really hold principals accountable? Will the new (and rumored to be shuffled person) rid Norwalk of the lame principals, the troublemakers? Time will tell. I am betting little will actually change. It’s easy to create a master plan. It is another matter all together to fire people for lack of performance.

  7. Bruce Kimmel

    As chair of the Common Council’s finance committee, I can state for the record that most of these changes were discussed not only with BOE members, but also with members of the Common Council and Board of Estimate. We wholeheartedly backed the superintendent’s endeavor to reorganize central office, especially special education. If spent wisely, these changes will save the city lots of money in the years ahead.

  8. @ C.G.
    The Channel 78 situation was brought up last night by Shirley Mosby. Ralph Valenzisi promised to get the BoE meetings onto Channel 78 regularly.

  9. Don’t Panic

    Score one for transparency!

  10. Our IT and Communications people will be creating a schedule of when videos will be posted on Cablevision Channel 78, and as soon as they are posted on Channel 78, we will also be posting them to youtube within 24 hrs. We will also be creating a link of archived meetings on our website, and are looking at creating a streaming site to cover meetings live, but this will most likely not be in place until the fall.

  11. Jojo

    Great to see the board finally reaching out to parents and the community by putting the meetings online. It’s fairly simple task and there with little to no costs to upload media and to stream meetings in real time, on any or all these sites; youtube, ustream, livestream, twitcast and bambuser. JustinTV and Vaughnlive are geared more to youths. It is a good thing to see the board finally getting their act together and awakening to the importance to involve parents and the entire community. For far too long the meetings were held in a tiny suffocating room with but a dozen chairs, often with standing room only out into the hallway that discouraged even those that had the time to attend and no recording anywhere to access the community’s business. Ch 78 has been intermittent but that only reaches cable subscribers of optimum. Uploading and streaming finally provides access for parents and community to participate and stay involved. Great to see some good work finally happening on that 3rd floor.

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