Norwalk BoE eyes potential $2.9M school system spruce up

Norwalk Public Schools Chief Business and Financial Officer Rich Rudl
Norwalk Public Schools Chief Business and Financial Officer Rich Rudl speaks to Norwalk Board of Education members Wednesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s a wonderful problem to have: the Norwalk Board of Education has to figure out what to do with a $2.9 million windfall.

Preferred options for the budget surplus include filling a staffing hole in the new Norwalk Early College Academy (NECA), figuring what to do with the Briggs High School facility and opening a Special Education pre-K center one year earlier than hoped. Plus, those pock-marked school parking lots and sidewalks might actually get fixed.

The reasons behind the $2.9 million surplus in the 2013-14 Norwalk Public Schools operating budget were laid out by Chief Business and Financial Officer Rich Rudl at Wednesday’s BoE Finance Committee meeting, including

• $1.7 million savings derived from vacant positions and an unexpected grant that funded four teachers

• $620,000 less than expected was spent due to retirements

• A purchase order freeze netted $500,000 in savings

• $115,000 saved by utilizing maintenance staff more effectively and by issuing more bids for facility-related items

Norwalk BoE FY13-14 results 001

Rudl said the vacant positions were partially due to Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera’s desire to do due diligence and meet with almost every candidate for a major position. A number of teachers retired, and the process took time, he said.

State statutes allow the board to carry over 1 percent of its total budget as a surplus to the next year, provided that Norwalk approves, Rudl said. This would allow the board to carry over $1,643,187 into the current fiscal year, he said. The rest of the money would have to go through the Board of Estimate and Taxation as a special appropriation for the Board of Ed, he said.

Ideas for what the money might be spent on have been crafted with Rivera’s strategic plan as a guide, Rudl said, stressing that sound fiscal policy requires that it must be for one-time expenses.

First on the list are two fulltime math teachers and two fulltime English Language teachers for NECA, a cost of $313,000. Director of Technology and Innovations Ralph Valenzisi said that the one financial miscalculation that has gone into the establishment of the innovative first-in-the-state P-Tech (Pathways in Technology) academy is a shortfall of teachers. But he also said that, if the academy hadn’t been established, there would be more teachers needed due to the “sheer number of students that we have.” English and math classes at Brien McMahon would be completely packed if there was no academy, requiring two or three teachers, Valenzisi said.

Next year, those P-Tech teachers are part of the operating budget.

Hoped-for capital renovations begin with the Special Ed Pre-K center, which was recommended in the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) report presented to the board last year. If the board uses surplus money for the center instead of going through the capital budget process with a request, the center could open in 2015 instead of 2016, Rudl said.

Rudl said a lot of planning needs to go into the center as the specific needs of the program need to be hashed out. “It’s not a very easy program to develop and implement so it takes a lot of time and detail,” including a cost benefit analysis, he said.

Another capital renovation would be a physical change to the Human Resources Department to make it compliant with state law, Rudl said. This was recommended in the Blum Shapiro study of the HR department, as there are many privacy concerns in HR and the office needs to be redesigned, Rudl said.

Some of the surplus money would go to complete the renovations and facility improvements at Norwalk High School to make it ready for NECA, Rudl said.

And, last in the capital renovation category, an architectural firm would figure out options for Briggs High School in accordance with the Briggs Turnaround Plan, Rudl said. Briggs Principal Marie Allen has already been helping to research options as potential alternative sites for the school have been studied, Rudl said. Many ideas have not worked out so Rivera would like an architect to study the existing school and suggest options, Rudl said.

The total hoped for expenditure for capital renovations is $1,075,000.

Rivera would like to spend another $75,000 investing in his strategic plan, Rudl said. Another $130,000 would go to technology and systems investment, a more automated HR system that would allow administrators to keep track of open positions in real time, rather than the laborious paper system currently at use. Last on the list of the $1.6 million the board is allowed to carry over would be $50,000 to accelerate the plan to replace equipment and a preventative maintenance program.

The board can request up to $1.3 million in a special appropriation. Rudl said Rivera wants $500,000 for paving and concrete repairs at the schools. Rudl said the board has been allotted $100,000 over the past two years of capital budgets to repair the parking lots and sidewalks at Norwalk’s 19 schools and there is much work to do.

Finance Committee Chairwoman Rosa Murray protested, referring to the cuts that were made two years ago as a result of a $4 million shortfall.

“There must be something that we have taken from these schools that could be part of this,” she said. “… The items that we are touching here with this, it just doesn’t speak to education that we have in place and what is going on in these buildings which we have shortchanged. Good reason we had to, but here is an opportunity and I don’t see us utilizing it.”

Rudl said the cuts had been mostly to personnel and those aren’t the kinds of things you should use a one-time surplus for.

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion suggested spending money on band uniforms, which wouldn’t be a recurring expense. But Rudl said that would set up an expectation that the board would support the bands financially. He stressed that the plan he laid out was in accordance with Rivera’s strategic plan.

BoE member Shirley Mosby suggested that money be spent on lockers. Rudl and Murray said emails would be sent to all board members looking for feedback in advance of the Sept. 2 board meeting, where a plan would be approved. It will then go to the Board of Estimate and Taxation on Sept. 8, they said.


17 responses to “Norwalk BoE eyes potential $2.9M school system spruce up”

  1. anon

    Good planning and thought coming from Rudl and Rivera.

  2. Anne Sullivan

    How about Smart boards for the many classrooms that don’t have them? The new literacy program and math programs expect teachers to use online, interactive resources with students. We can’t do that with a projector and a white board, or even in some cases just a pull down screen. Just a thought.

  3. John Hamlin

    What a wonderful problem to have. And it sounds like they are going to handle it sensibly. The BOE is to be commended for fiscal prudence. Kudos!

  4. Non partisan

    Does the board have a 5 year forward rolling capital plan? Is there a yearly building condition assessment survey indicating the expected life span of each building system in each building?

    Base upon this survey and plan take the next building system that has reached or passed its life expectancy and replace/repair it.

    This minimizes the impact of uture capital expenditures on taxpayers.

    Of you don’t have a BCASowns a 5 year forward rolling plan spend 50k to develop one.

  5. Non-partisan – Yes, we have a 5 year rolling capital plan. You can see a summary (in the overall City context) here: http://www.norwalkct.org/DocumentCenter/View/6031; you can find the detailed backup documentation here: http://www.norwalkps.org/district/finance/2013-2014_operating_and_capital_budget_document.
    We will be issuing an RFP shortly for a $100,000 facilities utilization study to take a closer look at the status and use of all our buildings, and have beefed up our Facilities group to provide better management thereof.

  6. Taxpayer Fatigue

    How about applying it towards the increase in the operating budget that will undoubtedly be asked for by the BOE in the 2015/16 budget?

  7. Non partisan, yes, we have a 5 year forward rolling capital plan. You can find a summary thereof (in the overall City context) here: http://www.norwalkct.org/DocumentCenter/View/6031; you can view the detailed backup documentation here: http://www.norwalkps.org/district/finance/2013-2014_operating_and_capital_budget_document.
    We will shortly be issuing an RFP for a facilities status / utilization study to get a better sense of building conditions and uses, and have beefed up our Facilities group to improve management.

  8. peter parker

    I agree with Taxpayer Fatigue… Why not?

  9. Joe

    Band uniforms? How about returning $580. to 5,000 residential property taxpayers?

  10. Bruce Kimmel

    Very good news, indeed. I am especially pleased that the BOE is serious (finally) about cutting our out-of-district special education costs. The new pre-K unit could very well be the first step in a comprehensive plan that will not only save taxpayers millions, but will provide children here (and possibly in other towns) with an educational option they do not currently have.
    Regarding two small points: That early spending freeze, which I’ve recently learned is now standard procedure, is sound policy; it should make it easier to plan and tie up loose ends. Also, most of this money has got to be used for one-shot expenses, as was mentioned above. If not, proposals for its use probably won’t get through other city agencies. (This, of course, excludes any expenses related to spikes in enrollment.)

  11. Thanks, Bruce. I agree that this funding should not be used for attempts to add personnel, which would build costs into the base budget that would then be unfunded after one year. Manny and Rich’s plan (which ties directly to the Board-approved Strategic Plan), and uses one-shot funding for one-shot projects tied to that Plan, makes the most sense.

    I also agree that the focus on special education is vitally important. We have found ourselves in a catch-22 regarding out-of-district placements. These are very expensive, but can’t be avoided if we don’t have the facilities and programs in place in-house to provide the needed services. But establishing those facilities and programs needs a big chunk of money we haven’t had. This surplus gives us the funds to make that transition.

  12. Pibermanfmc

    Curious how now that we have a first rate management team in our NPSS producing a modest surplus there’s no shortage of suggestions on how those funds should be used. How about giving the BOE and Supt. Rivera’s team – the folks that managed a virtually unheard of savings in the NPSS budget – the encouragement to allocate those funds as they see best. No one would ever imagine such a “problem” would arise in the City’s financial management under the lethargic oversight by the Council’s Finance Committee. The progress made by the BOE under the leadership of Mike Lyons demonstrates what competent, professionally experienced citizens can accomplish in distinguished public service fir our community. Hopefully Party leaders will notice and seek out equally competent candidates for public office. Ones that we admire.

  13. LWitherspoon

    @Nancy and Mike Lyons
    Does the Board intend to carry part of the funds into next year, or is that simply one option among many?
    If spending were left unchanged, could part or all of the surplus be used to create a rebate for Norwalk taxpayers?
    @Mike Lyons
    Congratulations to you and the others who have worked to achieve the surplus. If the funds must be spent, pleased to hear you thinking about spending that will save money for taxpayers in years ahead. When you describe new spending it would be nice to hear an estimate of how much will be saved down the road.

  14. The Board intends to use the funds (if the Board of Estimate approves [as to the first $1.64 million] and the BET and Council approve [as to the remaining $1.3 million]) in the current fiscal year, not carry forward into 2015-2016.
    I don’t THINK that the City has the authority to send out tax rebate checks (but I haven’t researched this). I vaguely recall Frank Esposito trying to do that in an election year once. In any event, most likely if the money was not used in the school system it would be put into the City’s general account and used for something else, not returned to taxpayers (given past history).
    And thanks. The big potential saver is special education. Part of what Rich Rudl wants to do is just what you suggest — “Rudl said a lot of planning needs to go into the center as the specific needs of the program need to be hashed out. ‘It’s not a very easy program to develop and implement so it takes a lot of time and detail,’ including a cost benefit analysis, he said.” So before we spend the bulk of the money, we need to spend some of it to quality the benefits. We do know that Norwalk pays $6.2 million in out of district tuition costs per year while Danbury – with a comparable number of students – pays $2.88 million (see https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/05/norwalk-scrutinizes-reasons-for-lower-danbury-education-expenses). There HAVE to be opportunities for major savings there. As we say in private industry, ‘sometimes you have to spend money to make money,’ and I think that applies here, too.

  15. Pibermanfmc

    In responding to citizen questions BOE Chair Mike Lyons is setting a new standard of “public service” in Norwalk. Anyone have ideas how to get Council President Doug Hempstead to follow suit ? Or Mayor Rilling ?

    1. Mark Chapman


      I would like to go on record as joining you in applauding Mike Lyons for this. I have not seen anything quite like it in Norwalk or anywhere else, and it is invaluable to a community that needs to understand what it’s BOE is doing and why, both when it comes to educating the kids and spending the largest segment of the budget.

      Let’s also applaud Bruce Kimmel for his frequent contributions as well.

      I would encourage Councilmen Hempstead, Jerry Petrini and Travis Simms — the Council leadership — and Mayor Rilling to join the conversation as well as a public service. And while Mr. Lyons does not seem to have problem with this, I would even agree to put the section on full moderation to keep the name-callers, flame-throwers and trolls at bay in exchange for having such input and dialog with the city’s leaders.

  16. anon

    @Chapman, great thought, a monitored platform for information.

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments