Norwalk BoE sends $2.9 million shopping list to BET

NORWALK, Conn. – A “terrific proposal” for spending $2.9 million of Norwalk Public Schools surplus money was passed Tuesday by the Norwalk Board of Education.

About $1.6 million of that would allow Norwalk to open a Special Education Pre-K center one year earlier than originally planned, and to hire an architectural firm to look into ways to improve the Briggs High School facility in accordance with the Briggs Turnaround Plan. Other plans include investments in the school system’s strategic plan and investments in technology as well as equipment replacement and preventative maintenance at the schools. That will now go to the Board of Estimate and Taxation for final approval.

Mayor Harry Rilling said he will recommend that it pass.

The remaining $1.3 million must go through both the BET and the Common Council as a special appropriation.

“I think this is a terrific proposal,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said. “First off, good job on generating the surplus with careful management of our spending. Second, good job coming up with proposals that are using, sort of, one-time savings for a one-time expenditures.”

Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons
Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons listens to Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera on Tuesday in City Hall.

Heidi Keyes, Jack Chiaramonte, Mike Barbis, Sherelle Harris, Artie Kassimis and Lyons voted for the plan. Shirley Mosby, Migdalia Rivas and Rosa Murray abstained, although Murray thanked Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera for the process of allowing board members to make suggestions for spending the money.

The proposal includes $771,000 to renovate what NPS Chief Business and Financial Officer Rich Rudl called the “old Roosevelt School” at 11 Allen Road into a Pre-K center.

“The CREC (Capital Region Education Council) report recommended that we consolidate Special Ed Pre-K into one site,” Rudl said. “That’s been a recommendation for a number of years. We looked at a number of locations. This is a city-owned building, but the building does need a number of renovations to make it feasible to have eight classrooms and to really open up to code.”

Rivera plans to ask for $500,000 to $800,000 to fund implementation of a special education program in the district as part of the $1.3 million special appropriation.

Sending children out of district cost $6 million a year a few years ago but it’s up to $8 million now, he said. Changing that has become a priority, he said. “We have a critical mass of children with autism,” he said.

Spending surplus money on that, instead of waiting to request funds, will allow administrators get a jump on planning, he said.

One suggestion that didn’t make it into the proposal was to fix lockers in the schools.

Rivera said there is already money allocated for lockers.

“There is nothing worse than to see broken lockers and locker rooms that need further attention,” Rivera said. “So that is also something that Rich and I had talked about months ago. You asked him to set aside funding so we can replace those damaged lockers but also assess the quality of them for our students on a daily basis.”

Keyes pressed to get more money allocated for high school music programs, reminding the board that members have said the theatrical productions are of Broadway caliber. It costs $400,000 to fund the Norwalk High School marching band and only $85,000 is raised through fundraising, he said. “The remainder is a hardship for families to produce money for shows and marching guard,” she said.

Rivera said budget committees are being formed to begin work in late September or early October, as he has 90 days to come up with a proposed operating budget for next year. The committees will include athletic and band directors, he said.

Migdalia Rivas said that teaching children social skills shouldn’t be restricted to those with special needs. She had been hoping to do something with the surplus, she said. “We definitely need behavior specialists in the school district,” she said.

Rivera said the curriculum committee would be looking “at the various needs at different grade levels.”

Another suggestion concerned school safety. Rivera said $2.5 million is already being spent this year on upgrading safety at the schools, including Intercom systems, closed circuit TV, locks and “much more security around windows,” which he later described as a protective film on the glass.

Rilling said he was “truly impressed” with the transparency of the board. It would have been tempting just to spend the money, he said. “We know eventually the things you’re asking for are going to be funded somehow,” he said, calling the proposal a home run.

“I’ll be the first to say Norwalk is about to go from a really, really, really good school system to a great, amazing school system, and it’s because of the people sitting at this table, sitting out there, and the people in the schools from the principals to the assistant principals, headmasters, down to the support system that make the school system so great,” Rilling said. “I’m going to recommend to BET to support this request and that we work together with special appropriation.”

Lyons said he was glad to see recommendations in the CREC report being pursued and glad to see an architectural firm lined up to look at Briggs. He said, “I just like the fact that the overall planning is to fit these expenditures into the strategic plan so we’re not just using it as a smorgasbord to spend on nice things, we’re focusing it on strategic matters.”


12 responses to “Norwalk BoE sends $2.9 million shopping list to BET”

  1. Norewalk Lifer

    I applaud the board in their efforts here, but I have one question, why are we renovating the Old Roosevelt School? why not sell the property, and lease a newer building for this Pre-K program? has anyone ran the numbers or done a trade off table?
    Why do we need to own these buildings for programs like this? to me, if we stop trying to save funding, because we see a surplus, that’s just not fitting with the proposals being put forth by those most concerned with their taxes, Let me state for the record, I am not one of those individuals who are bound and determined by “lower my taxes, by any means necessary”., but I wonder if the board has considered, how they can further reduce these expenditures? they may find the funds to realize the excellent recommendation of Ms. Rivas, the school systems, including the staff could definitely benefit from behavioural specialists.

    Norwalk Lifer

  2. One and Done

    In the next article on NON, BOE talks about 43 illegal alien children enrolling this year we didn’t count on. If each attends our school district an average of 6 years at current rates that’s almost $4 million. Seems like the money is already spent. Put the wish list back on the shelf

  3. Capital Improvements

    The BET cannot approve this request. Because of opposition to the mosque they have to reserve $4 million to pay for the lawyers.

  4. Harold F. Cobin

    If they take over Roosevelt School, what happens to the Senior Center?

  5. LWitherspoon

    Stop the (virtual) press, the Mayor took a position on something!

  6. Lifer – “I applaud the board in their efforts here, but I have one question, why are we renovating the Old Roosevelt School? why not sell the property, and lease a newer building for this Pre-K program? has anyone ran the numbers or done a trade off table?”
    We (the Board) doesn’t own the building – the City does. If they sold it the money would go into the City’s coffers, not ours, so that wouldn’t help us. Renovating existing space in a City-owned building is a good solution given the differing interests here.
    Mr. Cobin – “If they take over Roosevelt School, what happens to the Senior Center?”
    We won’t be taking over the whole building, only a portion of it (for 7 or 8 classrooms). The Senior Center will remain there as is (this is another reason that selling the building isn’t a practical option).

  7. Anne Sullivan

    The seniors might want to volunteer with the preschoolers.

  8. peter parker

    It’s so obvious that this mayor doesn’t have a clue about the issues. He said and “what not”. Tell us Harry what’s, what not?

  9. Taxpayer Fatigue

    It sounds like all of the money will be put to good use. I hope that there is a real plan developed to achieve the savings in bringing special ed back in house and that the savings are included in next year’s budget. I still would like to know what the contractual increases are going to be for the BOE for 2015/16 before the BET approves the special appropriation. It feels like there is a rush to spend this savings quickly before the 2015/16 budget process begins next month.

  10. Fatigue, we are still negotiating the NFEP, NFT and NASA contracts. Pending those contracts, we don’t know what the contractual increases will be (and the negotiations are governed by confidentiality agreements, so I can’t publicly discuss them until they are concluded). We have assumptions built into the 3-year-budget plan for those numbers. The good news is that the mandatory negotiation timelines mean that we’ll have these finalized long before next year’s budget is being put into place.
    Keep in mind, however, that good financial management doesn’t use one-time savings to pay on-going expenses like salaries (doing so just sets you up for a big hit the following year when the money runs out), but rather uses such savings for one-time or capital expenditures.

  11. Non partisan

    Another way to look at a budget surplus is not to view it as a windfall. Another viewpoint may be over burdening the tax levy income component.

    The budget is for a specific set of uses. If revenues from non tax levy sources is higher than anticipated, then the proceeds should go only towards reducing current or future tax levy.

    The 3 year budget ( thank you Mr. Lyons for pointing me in the right direction) contains 20MM In future capital expenditures that will need to be paid for in part by future tax levy.

    So – spend the “windfall” on these future projects and reduce the future tax levy.

  12. Tumble Bug Parent

    What about the Daycare that operates in the school now?
    A dozen or so teacher are going to lose their jobs and forty families will have to find a new daycare.

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