NORWALK, Conn. — Alexandra Estrella has been given a one-year extension on her contract as Norwalk Superintendent of Schools, and a substantial raise.
One Board member voted against the changes – former Board Chairman Mike Barbis, who protested that the full Board had been left out of the discussion and alleged that the extension was not being done in the professional manner it should be for an enterprise as large as Norwalk Public Schools.
Board of Education Chairman Colin Hosten apologized for getting Estrella’s contract into the agenda late, but replied that he had consulted Attorney Tom Mooney and been told the process was done as it’s been done previously and was not unprofessional.
Estrella was hired for the 2020-21 school year with a $275,000 base salary with a $15,000 annuity. The contract approved Tuesday extends her employee through the 2023-24 school year and gives her a base salary of $284,625 for the coming school year, with a $17,400 annuity. That’s a jump from $290,000 to $302,025, a 4% increase.
Former Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski made $284,126 in 2019.
Barbis said he’d gotten the contract just one hour and 22 minutes before the meeting, and he needed to drive to City Hall from Rowayton to attend.
Some Board members attended by Zoom.
Barbis said he’d asked Hosten several times for a full Board discussion on the contract, which was negotiated by the Executive Committee.
“We have not reviewed (Estrella), we’ve given no feedback to the superintendent at all about her performance in the last year,” Barbis said. “And I don’t see in any professional capacity where you renew somebody’s contract and extend it without a review. And all nine board members should have had an input in this. We did not. And presenting your contract to us a little over an hour before (the meeting) and then expecting us to vote is completely unacceptable.”
“Certainly it was my intention to have more Board discussion before this, tonight’s vote,” Hosten said, attributing the lateness to “a variety of reasons.” He’d “repeatedly” asked Mooney, who has been the Board’s attorney for years, if the contract changes were being down correctly and “he confirmed each and every time that the executive committee has done this in the past. There’s this other districts and is not doing anything unprofessional.”
Former Board Chairwoman Sarah LeMieux called Mooney “the most experienced person that you could have asked the question that you asked,” and said, “I also am personally aware from experience that the Executive Committee is discharging its duties by engaging in this process.”
Barbis said he’s been on the Board for a decade and with former Superintendents Manny Rivera and Steven Adamowski “we went through a list, we set goals and targets… it was in executive session, it was not the executive team.”
“I feel like that’s a conflation of a couple of different processes that the Board has engaged in, the review, certainly of the strategic operating plan and those goals and how they’ve been achieved,” LeMieux replied. “But the contract negotiations are a different story. And this is a one-year extension. This isn’t the initial negotiation either.”
Next year, a strategic operating plan will be in place as the foundation for a review, Hosten said.
As for the raise, LeMieux said, “If we did not vote on this contract, that it would default to inflation, which is a higher amount.”
Hosten agreed that Estrella would get more money if the Board didn’t vote on a contract.
Estrella’s initial contract states that her base salary will be negotiated annually, before the beginning of the new school year, and if no agreement is reached she will receive a cost of living adjustment equal to the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index for the year.
“I think it’s a well-deserved adjustment,” Board member Erica DePalma said, thanking Estrella for her work “in this crazy moment in time.”
“It was important for us to acknowledge the first year that Dr. Estrella has had as superintendent. Getting us through an unprecedented learning environment probably would have been enough but she did it without really losing a beat on her first year priorities,” Hosten said.
Board Secretary Godfrey Azima and Vice Chairwoman Diana Carpio also lauded Estrella.
“She could very easily just gotten up and said, ‘This is lot more than I signed up to do.’ She did not waver once,” Carpio said. “…This could have gone very badly. And it didn’t. This year was unbelievable, and that’s due to her leadership.”
She also agreed that the Executive Committee had asked Mooney repeatedly about the process, “to make sure that we were following protocol.”
The Committee added a year to the contract “for her to be able to do what she was meant to do. Because the pandemic and wellness issues put, you know, roadblocks in. The other things that she was not able to do for the children is very important to us,” she said. The full Board will decide on goals together at the retreat next month and just because the contract is approved for another three years doesn’t mean it will continue, as “anything can happen.”
Updated 2:30 p.m.: More information.