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Norwalk BoE thanks Estrella, extends her contract, boosts pay to $302K

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella delivers an end of the year message Wednesday on YouTube. “We’ve made it, despite many of the challenges that this year put forward,” she said.

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.

Estrella contract 4-21-2020

Norwalk Superintendent Contract Alexandra Estrella 2021-22

25 comments

Jennifer Stevens June 17, 2021 at 6:38 am

Bahhhhaaaa Barbis calling the BOE decision to give Estrella a raise and contract extension out for being unprofessional? What a joke, from the unprofessional repeat offender of proper protocol himself – not to mention his history of what some would call his racist emails – its the ultimate double standard from a person whose abhorrent self-entitlement drives his unprofessional acts (likely driven by his personal Real Estate gains) above the needs of our students? Someone tell us why this person is permitted to insert himself into our kids well being? This whitewasher… He’s got to go, Perhaps Barbis’ bias does not allow him to celebrate the success of others, especially when his “decade on the board” includes his history of wanting to keep out blacks and hispanics and the NAACP.

The Highest Paid Superintendent? June 17, 2021 at 6:45 am

I don’t always agree with Mike Barbis, but he is right. Something as important at the extension of a superintendent’s contract requires more than the thinking and approval of a committee of the board of education. At best, Mr. Hosten’s response was pathetically weak, and the board needs to reconsider his chairmanship in the fall. The board needs a knowledgeable leader, not someone who asks the board attorney how to do his job. Mr. Mooney is hired to give contract and other legal advice, not to determine how the board should conduct its business.

Not sending the contract to board members in advance of the meeting is deeply troubling. Email is easy and fast. But the greater issue is that the board didn’t have to extend the superintendent’s contract at all. She was at the end of her first year of a 3-year contract, and they could have gone for at least another full year before deciding to extend it.

The question of the day: How does this very highly paid superintendent need a personal coach? Also, why does her contract not specify the cost of such a coach? Whatever the cost, if we add that to the superintendent’s salary, the district is paying her more than any other district is paying its superintendent — and all of this has been done without a formal performance review. COVID has been a monumental issue, but managing that crisis isn’t all there is to being superintendent.

John O'Neill June 17, 2021 at 9:15 am

Not sure if this applies here but someone once told me Socialists with power make the best Capitalists…
Like him or not Mike Barbis is the only one of the Board of Education I trust. Norwalk Voters need to pay attention. We’re trusting this Board to drive a $ 220 Million Dollar Business…Seriously? Shame on us.

Taxpayer June 17, 2021 at 9:23 am

Can someone please answer two simple questions for me.

What has the superintendent done that warrants not only a pay raise, but a contract extension. As Mr. Barbis said, in any professional environment, there are goals and other “mile markers” set before any raise or extension is given. I for one think that if anything the schools have gone backwards, not forwards, under her leadership. Would welcome anyone citing one materially positive thing she has done to warrant this.

Where does the BoE get all this money from that it feels so entitled to throw around like Monopoly money?

Colin Hosten is a total joke. Has no experience for the position he’s in and it shows with every conversation/ decision he’s a part of.

If it wasn’t my money being used here this would be a laughable matter.

City with consistently low ranked schools gives a raise to their superintendent for absolutely no reason.

There. I fixed the headline for you

Bryan Meek June 17, 2021 at 9:49 am

From what I can tell Dr. Estrella has been an engaged leader in a difficult year and deserved the full consideration of a professional review, which this clearly was not. Counsel doesn’t make recommendations on process, only on the technicalities of law. The process is up to the board.

Making excuses for abdicating responsibility isn’t becoming. Dr. Estrella and the citizens of this city deserved better and this sends a bad message down the chain.

JustATaxpayer June 17, 2021 at 2:24 pm

Does her $300k a year include overtime for watching sidewalks being built? Let’s not forget that right behind her are some of Norwalk’s finest pulling $275k a year.

A Concerned Parent June 17, 2021 at 3:18 pm

This has to be a joke. Did we not just end one of our “most difficult” budget seasons where NPS wasn’t able to get the funding needed and we had to cut from some areas to pay for others? The one where district rallied parents to plead with the BET for more funding (that we didn’t get) so that they didn’t have to tap into a “menu of possible reductions.” Yet, we can give the superintendent a raise?

She is 1 year into her 3 year term. And as a parent, she’s not shown me (or many others that I know) that she is right for this role and clearly hasn’t “knocked it out of the park” to warrant a contract extension and raise. She lacks the communication, transparency, and collaboration needed to be a successful in this role. And from what I’ve heard from staff across the district, she’s creating a rather toxic culture internally. Never mind the multiple missteps around redistricting, excessive hiring of colleagues in NYC, principal hiring, BMHS principal investigation, attempting to reduce SGC influence, magnet funding, new SoNo school, etc.

I am incredibly disappointed in this BOE and they have not earned my vote for the next term – they are weak and are unwilling to challenge Dr. Estrella on anything. Feels like they work for her rather than the other way around.

I want to give Dr. Estrella the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to succeed, but a raise and contract extension at this point are severely premature.

Ron Morris June 17, 2021 at 3:30 pm

JustATaxpayer
You make a great point. Also, let us not forget that Estrella has a doctorate degree. Unlike the required education for a Norwalk cop being a GED.

Bryan Meek June 17, 2021 at 3:41 pm

I won’t list out all the minority executives who were approved to their appointments by Mr. Barbis. Nor will I list all the people he has called out as bad actors regardless of race. People who casually throw the race card around need to look in the mirror.

nora king June 17, 2021 at 4:04 pm

Jennifer Steven’s you appear to be uneducated and not fully informed about what is taking place. The graduation at Roton was a disaster yesterday thanks to Colin Hosten and Harry Rilling. The both took the state and talked and talked and talked. No accomplishments were addressed of the students and because they talked and talked and talked the school couldn’t announce the top students or any student accomplishments. Colin has been a disaster as Chair of the BOE and is not doing what is needed. He was not elected but hand selected by Harry Rilling.

The Highest Paid Superintendent? June 17, 2021 at 9:54 pm

Under Connecticut law, a board of education has the authority to evaluate only one person – the superintendent of schools. All other school system employees are evaluated by either the superintendent or by district administrators. Board members didn’t perform their one evaluation responsibility poorly; they didn’t do it at all. And when one board member raised the objection regarding this failure, he received no support from any other board member. The rest of the board should do some serious soul searching.

Why is it that only Mike Barbis expressed concern about the chairperson’s failure to send the proposed contract to board members in advance of the meeting? Why was he the only person who expressed a single critical thought? The board members who sang the praises of Dr. Estrella made not one mention of her performance against any of the goals she was supposed to meet. Did she submit the required self-assessment, as detailed in her contract? If so, what did the board do with it? If not, why didn’t the board demand it?

In fairness, I would have been willing to accept consideration of the difficulties of COVID when evaluating her performance, but I cannot accept that there was no evaluation. This is a serious abdication of the board’s responsibility to Norwalk taxpayers and to NPS students. It is even unfair to the superintendent because everyone deserves performance feedback. That’s how people improve. Most people also need occasional push-back. When has the board done that with the superintendent and her proposals?

Final comment: If this is an indication of the lack of preparation, of the absence of critical thought, of the utter careless of this board of education, the predictions of economic disaster for NPS will surely be realized. The board has responsibility for careful oversight. Where is the evidence of it?

James June 17, 2021 at 10:58 pm

@ taxpayer

Central office overhaul. Give a chance to see how it goes. Equity and academics hope Norwalk’s rankings improve as mile maker.

Colin Hosten June 18, 2021 at 8:27 am

For what it’s worth, the Superintendent’s existing contract stipulated an annual base salary adjustment that would default to the inflation rate if no action was taken. The Superintendent agreed to an adjustment that was lower than the inflation rate for the 12-month period ending in April, which was the most current data available.

Michael McGuire June 18, 2021 at 10:28 am

I support Mike Barbis in this.

Why is Mike Barbis the only one providing critical thinking?

Why is the BOE being lead by an un-elected member?

Why do questions like these never get answered?

The Highest Paid Superintendent? June 18, 2021 at 4:09 pm

Colin Hosten, the issues are these:
1. The board didn’t evaluate the superintendent of schools.
2. The clause that would have had the salary default to the cost of living wasn’t imposed upon the board; the board negotiated that.
3. A committee of the board did all of the negotiating of the contract extension, affording none of the rest of the board members the opportunity for input.
4. Would you have people think that Dr. Estrella made a great concession by accepting an increase that is lower than the rate of inflation? Her increase exceeds the pay that many NPS paraeducators make.
5. The board didn’t have the opportunity to review the contract before the evening of the vote. That was no accident, was it? While this week’s meeting was the last business meeting, you could have called a special meeting for that one item. Members who couldn’t attend could have attended virtually.
6. This superintendent seems to have no checks on her spending because the board is gutless. Taxpayers are going to remember this at election time because people like me don’t intend to allow them to forget it.

Michael McGuire June 18, 2021 at 8:23 pm

Colin

Weak excuse. You have a board for a reason. We taxpayers would appreciate if you used it as it is intended.

Jeff June 18, 2021 at 10:31 pm

@Colin Hosted – I appreciate your response but at $302k, does that position NEED a stipulation for an inflation rate adjustment?! Any increase should be performance based. What’s the median income for Norwalk? I’m sure it’s not anywhere close to that number. Let’s drop that stipulation on the next contract, seems unnecessary when talking about these numbers.

Jo June 19, 2021 at 8:38 am

The superintendent of a single school district in Connecticut is given twice the salary allocated for the individual who governs the entire state. What’s wrong with this picture? We aren’t private enterprise…
or are we?

Bryan Meek June 19, 2021 at 9:37 am

CPI for the trailing twelve months ending April was less than 4%, but again that isn’t the issue. It’s right on bls.gov, so you might want to actually look at that before repeating what someone told you. But that isn’t the issue. The issue was there was no review. How do you know that Dr. Estrella didn’t deserve a 10% increase? Unprofessional is the bottom line and that is no way to provide oversight for a $200 million operation. We need competent oversight not glasses of water with a D on them.

Steve June 20, 2021 at 3:23 pm

Nora King- were you at the Roton graduation? You clearly have it in for the mayor and BOE chair. Colin and Harry showed up late and spoke briefly- I bet each was less than 3 minutes. Joe Velluci stalled and stalled, clearly waiting for them (he later apologized) and that’s why the group of students who had straight As etc…weren’t recognized as a group -other than the brochure. I was there and thought it was a great event. Joe V. went a little off topic but he’s a fantastic principal- so I give him a by on this one–plus he answered the question why some olive trees grow straight and others crooked.

Colin Hosten June 21, 2021 at 9:59 am

Thanks for the great feedback, everyone. To clarify, we have no intention of not evaluating the Superintendent. The existing contract stipulated that an incentive compensation plan would be added at the end of year one. The language for the plan is modeled on the plan we had for Dr. Adamowski, and any incentive payout would be applicable in 2022 after the Board has had a chance to evaluate the Superintendent’s performance against the goals and outcomes that we will collectively set at next month’s retreat.

George Palisades June 28, 2021 at 12:34 pm

Mixed feelings. On one hand kudos to the year not being worse than it could have been, thank Estrella for that. But i gotta say this feels like robbing the poor to give to the rich. People who work minimum wage barely if ever get a CPI inflation adjusted raise every year. Norwalk is hurting financially, does Estrella really need a raise?

Not to mention how many people NOT from Norwalk has she hired??? New York nepotism

George Manns July 2, 2021 at 2:52 pm

A Concerned Educator
How is it during this tough year in education certain schools in Norwalk have been understaffed and didn’t have enough aids, and aids were asking for a raise and weren’t able to get it, and yet the Superintendent and people in central office are getting raises? The people of Norwalk need to rise up and say enough with this. What is going on? Also why are so many people in Central office getting such big salaries when the students are suffering from lack of really good text books and technology. People need to question why every year new reading, writing and math programs are taking place too with the big companies giving money to the Norwalk Public schools to try these new programs. People need to knwo what is going on here.

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