Norwalk BOE ties up some loose ends

Norwalk BoE 082013 093
Norwalk Board of Education member Artie Kassimis, who is finishing up a term to which he was appointed and is running for election on his own this fall, shows off one of the fruits of his efforts over the past two years – an $800 check for the athletics department.

NORWALK, Conn. – It was an unusually productive meeting for a Board of Education members Tuesday, causing some of them to comment afterward that they had gotten more work done in two hours than they typically do in the four-hour meetings that are common.

In addition to approving a math curriculum for middle school kids, members gave Superintendent Manuel Rivera the power to hire teachers and interim administrators without their input, providing he stays within budget. Then were other “little” things …

Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl, who began working in Norwalk a year ago, finally got a contract.

“He’s been operating on a verbal basis only,” board Chairman Mike Lyons said, drawing a stunned laugh from other members. Rudl has been the only public schools employee without a contract, whether it be a union contract or an individual contract, Lyons said.

Rivera said a contract that is consistent with other administrators had been created. “I am very pleased with the work and would like to have this formalized,” he said.

The vote was unanimous.

Also on the agenda, Rivera’s contract was finalized. The superintendent is being paid a $220,000 base salary, plus two $15,000 annuities, for a total of $250,000.

Rivera is also eligible for a maximum $44,000 performance-based bonus. The performance standards are spelled out: 1) progress by students as measured by testing the same group of students year to year; 2) improvement in graduation rates; 3) a lessening of the achievement gap; 4) reduction in teacher absenteeism; and 5) “other elements to be determined.”

Rivera would get his bonus no later than June 30 each year.

Migdalia Rivas voted against Rivera’s contract. Jack Chiaramonte was absent. Everyone else voted for it.

The meeting ended, as always, with committee reports:

• The “long awaited and much ballyhooed” social media policy will be ready for a vote at the next meeting, Steve Colarossi said. Also in the works is a policy regarding tomatoes, parsley, peppers and other edible things – because once you let kids grow stuff on city property, the legalities get a little iffy.

Norwalk High kids are planning to run their own cafe, Colarossi said, prompting a policy to define how best to use produce grown in school gardens.

“Interestingly enough, there was passed several years ago a general ban on bake sales,” Colarossi said. “The only way to sell food is if it’s in conjunction with an event, unless there is a general exception granted.”

Technically, those tomatoes and peppers belong to the school system, he said. So when you’ve got surplus at the end of the day you can’t just take it to the homeless shelter or some other worthy cause.”

A policy to deal with all of that is expected to be on the agenda for the next board meeting.

Negotiations with the Norwalk Federation of Education Personnel have been delayed by both parties, Sue Haynie said. The state has given them until September to work something out, but, “I think it is going to happen before then,” she said.

• Artie Kassimis had an $800 check to wave around.

The check was the school’s commission from the drivers education program, which is calculated monthly, he said. It would go to the athletics fund, he said.

Kassimis also relays as much as he can about the school safety committee, which is very secretive. Details of the plan will be shared with every teacher this week, he said.

• Mike Barbis said the finance committee is focused on working with Rudl on a three-year budget plan. Additionally, he said he had discussed the board’s past financial problems with Board of Estimate and Taxation members and the way the “$4 million loan” from the city to cover last year’s insurance deficit had been worked out. Workers Compensation issues and the results of an outside audit were also discussed.

“In the end, Fred Wilms was like, let’s look at it,” he said. “So we protected our interests with the city.”

• Lastly, Lyons talked about the curriculum purchases. Grades K through 12 are now compliant with Common Core State Standards as far as a math curriculum goes, he said. An English language arts curriculum is in place for grades six through 12, and the K-5 ELA had always been planned for September 2014, he said.

The science curriculum specialist that was authorized in this year’s budget will work developing the Common Core science curriculum, he said.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape in terms of keeping up with – and in some cases pretty well ahead of – a lot of other communities on Common Core implementation,” he said.


4 responses to “Norwalk BOE ties up some loose ends”

  1. Piberman

    The newly energized BOE with truly major recent accomplishments – hiring a new Supt and its unprecedented Arbitration Award against the NFT – has now firmly established that it is our most admired elected body and clearly our most important. Indeed, the renewed BOE can fairly claimed to be the most important positive civic news in recent decades in our City. Norwalk stands on the threshold of re-establishing a once widely admired public school system. BOE Chairman Mike Lyons has given us a superb example of true public service. Every Norwalk citizen ought to be truly proud of what the BOE has accomplished. It really does promise a “new day” for our beleagured City.

  2. Yu Mustbekiden Me

    Piberman…….you are truly a shill for the ‘boys in the band’…..Handy Manny better have all his tools with this bunch!–and guess what, he knows it!….and the bank is Where????

  3. Major Frank Burns

    Let’s stop cheerleading for the telecommuting Chairman Mike Lyons and his merry band of obstructionists.
    It’s not high-functioning to give teachers a 4 1/4% raise, even if they get a zero one year. That’s over 2% per year on average.
    It’s not high-functioning when Chairman Lyons stops the BOE from adopting the sound recommendation of the professionals trying to revise the elementary school reading program.
    It’s certainly not high functioning when Chairman Lyons looks the other way every time Mayor Moccia reaches into school department accounts to raid them of a little “extra” cash.

  4. I normally don’t comment on posts like these, but seriously, “obstructionists”? We arbitrated the union contract and got an unprecedented wage freeze. Yes, the arbitrators awarded the teachers a raise in year 2, but they also awarded us a contract reopener for year three to address the out-of-balance compensation structure in the contract. We didn’t “give” the teachers the raise in year two, the arbitration panel did — that’s how the system works in Connecticut (if it was up to me we’d ditch the arbitration process entirely, but that’s up to the State Legislature, not the Board of Education). Nevertheless, we did very well overall in the arbitrayion. If you can find a more favorable arbitration award in other recent teacher contract negotiations in Connecticut, please share it with us.

    With the $800,000 curriculum materials purchase approved last week, we have now completed implementing the Common Core K-12 math curriculum, ahead of many Connecticut communities, as well as implementation of the language arts curriculum for grades 6-12. The Common Core schedule calls for K-5 English to be implemented by Fall 2014, and we will meet that goal as well. It is true that we did not approve the K-5 program recommended by our teachers committee. But that program, according to the study submitted by the publisher (Pearson) itself, showed only miniscule (low single digit) improvements in student reading for grades K-3, and actually showed students taught with the Pearson program performing WORSE in grades 4-5 than the control group. We were not prepared to spend almost 60% of our capital budget Common Core funds on a program that doesn’t have any significant impact on student achievement. Instead, we’ve asked Superintendent Rivera to re-evaluate the programs reviewed (and some successful other programs that the teachers committee didn’t even look at) and make recommendations to us. Insisting that recommended programs actually WORK is hardly “obstructionism” (unless you don’t care if they work; we do).

    And Mayor Moccia didn’t “reach into school department accounts to raid them” of cash. The City Finance Department took funds from the City insurance account (into which the schools contribute) to pay back shortfalls in that account on the part of the schools that built up in the 4 years before I took office. I have publicly expressed concern with the lack of notice we received about those transfers. But it bears noting that we have now virtually eliminated the insurance fund shortfall, and ended the year with a surplus despite the paybacks.

    I doubt ‘Major Burns’ will care about these facts, but hopefully other readers will.

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