Hamilton says no to budget-pressured Norwalk BoE

Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton. (Archive photo)

Updated, 3:45 p.m.: Comment from Bryan Meek; Correction, 2 p.m.: BoE budget increase was 4.5 percent.

NORWALK, Conn. – Hard decisions are lurking if the Norwalk Federation of Teachers doesn’t make the move to a state insurance plan, Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek said Wednesday.

Norwalk Public Schools is looking to go ahead with changing the health plan, NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said, although NFT has rejected the proposal.

Meek wanted to discuss the situation further in public, but Hamilton refused, saying that contract negotiations should be held in an executive session.

Voices were raised behind the closed doors, with an angry exchange marking the beginning of about 20 minutes of private conversation. The meeting was then reconvened and swiftly adjourned with any comment on that issue.

Hamilton in mid-April said that about 75 teachers would be laid off if NFT did not switch its health insurance coverage to Connecticut Partnership 2.0. NFT subsequently refused, and BoE Chairman Mike Lyons, who is not on the three-member Committee and was not present Wednesday, told NPS to prepare for a significant reduction in force on July 1.

A chart showing recent Norwalk Board of Education budget increases, provided Thursday by Finance Director Bob Barron.

NPS requested a 10.1 budget increase this year; Mayor Harry Rilling proposed the switch to Connecticut Partnership 2.0 as a way of saving a projected $5 million, and the Common Council eventually voted to approve a budget that allowed NPS a 4.5 percent increase, which was approved by the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

Meek began Wednesday’s budget reconciliation discussion by announcing that the primary purpose of the meeting was to discuss any progress that has been made with the insurance issue.

“The elephant in room is the $6.65 million forecasted shortfall without labor concessions to improved health care plans that in turn save them money and the city money. Without this, this budget doesn’t have votes, I am hearing, in June. Hard decisions will have to be made,” Meek said.

“If we are going to talk about the status of where we are in the health plan negotiations and the move to the state 2.0 health plan that discussion has to take place in executive session because we are in active negotiations with our collective bargaining groups over that move,” Hamilton replied.

“Can we talk about what would happen if none of that happens?” Meek asked.

“I guess you can have any discussion you want but it seems to me a little premature and speculative,” Hamilton said.

The BoE has 50 days to approve its budget, Meek said.

“It is our intention and recommendation to move forward ultimately with an implementation of a change to the health plan but, again, I can’t go into the details on that in an open session,” Hamilton said.

“I would move going into executive session so we can get a little more detail as to why we cannot get some information,” Committee member Erik Anderson said.

“We don’t have a choice, do we?” Committee member Mike Barbis said.

After the meeting, NoN asked Barbis if teacher layoffs are still possible.

“Everything is on the table and I think we’re going to have to see where discussions go,” Barbis said. “Who knows what’s going to happen? Bottom line is this plan, this move, everyone is getting more for their money. There is no rational reason to not move to this plan.”

Asked for a comment, NFT President Mary Yordon said, “We tend to make decisions on a rational basis. We have made this one carefully. We are open to negotiations on this.”

The union will vote on the issue in June, NFT First Vice President Joe Giandurco said.

Last month, after it became public knowledge that NFT had rejected Connecticut Partnership 2.0, Yordon released a statement. An excerpt:

“We made a fair offer to the district regarding the health insurance changes, and they rejected this offer. If the district funded Special Education needs last year by raiding the health insurance fund, and this year funds schools generally by raiding health insurance agreements or layoffs, what will next year bring? Our district deserves better management than this. Our members deserve better than threats and closed negotiations brought to the front page!”

On Thursday, Meek, who had left Wednesday’s meeting immediately after the executive session to make it to another obligation, offered a comment by email.

“The NFT stands to get a better plan and save their membership money,” Meek wrote. “NPS HR is willing to negotiate out of network providers into the 2.0 fold if they are raised by any of our employees.  I’m told that DRs are generally very warm to moving, it’s just a formality of some paperwork to get in the network.   So the BOE didn’t ask the NFT to give anything.  We were asking them to save us money and in turn themselves.  They aren’t giving anything up except maybe the pride of a few people who think its their mission to show their membership their worth.  It’s going to be a sad day for the city if they choose to continue to drive us over the edge of the cliff.”


25 responses to “Hamilton says no to budget-pressured Norwalk BoE”

  1. Lisa Thomson

    Mary Yordon, Taxpayer deserve better. The NFT has the lowest instructional hours for our elementary students – and the highest absenteeism in the state. This behavior by the NFT leadership is unacceptable.

  2. Sue Haynie

    ‘Fair’ is in the eye of the beholder. Norwalk teachers have ‘medical, dental, vision and life insurance and benefits that are unparalleled in each category and collectively in the State and the nation.’ NFT Vanguard, January 2010

    As for Special Ed overruns, don’t just blame the district. 32%+/- of NPS SPED students are SLD/Dyslexic and that’s been the case for decades. Where was the voice of the NFT for all these years?

    House Bill 7254 ‘AN ACT REQUIRING SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHERS TO COMPLETE A PROGRAM OF STUDY IN EVIDENCE-BASED STRUCTURED LITERACY INTERVENTIONS FOR STUDENTS WITH DYSLEXIA’ Following the enactment of this bill, persons seeking certification as SPED teachers will need to study and participate in practicum hours in the recognition of dyslexia and structured literacy interventions.

    “Students with undiagnosed dyslexia often find themselves in special education classes, being treated for a learning disability they do not have. This simple misdiagnosis can be very costly for the school and for the student’s education,” said Senator Slossberg (D., Milford). “HB 7254 was written to fix exactly this problem.”

  3. Sara Sikes

    Same issue 35 years ago when Norwalk teachers had the best benefits in the state and that has not changed. This union and others need to accept benefits that are more commensurate with what the taxpayers themselves have.

  4. Tom G

    I agree with Sara, the NFT has to be more realistic. Most Norwalk taxpayers do not have medical benefits any where near as favorable as the teachers do. The Union itself touts their lucrative benefits and salaries in relation to other districts in the state. It is time to reel these costs in. The last time I looked there was no shortage of qualified people looking for positions in the Norwalk School system. It is a simple economic lesson of supply and demand.

  5. Drewt

    The Union should really be ashamed of themselves!!! We are in desperate times and the proper measures must be taken where we can SAVE money and Jobs! The Union is playing politics with our children’s future! They are speaking of better management they should look in the mirror first. And the layoffs could be worse after we find out the money we won’t be getting from the State!! If the Union does not switch then the Executive Board should RESIGN!! They are not serving the members they claim to represent ! The membership must DEMAND the union does the right thing here and the first thing is to SAVE MEMBERS JOBS! And the future of our children!

  6. Concerned

    Thank you Mr. Meek for staying on top of this. It is very telling how quickly the hubbub around the teacher layoffs died down. Clearly Norwalk is going to roll over once again, but let’s not make it easy for them this time.

    I really hope that Norwalk will one day stand up to the unions in regards to teacher benefits. I have a great respect for all educators and support them, but when healthcare across the board is increasing in cost at an alarming rate it’s completely unreasonable to expect teachers to be exempt from such costs. No one wants teachers to lose jobs.

  7. Azra

    I truly appreciate the BoE’s efforts to run this district with all the budget challenges. I am glad they get creative in finding the funds to provide for all of Norwalk’s kids year to year.

    Frankly, the NFT is looking pretty despicable at this moment.

  8. srb1228

    I don’t know enough about the contractual agreements, but it’s my understanding that the teachers have a contract that’s not up for renewal and the Board wants them to give up something that both parties previously agreed upon. It’s not fair to the teacher’s union to make this a them v. us fight. If the Board wants the teachers to give up something than the Board probably has to give the teachers something. From as far as I can see, there’s no outside or internal event that came upon unexpectedly that wasn’t part of the original contract negotiations. if that’s the case, than the NFT is simply standing strong

  9. James Cahn

    I’m sure that everyone will be fighting hard to get Norwalk’s tax payers the best possible deal without regard to the fact that our elected officials work so hard to get and rely so heavily upon the votes of Norwalk’s Municipal Union membership.

    Also, I’d encourage Norwalk’s Teachers to be sensitive to the reserve that we need to maintain in anticipation of the inevitable settlements which will need to be paid due to our scattered, useless band-aid approach to city planning and zoning.

    Can you sense my sarcasm? Because I’m laying it on pretty thick.

  10. Donald

    The teachers and police unions at bankrupting Norwalk. Its time to start laying off both.

  11. Mike Barbis

    srb1228 We are not asking the teachers to give up anything … we are just asking them to switch insurance carriers … and the new carrier has 95% of the same network and will consider adding doctors … and the cost with the new carrier is less to each employee ($2450/year less in cash costs to a teacher covering their family) This switch is a win win. Once again, the teachers are NOT GIVING UP ANYTHING.

    In other municipalities, the union contracts allow the towns to switch carriers as they see fit … its only in Norwalk that the union has the power over this issue.

  12. NonPartisan

    Charter schools.

  13. Mitch Adis

    So why do we need to ask to switch carriers? In the rest of the world employers say we are switching and that is it. They never ask permission. NFT has it too good and they don’t even know it. Sad. Lets end the gravy train.

  14. srb1228

    Mike Barbis, I appreciate your comments. I am always troubled by management attempting to reopen a contract that was negotiated and voluntarily entered into by both parties. It’s also troubling when government brings the argument into a public arena to try to squeeze them. If this is a “win-win” why doesn’t NFT leadership to take the deal? Is it simply intransigence? Is it fear of opening the door to contractual changes under an existing contract and setting a precedent? No one wants to see teachers laid off or services curtailed. The teacher unions in Ct. tend to be very weak and generally accommodating.

  15. Tony P

    Great post @srb.

    NFT contract is barely a year old – if this 2.0 Plan is so great, was it brought up during contract negotiations? If not, why wasn’t it? If so, maybe the BoE should find a new team to negotiate. What the narrative now is the NFT is somehow in the wrong – and in reality, the BoE isn’t negotiating in good faith. And oddly, the next story on NoN about the Special Ed cost overruns (surprise) gets one comment. The BoE’s plan of going to the teacher contract every time there is a budget issue will never stop once it starts. Which, oddly enough, seems to be what the desired effect might be on the BoE (and many commenters on here as well)

  16. Educator

    A few years ago, the NFT switched insurance carriers to assist the BOE with (drum roll please) a budget shortfall. The move was done without any fanfare. Maybe the BOE should listen to their partners rather than belittling them.

  17. A. Sullivan

    Why aren’t more NFT teachers trained in areas of Special Education?

    As more and more kids have Special Education needs our teaching population should have the training to deal with Tier 1, 2 and 3 requirements. This would avoid the continual need to spend in this area.
    Also, we’re spending roughly $10 million in SPED out-of-district services.

    Basically, a work force trained for the job requirements…. More younger teachers are equipped with these skills yet they are the ones that would be affected most by the “last in, first out” union agreement.

    Almost 80% of the BOE budget is salaries and benefits.

    Can the BOE legally hire teachers outside of the Union and make them city employees?

  18. Supporter of the rule of law

    The authors of the Constitution believed that contracts were so important that they included the stipulation that “No State shall . . .pass any law . . . impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” (Article 1, Section 10)

    So, what is a contract?
    Merriam-Webster entry: “a binding agreement between two or more persons or parties; especially : one legally enforceable.”

    BusinessDictionary.com: “A voluntary, deliberate, and legally binding agreement between two or more competent parties. . . .A contractual relationship is evidenced by (1) an offer, (2) acceptance of the offer, and a (3) valid (legal and valuable) consideration. Each party to a contract acquires rights and duties relative to the rights and duties of the other parties.”

    As a matter of law, we expect contracts to be honored when we buy property, rent cars, or hire firms to do work for us. And yet, many of the comments, even from seemingly reasonable people, suggest that contracts with city/BoE employees do not have to be honored. Any one taking the position that the contract agreements entered into by the city and/or BoE should be dispensed with as somehow illegitmate, should now come forward and state their agreement that any and all contracts that they have or will enter into should be similarly dispensed with when it suits the other party.

    Who will be the first to raise their hand and say “Because you don’t like the commitment you made, you don’t have to keep it” ?

  19. Another Educator

    Over the past six years I have had my salary frozen, and had to switch ins all to “save” the district money. With the money saved we were able to bail out the board with their SPED financial troubles last year…This is the thanks we get

    Now the board needs money (again) and again is looking at the teachers to help them..

    We all understand the situation, however the pure venom on this website made by people is sickening, disheartening, and doing absolutely nothing to help fix the situation.

    I will do my best in the classroom despite all of this, because (as all of you forget) this is about the kids, and whining on a blog doesn’t help anyone.

  20. Lisa Thomson

    If some of the commenters are going to blame the BOE for rising health care costs, then blame them for zombie apocalypses, it’s about as ridiculous.

    Every American has had to deal with the healthcare dilemma in this country as they 1)face rising premiums, deductibles and co-pays 2) people live longer 3) medical procedures advance 4) we try to insure everybody 5) deal with insurance company and medical profession inefficiencies, 6) deal with hospital overspends etc. I could go on…. but it is NOT the BOE’s fault. Has no one in the NFT leadership been paying attention to the national healthcare debate?

    However, Connecticut’s largest inefficiency as a state with 3.5 million people and shrinking, are the 169 towns and their various collective bargaining units (police, fire, teacher, city, etc.) having their own, individual, customized health care plans with different carriers. It’s great for insurance companies, but bankrupting taxpayers, cities, state and classroom. Has the NFT not heard of ‘pooling resources?’

    For Mary Yordon and the NFT to flat out refuse to change carriers, providing the same benefits, at lower costs to them and taxpayers, due to the economies of scale (with more and more CT cities joining) that would put ~ $3.5 back into the NPS classroom, demonstrates an ignorance of the bigger picture and math!

  21. Tony P

    Odd, Lisa, but the BoE really quickly blamed the NFT in running right to the press – doesn’t seem like ‘good faith’ to me. Its called a negotiation because, well, two parties bargain. Perhaps the BoE should have brought this up in the not even year old contract when it was open. For a BoE that are supposedly such ‘sharks’ of the private sector, they clearly couldn’t project out. There’s another shortfall in SPED budgeting (water is wet, the sky is blue) – what’s to say that every shortfall from here out the BoE doesn’t open the contract over and over? And, with the membership voting on the proposed change, I think you’ll see its not ‘NFT leadership’ as you and the other BoE groupies keep calling out, but the membership that is in favor of not opening the contract. And I think the BoE will probably lose in arbitration as well. Interesting times, and unnecessarily so.

  22. Bryan Meek

    Tony, there are no members of the Society of Actuaries on the BOE. I think there is one other math major on the board. I took the first 2 of 10 SOA exams required, but decided to go into financial accounting and systems work. The BOE contracts the services of a very reputable internationally recognized and publicly traded firm that specializes in health care analytics. They didn’t predict this a year ago. You give us too much credit. On the other hand you missed the part about the SPED shortfall that is a fraction of historical shortfalls and manageable through other areas we saved money on our budget. You could at least give credit for that. Criticize what ever leadership you want, but there was an opportunity for both sides to win that seems to have been thrown on the trash heap for no apparent reason, leaving many of us scratching our heads.

  23. MarjorieM

    Another Special Ed shortfall! Surprise! Surprise! I believe the special ed administrators were publically chastised for this is the past, if I recall correctly. It was not going to happen again. Seems like the BoE owes some people (who were thrown under the bus) an apology.
    As for insurance, New York teachers get lifetime insurance. Not Norwalk! Mary Yorden and NFT members must stay strong and support their contract. Legally, a contract is a contract is a contract. NFT members, don’t trust this BoE. If they change health care providers, more concessions will follow in the years ahead. The teachers and their benefits are their first targets when this BoE gets in trouble.
    Interesting point is that this BoE gladly packed central office with highly paid people. Why aren’t they looking there? Those are people who don’t directly affect instruction.
    And what happened to the money that was taken from the insurance account? Can we get a line by line beak down of how that money was used?

  24. Tony P

    @Bryan, you and I can agree on one thing, that both sides could have saved face, gotten the required savings, and moved on. What it seems that we wont/cant agree on is how this was actually handled – and I certainly hope what the NFTs ask comes out at some point. Not the spun BoE version of what the NFT asked for, what they actually proposed. Hope this gets hammered out for the kids sake – 75-100 teachers not in the classroom is going to be a mess.

  25. Concerned

    To speak to Another Educator
    “Over the past six years I have had my salary frozen, and had to switch ins all to “save” the district money. With the money saved we were able to bail out the board with their SPED financial troubles last year…This is the thanks we get
    Now the board needs money (again) and again is looking at the teachers to help them.”

    So have I, only I don’t work for the state, I work for a privately held company. In order to help the business survive my insurance has gone up (doubled), bonuses are gone, I haven’t had a raise in 5 years and I’m doing the work of 2.5 people. Sound familiar? 🙁

    We ALL have to make sacrifices. No one says one person’s job is more important than another’s. It’s just the way things are right now. Teachers should not be immune. That’s the point I think many of us are trying to make.

    It sucks for ALL of us.

Leave a Reply




Recent Comments