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Norwalk leaders hopeful that BoE budget cuts can be avoided

Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon speaks to the Board of Education on Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. – Too much money has been spent on needless fights, Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said Tuesday, expressing hope that proposed budget cuts can be lessened with continuing negotiations.
Mayor Harry Rilling also expressed hope – using the word “optimistic” – at the Norwalk Board of Education meeting, where recommended budget cuts were a topic even if the BoE tabled the matter until next week, as expected.

“Teachers are your backbone when you start cutting them to the bone you have lost everything,” Douglas Peoples said to the BoE, in the public participation portion of the meeting.

The BoE was slated to cut nearly $2 million from its 2017-18 Norwalk Public Schools operating budget, after an assumption it made turned out to be incorrect.

The BoE assumed that “of course” the Norwalk Federation of Teachers would jump at the chance to get its health insurance through Connecticut Partnership 2.0, saving NPS a significant amount of money, BoE Vice Chairman Mike Barbis said recently. The city was also confident that NFT would sign on, with the Common Council voting to increase the schools budget with a year over year increase of 4.5 percent, expressing a feeling that problems were solved. Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski, who had requested a 10.1 percent increase, called the funding “very fair.”

But NFT offered a counter proposal, and the BoE refused. According to BoE Chairman Mike Lyons, the NFT’s requested contract extension would cost NPS millions; NFT filed a complaint with the State Labor Board and there was a standoff until Monday, when the mayor’s office convinced both sides to try again to negotiate.

“We seem to have been headed for layoffs that will have a dramatic impact on our educational community,” Yordon began Tuesday.

The BoE Finance Committee recommended cutting all kindergarten aides and laying off the preschool teachers at its only preschool program, at Brookside Elementary School. Also recommended for elimination was the middle school music program.

The Common Council and the mayor backed up their talk of education support with millions of dollars, Yordon said, asking, “What has become of this opportunity?”

Much of the comments made in the community are based on misinformation, said Yordon, who took over her role when former NFT President Bruce Mellion died suddenly in late 2015.

“As has been noted, I am not Bruce,” Yordon said. “I am, however, just as committed to our district, to education, and to NFT responsibilities of collective bargaining.”

“Last night, the NFT and the Board successfully concluded our midterm negotiations with reasonable outcomes for all parties,” Yordon said. “The proposals on the table were subject of negotiations that commenced in early spring. The NFT is looking forward to continuing in the healthy tone of the mid-term negotiations and the end of the personal attacks and vitriol that have been directed at me and the teachers, and continuing the relationship of positive outcomes for our students. The NFT is going to sit down soon with the Board and once again discuss the Partnership plan. It is unfortunately very late in the process but we are encouraged by the positive outcomes of the recent mid-term election, and I hope we will meet with similar success and save what we can on the next budget year at this very late date. We spent too much money on needless fights, too much on Central Office and consultants.”

Yordon said that $1.2 million was spent this year on middle school redesign consultants, when $207,000 was budgeted.

Asked about that after the meeting, Adamowski said, “No.”

“I think that’s one of those comments that people make in the public speaking section when they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Lyons said.

Yordon also said, in the public speaking section, “There are untapped solutions that don’t involve frontline classroom cuts. We need careful planning not last minute scrambling to implement innovative practice.”

She asked how cutting “trained, Tier II” kindergarten aides makes any sense when Adamowski has been touting literacy improvements, and the audience applauded.

“We do need to change the way we are doing business here in Norwalk,” Yordon said. “By valuing the talent that is already present among us, by improving the climate and by reducing the manufacturing of crisis in this district. In this way, we can build on success and become a better place to live, to work and to educate our children.”

Former BoE member Steven Colarossi also spoke to the Board, sarcastically suggesting that one point that the extra $110,000 planned to expand the communications department might be warranted given that it would be tougher to sell the district to parents without kindergarten aides.

“I am sure it is just by sheer coincidence, but none of these administrative areas were slated for cuts on the superintendent’s proposed cut list,” Colarossi said. “…Admittedly asking any Central Office administrator to have to contend with shortages of supplies is hardly fair, after all, look at how challenging it has been for our teachers when we have asked them to do more with less each year.”

Colarossi’s wife is a Brookside pre-school teacher.

He and his wife were insulted on social media, he said.

“There was a fat comment made about me,” Colarossi said. “Some would be offended by that but I took it as a good sign that at least there was one area in which there was something that the chairman of the Finance Committee understood that there was something in excess. I just wish more attention had been paid to excesses in the budget rather than the excesses in my waistline.”

Norwalk High School Marching Bears Inc. President Ed Abrams thanked the BoE and the NFT for being willing to negotiate, “to hopefully resolve things in a way that we don’t have to look at cuts.”

“To incent you to do that, we have actually called off the dogs a little bit,” Abrams said. “You will notice that there is not a flood of band parents in here. We want to let you do the work that is needed. but please we will be vigilant, we will watch every minute. Do that work and do it properly, so that the students of Norwalk benefit.”

“Yesterday, I had my office reach out to Board Chair Mike Lyons and NFT President Mary Yordon,” Rilling said later. “I am encouraged by the willingness of both sides. I know everybody at the table here, I know so many teachers and other educators. We all want what is best for our children. While cuts are never easy sometimes those tough decisions have to be made. So, I am encouraged by the fact that there is a willingness to come back to the table to see if we can’t come to a meeting of the minds, to then avoid the cuts.”

Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek thanked Rilling.

“In the face of very difficult decisions I think we have to highlight the positive and an $8 million year over year increase – I think that’s the highest in the city’s history for this department,” Meek said. “Maybe not percentage but dollar wise it’s got to be up there.”

Comments

13 responses to “Norwalk leaders hopeful that BoE budget cuts can be avoided”

  1. Concerned

    From reading this article it seems to me that the NFT is not willing to shoulder any of the burden of the $2M shortfall. I hope that the BOE sticks to their guns and doesn’t cave to the NFT. Cuts are hard, but if the NFT is unwilling to change insurance carriers, then why should the BOE shoulder all the cuts?

    “Too much money has been spent on needless fights, Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Mary Yordon said Tuesday” I can’t be the only one that sees the irony in her statement when it’s the NFT that filed a complaint against the BOE that would do nothing but spend much needed money better spent elsewhere.

    Good luck to both sides and I hope the NFT is willing to actually sit down without demands

  2. Mike Barbis

    Let’s not forget … switching to 2.0 not only saves Norwalk Public Schools money but it saves money for each employee with health insurance. We’ve calculated that a teacher with a family would save at least $1500/year. Is it wrong for NPS to help its employees save money???

  3. Debora Goldstein

    If the plans are equal in benefits, then they are saving money. Absolute dollars charged is not the correct measure of savings. Just ask anyone who is now paying 99 cents for a 5oz yogurt when they were paying $1 for 8oz.

  4. Danny

    BOE – Stick to your guns. If you cave into the NFT, you’re setting a precedents for future negotiations.

    The NFT are acting like spoiled brats – PERIOD. You’d think you were taking away their healthcare all together!!! You’re not!

    It’s a small adjustment to individuals who are making a very generous salary. These aren’t employees making minimum wage. Perhaps they just can’t go out and buy the new iPhone 8 this fall, that’s all.

    Don’t give in!

  5. Angel

    @ Danny- I cannot afford the iPhone 7 let alone the 8. I’m spending that money on courses and extra training this summer on how to be a better educator to the students of Norwalk. And any money left over will go to supplies for students that do not come in with any. I really wish people would stop trash talking the teachers and stop lumping them all into one big category. And please keep in mind, that just because NFT is fighting the insurance plan, not all teachers agree with the NFT. So please, please stick with the facts! I consider myself a hard working, dedicated teacher of Norwalk, and the disrespect given to ALL teachers by people on here is really making me consider leaving this district. And even though you don tell know me, it would be a shame to your children for people like me to leave because I (like many) am 100% in it for the children. 100%!

  6. Marie

    @ Danny – not sure which of us teachers you think has an iPhone8, but that is now the standard for judging us? Many of us work more an additional job just to pay our bills, and even that is a struggle. It is not as simple as “switching” insurance. It would mean that our deductible (which many of us are close to meeting – after paying our full percentage to the HSA) would be reset, making it impossible to meet the deductible this year. My child is on medicine that costs over $300 a month. That would come out of my pocket. The information that we were provided also does not clearly spell out, what medicines would actually be covered and at what percentages.

    I spend thousands of dollars each year supplying my classroom and my students, but that is never talked about. I worked in private industry prior to becoming a teacher and I never had to buy my supplies or bring them from home.

    When you make broad and disrespectful comments as to the “greed of teachers” I dare you to come spend a day in a classroom and see what we do on a daily basis. I have never worked so hard at a job I love, and make a difference at.

  7. Donna

    I realize this is a public comments section and that informal English usage is commonplace. But please NPS teachers, for the love of God, if you’re going to post and self-identify as NPS teachers, use your best grammar and punctuation, otherwise the public is left to wonder, “Is our children learning.”

  8. Debora Goldstein

    @Angel,

    Indeed, those items are the types of considerations that the public has not been fully informed about. Deductibles, loss of doctors, different coverage levels for doctors, etc.

    While the BOE has made an excellent public case regarding the savings possible, neither side has been as clear about what the new plan covers.

  9. Kevin Kane

    I’ll preface this by saying our 10 and 12 year old sons go to All Saints so I am NOT by any means up to speed on the ins and outs of all things Norwalk Public Schools. That said:
    I appreciate teachers bringing school supplies but what is up with parents not sending their kids to school with the right supplies? If you can’t support your kids and establish priorities, don’t have the kids. If I was a teacher, I’d start asking for cable bills, cell phone bills to educate parents they need to cut the spend on “wants” and allocate to “needs”. Don’t get me wrong, we send the occasional paper towel roll, Kleenex, etc but sad, so sad to hear teachers are footing the bill. To the NPS teachers: where is the ad in the Hour or pdf posted on this site showing all the money you are covering for stuff mom and dad ought to be doing? Go public with that stuff – people/taxpayers, myself included need to know about this. Don’t sugar coat it – break bones, smash people between the eyes so they lift their heads up from their 140 character max Twitter feeds….
    With regards to the health care: on one hand, a contract is a contract and ought to be honored but this town and especially state is in serious, serious financial trouble so we are in some uncharted waters. Then again, people let illegal immigrants in and many think Broken Windows policing is a crock so the lawlessness on many fronts will continue but that’s a topic for another day. Can someone post a pdf or Excel file showing last years health care plan vs. this years health care plan in detail? It ought to be a 1-pager in someone’s email or folder so I’d be curious to see specifics. I do this here at work to make decisions on my health care.
    With regards to music – can someone clearly articulate WTF is staying and what is getting cut? I see “the whole music program” then I see “private lessons”. Can someone post another pdf or Excel file simply showing what the differences would be Pre-Cut and Post-Cut.
    With regards to grammar and spelling, yes I can spell and write coherently but this is a quick comment in a forum while I am at work, not a letter to my boss or former English teacher.
    Thanks! Kevin

  10. concerned

    Hi, Kevin,

    Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to most of your questions, but I am happy to shed light on the “music cuts” proposal. In all 4 middle schools, pull out lessons are offered. Pull outs lessons are not private music lessons, they are group lessons that work on a rotating schedule. For example, a music teacher may teach an all flute group lesson once a week. It would be impossible to teach all instruments together in band class. It would be like a gym teacher teaching baseball, soccer, lacrosse, golf, hockey, and basketball in one gym class.
    So, the BOE would like to stop these pull out lessons and only have band rehearsal. In doing this, they would like to cut two middle school band teachers and have 2 teachers covering 4 schools.
    If they did this and there are no more pullout lessons, chances are that the kids would barely learn to play their instruments. They would leave middle school and enter the high school at an elementary level, barely able to make some squeaks. In less than a couple of years, the high caliber music program will be barely existing.
    I understand that the current pull out policy is flexible with the students. If they are struggling in a certain class, they should not miss that class. It has also been proven that students who attend these group sectionals do better in other academic disciplines.

    I should also add that “private lessons” are not part of the curriculum, though I know many of the teachers do meet with the students before/after school (on their own time) to give private instruction. I hope this helps answer your question regarding the proposed music cuts.

    All the best.

  11. anna russo

    @Marie,
    “It would mean that our deductible (which many of us are close to meeting – after paying our full percentage to the HSA) would be reset, making it impossible to meet the deductible this year. My child is on medicine that costs over $300 a month. That would come out of my pocket.”
    Welcome to the real world. I pay everything out of pocket but I don’t have a union to back me up and hold the city hostage.

  12. anna russo

    As for all this three ring circus – Rilling is breathing a sigh of relief that the spotlight is off of him and his “donators”…

  13. angel

    @Kevin – I wished I had the honor to teach your sons. Besides the fact you would not be disappointed, I love working with supportive, reasonable and understanding parents as you seem to be!

    @ Debra – I agree, that would be a good idea to actually spell out what the proposed insurance would covered. I am sure it is out there somewhere between the BOE and the NFT. There just seems to be so many missing pieces to sorting this out. Maybe clarification of these details would help reduce the anger and lashing out at each other.

    @Concerned – Thank you for the clarification of the music cuts. I totally misunderstood what was actually being cut. I think many are confused by what are the “private lessons”.

    Hopefully all of this will be over soon and we ALL can move on from this.

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