NORWALK, Conn. – A trust-building session held Wednesday between Norwalk Board of Education and Norwalk Common Council members is likely to result in more money for the schools next year, Common Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said.
It is the second year that the two departments, which were known to be intensely antagonistic in the past, have met early in the process to work things out.
“Ten years ago the council and the Board of Education were always at each other’s throats,” Kimmel said. “We’ve been trying to build bridges, to build trust with the council, the Board of Ed, and also the Board of Estimate and Taxation for a number of years. Finally, in the last couple of years, we’re beginning to get a better understanding of where they’re coming from, they’re beginning to get a better understanding of where we’re coming from. That’s critically important considering the hostility, the recent hostility in this city, to build those bridges.”
Superintendent Manny Rivera, Deputy Superintendent Tony Daddona, Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl, Chief of Technology, Innovation and Partnerships Ralph Valenzisi and BOE Finance Committee member Mike Barbis were there to explain the BOE’s operating and capital budgets and answer questions.
Common Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) said that wasn’t enough people representing the board.
“I’m a little bit disappointed, and this apparently goes across party lines, that we only have one Board of Ed member here. Because I think it was a good idea to have this meeting and if I’m the one that says it, that’s that,” he said.
BOE Chairman Mike Lyons, who was in California on a business trip Wednesday, said in an email that it was not set up to be a joint board/council meeting.
“On our side, it was clearly understood to be an NPS (Norwalk Public Schools) presentation to the Council, not a joint meeting,” he said. He forwarded a Jan. 5 email exchange with Council President Doug Hempstead to prove it.
Lyons had expected Finance Committee Chairwoman Rosa Murray to be there, but said she had also been on a business trip and may not have made it back.
Kimmel said that, last year, the council and the BOE finance committees worked together to look for savings.
“It was a real collaborative effort,” he said. “We’re also beginning to have a mutual understanding that we’re both in it together with ECS (the state’s Educational Cost Sharing formula).”
Both sides must work together to try to convince the state that Norwalk is underfunded, he said.
Rivera was answering questions before the meeting, Kimmel said, referring to a lengthy email exchange, which is attached below.
That was more than he got when he was on the Board of Ed from 2005 to 2009, he said.
“I would always go through the budget and send these types of questions to the superintendent’s office and I never got any answers,” Kimmel said.
The board is likely to get more money from the city than it would have gotten without the developing relationship, he said. That’s important, given the board’s one-time expenses for school safety and Common Core State Standards, he said.
“I’m not guaranteeing anything, but there’s a much better chance (of full funding) if the full council, if the Board of Estimate, the other commissions, the finance folks appreciate the special nature of their capital request right now,” he said.