Norwalk political notes: Budget items

Detail from page 44 of the Norwalk Public Schools budget book.

NORWALK, Conn. — Some Norwalk political notes for you:

  • An explanation for $32K increase in NPS superintendent cost in budget documents
  • Meek’s voting no, except on ARPA spending
  • Livingston also seeks 6TD answers: why the steep mill rate increase?

Does Estrella have a raise baked into the NPS budget?

An eagle-eyed NancyOnNorwalk reader recently went through the Norwalk Public Schools budget book and noticed that the recommended line-item amount for the superintendent is an increase from $302,000 to $332,000. The variance is a $32,218 increase.

The Board of Education votes on a possible raise for the Superintendent of Schools in June after conducting an evaluation process. Last year, BoE members voted unanimously to extend Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Alexandra Estrella contract through the 2024-25 school year and give her a 2% raise.

So why is there an increase on the budget line?

“The current superintendent contract includes reimbursement for payment to the Connecticut Teachers Retirement. That amount is inclusive of that. In the past, this was not part of that budget, hence the variance,” NPS Media Relations Specialist Emily Morgan said.


Not no on everything.

You may have heard, the Common Council’s only Republican member has vowed not to vote to approve any more City spending until “this City figures out how to conduct public business in public.”

Well, he has voted in favor of some spending since then, even if he didn’t attend the only Council meeting since that Jan. 24 announcement.

At a recent Recreation & Parks Committee meeting, District D Representative Bryan Meek voted to approve the Oyster Shell Fence project and another item, after asking if they are funding through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

Meek confirmed he’s making an exception for ARPA projects. “Under the use it or lose it philosophy,” he said.

As for “conducting public meetings in public,” Meek was criticizing virtual meetings.

Almost three years after the pandemic prompted social isolation, “we are still preventing members of the public from seeing who from the public has attended, isolating citizens and making them feel like they are talking to themselves instead of a crowd,” he wrote. “…I’m not opposed to zoom meetings but that should be the second alternative. The first should be in person and if the internet is out videotape and post to youtube a day later like we used to.”


6TD’s mill rate increase attributed to Grand List status

Common Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) recently pressed Norwalk Chief Financial Officer Henry Dachowitz about the mill rate calculated for the Sixth Taxing District in Mayor Harry Rilling’s recommended 2023-24 operating budget.

Other district real estate mill rates would increase 3.3 to 3.62% under the recommended budget but the Sixth Taxing District is looking at a 6.21% increase.

Dachowitz recently said the projected mill rate was made in collaboration with 6TD Treasurer Gil Kernan. There’s a “core” mill rate for the Sixth Taxing District as the City doesn’t provide garbage pickup, lighting or fire protection, the district does, Dachowitz said. According to Dachowitz, Kernan presented his budget and asked how much the mill rate should be to provide the funding needed.

Livingston, at the Feb. 14 Special Council meeting, said he’d spoken to 6TD Commissioners and the district’s expenses had gone up $80,000, “roughly $50 a household.”

“Well, there’s a third component,” Dachowitz said, adding a factor he didn’t mention when questioned by Board of Estimate and Taxation member James Frayer the week before.

The district’s assessed Grand List has decreased, Dachowitz said. A “number of homes” were demolished in preparation for reconstruction. While the parcels still have value, it’s considerably less.

Livingston had started the conversation by quoting Dachowitz as reporting that the Sixth Taxing District’s Grand List had decreased $18 million.

“If the assessed value goes down, the mill rate goes up, because we have to get to a certain amount of taxes to be raised,” Dachowitz said. “So the three components were the core, the Six Taxing District, and a reduction in the assessed value, the Grand List for that district.”


John Levin February 22, 2023 at 10:58 am

Thank you “eagle-eyed NancyOnNorwalk reader” who pointed out that the 2023-2024 Superintendent compensation budget request increase of 10.7% does not match the 2.2% pay raise authorized unanimously by the Board of Ed last year. But I find the explanation for this variance is lacking – it seems that Norwalk is required under the superintendent’s contract to pay “reimbursement for [the Superintendent’s] payment to the Connecticut Teachers Retirement [System]”. Okay. Doing some math, it appears that $25,573, or about 80% of the 2023-24 Superintendent compensation budget request increase is for this contractual reimbursement item, which we are told “in the past . . . was not part of that budget”. Does that mean that it was paid in the past but was omitted from the previous budget in error? Or was it not paid in the past, and the requirement to pay it only becomes effective for 2023-24? If it’s the former, then that’s bad – budget numbers should be accurate—and what budget item was the reimbursement payment included In instead, if any? If it’s the latter, then why did the Board of Ed find it necessary to increase the Superintendent’s pay by 2.2% if an 8.5% increase already was scheduled to pay for the “reimbursement” requirement?

Next: on January 24, 2003 NancyOnNorwalk reported (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/oulette-tops-2022-salary-list/) that the Superintendent was paid $322,721 in 2022. But that number exceeds the actual compensation paid in 2021-22 by 5.1% and the budgeted compensation for 2022-23 by 6.9% as reportd in the Norwalk Public Schools budget book. Why this discrepancy? Are the budget book numbers wrong, or is there a different explanation?

Earlier in my career as a securities analyst and investor I was tasked with VERY closely scrutinizing public company financial statements and other available information. When the numbers seemed odd, or difficult to explain, or other information appeared inconsistent, it was often a signal to start digging deeper. Sometimes that extra work paid off in surprising ways. So: “eagle-eyed NancyOnNorwalk reader”, whoever you are, please keep working!

Currently, the Board of Ed consists of 9 members: 4 elected at-large whose terms expire in 2025 and 5 members, one from each district, whose terms expire this year. These volunteer elected positions, to be done well, require long hours, careful oversight and dedication, yet they pay exactly, I believe, $0 to the people who hold them. I have no reason to believe that the current members of the Board of Ed aren’t hard working and diligent. Yet I also believe our city, particularly its budgets and spending, may benefit from some fresh eyes and some fresh scrutiny. Therefore, it is my hope that in future elections Norwalk voters will choose to elect at least one qualified Republican, or even Independent party, candidate to our city’s Board of Ed. “Eagle-eyed NancyOnNorwalk reader”, maybe YOU?

Bryan Meek February 23, 2023 at 9:05 am

The past superintendents contract included a long-term incentive plan of deferred compensation that was put into a pretax investment vehicle. I don’t know the current contract but you could be looking at a lump sum derived over a few years. This is very common in executive compensation schemes. And it is a rounding error on the budget.

We would be better served with eagle eyes who understand balance sheets. Then we might actually see a little bit of concern about the $8.8 million being taken out of the retirement healthcare trust fund to make it look like there is only a .75% budget increase. Add that back and a few other items and you will arrive at the real operational budget increase which is more like seven percent.

To put $32,000 in more perspective it cost more to run the city for an hour

Drew Todd February 23, 2023 at 9:09 am

Very interesting choice of words there John..”Qualified” Republican?? Why do you come to our meetings exactly?

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