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Norwalk super says he’s looking for outside funding as budget hike seems likely

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera begins a discussion on Norwalk Public Schools budget priorities Monday evening at Grace Baptist Church.

NORWALK, Conn. – A tax increase is likely next year, according to a Republican councilman, but Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera said he is hoping for some creative readjusting and outside funding to help him begin reaching his goal of transforming the Norwalk school district.

It’s going to take an additional $4 to $5 million to maintain a same-services budget next year, Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Mike Barbis said recently. Rivera said Monday night that he will be announcing figures with his budget presentation toward the end of the year, but confirmed that the budget needs will be in excess of $4 million over the current year’s total. The teachers’ pay raise of 4.23 percent, following this year’s pay freeze won in arbitration, will account for a $3.26 million hike.

“To the extent that we can drive additional aid from other state sources will be important,” Rivera said. “I am constantly out there seeking more foundation funding.”

Councilman Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said last week after winning re-election that the first thing the new council will do is get to work on the budget.

“I’m not going to promise there won’t be a tax increase. I don’t see how we can avoid that because of looking at the preliminary budget for the board of ed and all the other departments, which we really try to keep them in check to be realistic for the times,” he said. “The times are tough but we do have contractual obligations to the fine people that work for the city of Norwalk. I’m hoping that we can try to keep it a compromise, keep it to what you need, not what you want. That’s very important. People are struggling out there.”

Rivera has laid out ambitious plans for the school system, looking to make Norwalk the first school district with more than 10,000 students to significantly close the achievement gap. On Monday night he spoke about lengthening educational time with after school programs.

“There are so many benefits that can come from really quality after-school learning opportunities, if we can get businesses, for example, that might be able to loan some executives part time, and some are willing, we could double and triple the number of kids that are involved in robotics clubs after schools,” he said.

He also said summer school program should be easily available to all Norwalk children, not just those who score poorly on tests, and spoke of building a state of the art learning environment.

Rivera and BOE officials are working on a multi-year budget plan, establishing long-range priorities.

But how can he make progress in changing Norwalk Public Schools’ culture in next year’s tough budget?

“I’m looking creatively at how we may be reallocating resources that we currently use,” he said. “I’m also, to be very frank, depending on foundations, hopefully to be part of our transformation here in Norwalk. I’ve been approaching several foundations that do these funds to do some initiatives that we know work for children and families. It’s that, plus counting on a level of local and state dollars that we are going to need. We need to have our local and state share meet the obligations that we’re going to have to get a quality educational program going here.”

Like others, Rivera said the state’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula must be changed.

“Most people across the state are not aware of the needs and the challenges that we face, that many of our families face here in Norwalk,” he said. “So we end up getting classified with other high property wealth districts. Other elements of that formula are not weighted to the point where they should be.”

Rivera said he has had an initial meeting with Mayor-elect Harry Rilling.

“He has expressed his support and I am really looking forward to sitting down with him and getting into greater detail,” Rivera said.

Petrini said the Republicans will work with Rilling.

“We have to support our mayor and work together to make Norwalk forward,” he said. “It’s not partisan as far as I am concerned, we just need to do the right thing for the people of Norwalk.”

Comments

41 responses to “Norwalk super says he’s looking for outside funding as budget hike seems likely”

  1. M Allen

    When Malloy was grinning ear to ear at the podium last Tuesday celebrating Mayor-elect Rilling’s victory, I hope he was told in no uncertain terms that Norwalk is coming to collect. I’m thinking an extra $4-5 million should do the trick this year.

  2. Those Who Can’t Do

    4.23% increase when private sector incomes are down in an economy that is grinding to a halt. Check out the local scene. No one is going out at nights even with a mild fall. Raising taxes a few hundred per homeowner will guarantee to kill off a few of these pesky restaurants trying to make it in town here.

  3. Joe Espo

    This is the first time this news site has published any story on the upcoming inevitable tax increases. To me, it smacks of being purposely suppressed until after the election, most obviously to deflect the issue from being attached to Rilling and the democrat BOE candidates. Good going, NON.

  4. M Allen

    Students from the 5th grade class at Jefferson just went on a 5 day trip to Natures Classroom. Can someone with some knowledge inform me on how many total students across the NPS go on this field trip and what the cost is to students? I have been told this was completely free to students and that it is not just limited to Jefferson 5th graders. How many programs do we have like this and what is the total cost for these out of class excursions?

  5. David

    “A tax increase is likely next year”. Who said that, Sherlock Holmes? There’s been a tax increase every year since I’ve been in Norwalk, so is there any reason to expect next year to be different? Until there is growth and development in this city, all of the additional tax burden will fall on homeowners, as it has the past 5 years at least. I don’t see how it’s realistic to expect that will change magically in the next 12 months.

  6. The question is now “How BIG of a tax increase??”
    *
    It’s been about 3% with Moccia (I”m sure someone will let me know if this is wrong!)
    but with all the promises by Rilling…

  7. Ryan

    That did’nt take long. He has’nt even been sworn in and we’re hearing about tax hikes.
    Good grief.

  8. M Allen

    I suggest creating 3 budgets:
    .
    Static Funding – 0% YOY increase and what he would recommend if zero additional funding was approved.
    .
    Contract Only Funding – YOY increase that funds contractual increases with the rest remaining fixed at prior year levels. What needs to get cut after we fund the pay increases.
    .
    Best Case – YOY increase that includes the contractual increases along with funding for “same services”, but nothin more.
    .
    Please don’t bring a Wish List budget; it shouldn’t even be on the table. And if more funds come from the State through ECS, that isn’t gravy on top to expand the budget. Once we get the ECS completely worked out to where Norwalk is getting its fair share, then come back and ask taxpayers for more. Until then, get innovative and learn to make do. It’s time to get “real world”.

  9. Joe Espo

    To repeat Tim T’s refrain: hold on to your wallets. The promises that Harry’s made, the new spendthrifts on the BOE, the new Rilling Board of Estimate profligates will bring about staggering tax increases.

  10. Notaffiliated

    Where is the outcry from all those women in big hats that used to stand in front of City Hall and protest the war? Maybe some smelling salts are needed amongst that group and others to better manage our tax dollars – I’m surprised we don’t hear that our tax increases are George Bush’s fault.

  11. David

    @Notaffiliated: Where was the outcry when Moccia was increasing taxes?
    .
    @M Allen: When you say 0% YOY, do you include an adjustment for inflation? If not you’re actually asking for a ~2% decrease in YOY budgeting.
    .
    The “real world” we need to live in is the fact that ECS isn’t going to change. Politicians up in Hartford and elsewhere in CT aren’t going to increase their constituents taxes so that Norwalk and Stamford can have their fair share. It’s just not going to happen. The two alternatives are to completely disband ECS or to have some sort of “pay off” (outside of ECS) from Hartford that compensates us for inequity in the system.

  12. M Allen

    David – 0% YOY means just that. No difference in allocated dollars. I understand what it technically means. I’d like to hear what the answer would be if the pot was dry.

  13. Piberman

    Can anyone identify any Democratic Administration not seeking perpetual tax increases year after year ? Goes with the territory. The key here is whether the new Dem lead BOE takes the NFT to Arbitration as previously recommended by the prior panel. Smart money says 4% for teachers and taxpayers dancing happily forever as property values stagnate in Norwalk.

  14. Suzanne

    It does not add up: first, this talk wasn’t given until Monday of this week at the Grace Baptist Church. Does Mr. Espo believe there was some conspiracy by Mr. Rivera and the BOE to NOT talk about tax increases until after the election? Women in big hats protesting the war makes sense: protesting in the same way because of tax increases? Young people being killed by IED’s and bullets vs. more money out of our pockets. Someone needs a little perspective. Why are our teachers getting such a pay raise when competency has not been proven, results have shown so little progress in Norwalk schools? I think an additional $4 million is a big ask under any circumstances but million dollar figures seem to drip off the mouths of these educators as though without conscious, as though they simply deserve it because of their mission. This just is not a fair burden to expect of taxpayers, period. Do well with what you have – Norwalk school teachers need to do better with administrative support not with more of our money.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Suzanne

      The reason for the $4 million is that the state arbitration panel gave the BOE a teacher pay freeze for this year — coincidentally in an election year — and rolled part of the requested increase for this year into next year’s increase, which will be 4.23 percent. The award likely saved the city some money in the long run, and allowed the BOE and some members of the Common Council to take credit for “fully funding” the BOE this year. The other side of that coin is that whoever got elected as mayor and on the BOE and council this year gets to deal with the $4 million-plus same-services budget increase. Dr. Rivera is hoping to find foundation grants and other budget economies to keep the figure down, but the BOE, BET and council may well face either having to raise taxes or cut the schools back from where they are this year. It isn’t pretty, but it would have been the situation regardless of who was elected.

  15. C.G.

    @M Allen, my children have both gone on Nature Classroom field trips in middle school, one just this year and one three years ago, I paid $365.00 for each to go. Not sure who is getting their trip for free.

  16. David

    @Piberman: Can anyone identify any Administration not seeking perpetual tax increases year after year?.
    .
    I have to admit, I’m giggling at the apoplectic statements being made on this site about taxes going up – it’s almost as if taxes didn’t rise one single penny over the last 6 years!

  17. Don’t Panic

    @ David: The “real world” we need to live in is the fact that ECS isn’t going to change. Politicians up in Hartford and elsewhere in CT aren’t going to increase their constituents taxes so that Norwalk and Stamford can have their fair share. It’s just not going to happen. The two alternatives are to completely disband ECS or to have some sort of “pay off” (outside of ECS) from Hartford that compensates us for inequity in the system.
    .
    You mean like the “pay off” arranged by Mr. Cafero described in this article: http://norwalk.dailyvoice.com/schools/norwalk-gop-city-losing-education-money

  18. David

    @Don’t Panic: Mmmm, that looks like the time that the state cut Education money to Norwalk…no?
    .
    Look I really don’t care what the state tells itself in order to get Norwalk more education funding. I think it would be great if the people of Norwalk voted as a block AGAINST the sitting Governor, whoever that is, until equity is restored in some manner. Keep doing it until it sinks in that there are thousands of votes available if some Governor just fixes the problem. Achieve that any way they want. Unfortunately, it takes too much discipline, so you’ll get the democrats always supporting the democratic candidate and the republicans always supporting the Republican candidate. No matter what.
    .
    It takes unity, and we don’t have that. It takes courage, politically, for an entire party within a town to say “no” to their party superiors at a state level. We don’t have that. What we do have is a lot of people who complain about a system that isn’t going to change. At least, not until the day that someone ABSOLUTELY needs a town like Norwalk, or our state representatives, in a vote of some sort. Perhaps, then ECS will change – and only if the a fore mentioned unity and courage is displayed.

  19. Don’t Panic

    @David,
    .
    I don’t disagree that party politics is one way to achieve this goal, but I have always maintained that part of the problem with prying loose additional ECS money had more to do with the way the City has been budgeting for the BOE. Witness the “shortfall” issue two years ago, followed by the “oopsie” after the budget cap was set.
    .
    Ditto last year…the state came up with some extra education money, and the City used it to replace education money in the budget (not in addition to).
    .
    I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw some rebalancing this year, especially with a Democratic Mayor here in Norwalk.

  20. Mr. Ludlow

    Seem to recall an election last week- Piberman and his pack of 4 never admitted that a big salary boost was coming the teachers’ way. One candidate ran of the “success” of the teachers’ arbitration.
    Not only the chickens coming home to roost, but they’re dropping eggs on the politicians heads.

  21. David

    @Don’t Panic: Oh I agree, there’s plenty of blame to go around! Just a point of clarification, last year the state *proposed* extra education money, which was removed from the city education budget. Thereafter the state didn’t come through on the proposal, leaving the BOE fuming. (I believe Mike Lyons said if the state did nothing they’d have been better off).
    .
    I understand what the Mayor and the BET was saying last year – the school budget is what it is, and if the state pays more then that additional amount should be used to credit the tax payers of Norwalk. I get that. What we don’t have is a civilized conversation about the school system we want and its importance to growing the city of Norwalk.
    .
    I often hear young families rule out Norwalk as a place to live because of the school system. Now, personally, I think the perception is rubbish, and I challenge them on it. But the issues we’ve had over school funding just contribute to the perception that Norwalk (as a city) doesn’t care about the school system. People at the higher end of the economic ladder, with children, move to towns/cities with good school systems, it’s a primary decision point. If we want to attract those kinds of families to come to Norwalk and contribute to our local economy, then we need to respond in kind. I firmly believe that education is linked directly to economics.
    .
    Just my humble opinion on the matter.

  22. Asa Magee

    @MAllen – I also agree with @C.G. All of my kids did a Natures’ Classroom trip in 7th grade. Kids are given opportunities to fundraise, but in the end the balance/total is paid by parents/caregivers. Maybe someone at Jefferson figured out a grant? Never heard of 5th graders going before…

  23. When I wrote this last night I meant to put in a link to the previous story on this topic. It’s now been added, but here it is: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/11/wowzer-norwalk-needs-at-least-4-million-more-for-boe-next-year/
    Dr. Rivera was not talking about a tax hike. He was seeking input on goals to guide decision making with the next budget, and they are working on a three year plan. I asked him how he could reach these goals given the large amount of money just to maintain a same services budget, as a follow-up to the previous story.

  24. M Allen

    @David – “I often hear young families rule out Norwalk as a place to live because of the school system…”
    .
    Is it the school system or is it the taxes paid relative to the school system? Do they just not believe they are getting value for their money? What is the proper amount of money spent per child, in the form of taxes, that would result in these families deciding to move to Norwalk? How much money does it take to make this school system better to the point where people decide Norwalk is the place to be rather than Trumbull or Monroe or Bethel. Let’s not just put it on the backs of those who can afford to move to one of the ritzier towns nearby. How about those with less means who choose to push out to more affordable towns in order to find a “better school.” At some point, it isn’t only about the school quality; it is about how many dollars it takes to achieve that quality. How much is enough here? If given an overflowing bucket of tax dollars, how much would the NPS want per pupil?

  25. LWitherspoon

    @M Allen
    Excellent questions, as always. On a per-student basis, Norwalk spends more or less the same as Wilton, and Norwalk spends more than Darien, Easton, and Fairfield.
    .
    See article here: http://norwalk.dailyvoice.com/schools/spending-student-varies-widely-town
    .
    For those who don’t know, those towns are all popular choices for many young parents of means who desire an alternative to Norwalk schools.
    .
    If it’s true that Wilton spends more or less the same amount of money per pupil as Norwalk, and many towns spend less, then we need to be asking ourselves what those towns are doing differently that’s seen as so much more desirable by so many families. Are they getting more for their money, or are there other factors at play?

  26. Suzanne

    I think L. Witherspoon asks a good question. I happen to live on the border of one of those “golden” towns where I am surrounded by three families, all of whom lived in Norwalk and all of whom moved just across the border, one from Rowayton, one from West Norwalk and another from East Norwalk, to obtain better educations for their children. If there is such equity in spending with Norwalk schools as to those listed towns above, why aren’t the results better? Granted, there are socio-economic factors not present in those other towns. Is this the deciding issue that makes the results of Norwalk’s education so poor (by state testing standards?) Whatever manipulations of arbitration and the BOE, I still say there must be something that can be accomplished with existing resources, perhaps getting back to the “basics” instead of investing in notepads?, for this “same services” budget. I do not understand why NON sees it necessary to defend the current administrator with an explanation which was already in the article, either. Reform needs to take place, but not by always throwing money at it.

  27. M Allen

    Yes, its the socio-economic issues. Everyone knows its the socioeconomic issues. The question is: how much money needs to be spent in order to overcome the socioeconomic issues? Better, how much are taxpayers willing to spend in order to overcome those socioeconomic issues? Because we can all say we want equality in education. It’s easy to say. But how much are we actually willing to spend? There is a limit where we say “good enough”

  28. David

    @M Allen: Good questions. The question of taxes never comes up. The initial test is school quality and Norwalk, in their opinion, doesn’t pass that test. These are people who are are professional, management, corporate America, they wouldn’t be buying big houses in surrounding towns, by any means, and could get much more house for their money in Norwalk. They are the type of people who really should be living in a city. So, the value proposition for living in Norwalk is there, they just won’t consider it.
    .
    Now, I want to make it perfectly clear – I challenge them on their assertions. I don’t accept that for families that have the means to send their kids to tutoring, after school activities and other forms of enrichment, that Norwalk kids come out with a worse education than their peers in the surrounding towns. I have also convinced friends in Norwalk to try the public schools instead of going private. They did, and they thank me for it constantly.

  29. M Allen

    David – I agree. Good students from good families will do very well in Norwalk schools. I think it’s pretty hard to challenge the quality of education or the teachers or the facilities. When they say “Norwalk Schools” they mean something else. The something nobody wants to talk about. The other things that revolve around their child’s education. If it isn’t the facilities, teachers, curriculum or overall quality of education, which it isn’t, then what is it? It’s something tax dollars won’t fix.

  30. David

    M Allen – you said it earlier, socio-economics plays a big part. I mean that’s essentially the achievement gap defined right there, and that’s a general CT problem (apparently we’re the worst in the country in that regard).
    .
    As someone pointed out earlier, we spend the same as surrounding towns, but don’t have the same end results. I don’t know what it would take to make up the gap, that would be an interesting exercise to undertake, just to know. I’m guessing it would probably consist of getting kids to school earlier, getting out later and having enrichment programs like music, art, science, etc during the extra time.

  31. Suzanne

    If it is socio-economics, then those issues should be addressed – expensive teachers and administrators do not necessarily successful schools make. They do, however, increase the tax burden for every Norwalk citizen. Years ago (graduate level class in urban education, I do not remember the specific citation) there was a test done with “learning disabled” kids where the LD kids were put in a classroom where the teacher was told the students were exceptional. The “exceptional” students were placed in a classroom where the teacher was told they were learning disabled. The LD students thrived under what should have been a curriculum beyond their means. The smart kids became less able to comprehend and learn. All of this based on the teacher’s expectations of who these kids were. Maybe some of those like expectations are what is going on in Norwalk schools. Thus, the perception that children who want to go Ivy League better go to schools elsewhere or go private. My friends had the opposite experience of the poster above: they sent their child to Brien McMahon (sp?) and she ended up in a private school finding the environment and classrooms intolerable. Again, every child probably has different needs but that speaks to innovation and not more and more money supporting a dysfunctional system.

  32. LWitherspoon

    Numerous times I’ve been told by young families that they’re looking to move out of Norwalk for better schools elsewhere. I ask what’s better about those other schools, and the response is usually that they have “heard schools in nearby towns are better.” No details, just that.
    .
    Perception becomes reality. On the other hand, conventional wisdom usually contains some element of truth. I don’t pretend to know the answer to all this, but I believe this problem is at the heart of why Norwalk property values have been slow to recover from the lows seen during the financial crisis.

  33. I don’t think it perception versus reality. Towns surrounding Norwalk DO have a better curriculum than Norwalk and more engaged students and parents (which are the KEY words – engaged parents).
    I would like to point out something that was pointed out to me this summer – compare the essay questions for Norwalk’s summer reading program versus Westport and lets see how they compare…it’s an insult to the Norwalk student’s to say the least. Is this how Norwalk’s teachers challenge their students???
    *
    Based on an article in the Norwalk Hour, Westport, Wilton and Weston all have high marks in the state’s “District Performance Index”; a state measure of school performance.
    *
    Norwalk isn’t any where near being in the top 25.

  34. Yikes! OOPS! “Norwalk student’s”
    Should be: “Norwalk students”

  35. marjoriem

    Not very long ago (just before the election), I was writing on NON that the highly touted arbitration award “won” by Sue Haynie would reveal itself after the election as the disasterous budget problem for the 2014-2015 school year budget. Who wrote about this amazing “win?” None other than the leader of the Apples, Lisa Thomson. While Sue Haynie is no longer on the Board, there were something like 6,000 votes for her. I don’t get it. But that is up to you, the voter, to vote for Apples. Now we have more Apples on the BoE. I wonder how many people who are commenting here voted for these Apples? Rilling and Rivera are victims of this 4-5 million dollar deficit as a result of the disasterous arbitration. Come on, voters. Tell the truth. Did you vote? Did you vote for the Apples? Take responsibility for what The Norwalk taxpayer is now facing!

  36. M Allen

    @marjorie – wondered where you’d been. So exactly how did 0% one year and 4.3% another year change the equation any? Had it been 2.15% in both years, would we be in any different position? The issue here isn’t any one sing year. It’s the cumulative effect over time. It’s the cumulative effect that needs the breaks put on. And the longer it goes on the longer the taxpayer anomosity will build. Whether its your arch-nemesis, the Apples, or some other reform, they better find a way of reforming and innovating because the dollars are going to be harder and harder to come by.

  37. marjoriem

    M. Allen, your argument is not logical. Because there was a 0% increase for this year’s budget, we rehired aides, etc. Those poor people will need to be laid off again next year. How else are we going to find 3-4 million dollars. Your argument plays with real people’s lives in an election year. It made for wonderful politics to lie to people by saying negotiations was a win for the AA (Apple Alliance). Now people are angry because really major programs will need to be cut. Is there a difference in the budget cuts spread over two year? It’s called transparency and honesty in an election year. I am wondering how far up the political tree the “ixnay on the udgetbay” secret went. Someone withheld the truth and told others to do the same! Well, I AM saying, “I told you so!”

  38. M Allen

    Marjorie – why did they rehire aides knowing the only reason there was room in the budget was because of a one-year cost savings? Could it have anything to do with the blood-curdling screams coing from the schools that they didn’t have enough aides and the children were suffering?
    .
    It has nothing to do with those “poor people”. We don’t hire people to be nice. We hire people to fill positions and positions are budgeted for on an annual basis. I know, it sucks to be thought of as a position. But sometimes positions exists and sometimes they don’t depending on budgetary concerns or positional needs or some combination of the two. Or are you under the impression that once someone is hired it is for life? Look, I don’t like playing with people’s lives. Maybe those folks never should have been hired based on a one-year cost savings. But they were because someone found money in the budget to pay for that year’s request from the schools. Maybe the schools should have said, no, we shouldn’t hire them just for one year.
    .
    As for the 4.3% increase that is coming. Don’t worry. Some people will get it. Some won’t because to pay for it some positions may need to be sacrificed. But isn’t that how unions operate? The many get a raise, a few get the axe? My money is on nobody getting the ax, everyone getting the raise and my taxes going up. So at least you can feel good about that.

  39. marjoriem

    M.Allen, I don’t feel good about taxes going up. I don’t feel good about the raises, given the predicament in which it puts Rivera. Surprisingly, I don’t want taxes raised in Norwalk. BTW, hank you for wondering where I was. It’s nice to be missed! 🙂

  40. M Allen

    Marjorie – I’m pretty sure that Dr. Rivera has experience with the effects of contractual pay raises on the budget. I’m also pretty sure he, like most of us, knew that this raise was coming before he took the job. As for you not wanting taxes raised in Norwalk, what is it that you do want? What would you have considered a “win” in terms of the negotiation? To me, 2.1% in each year is just no better than 0% + 4.3%. Bite the bullet a little each year or bite it hard one year. Either way, it is just bleeding the taxpayers more and more. Norwalk is on a bad path with fewer and fewer people carrying the burden. I’ve said it before that at some point the coffer runs dry.

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