Rilling lauds Norwalk BoE’s transparency regarding its $2.9 million surplus

Mayor Harry Rilling.
Mayor Harry Rilling.

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s remarkable that the Norwalk Board of Education has come forward with a $2.9 million surplus, Mayor Harry Rilling said, promising to consider the list of possible expenditures Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera has developed.

“I find that the $2.9 million surplus – I think it’s remarkable and it shows complete fiscal responsibility on the Board of Education and transparency that perhaps we never had before, where they contact the city and say ‘Look, we have some extra money and here is what we’d like to do,’” Rilling said.

There will be a meeting to discuss Rivera’s ideas, he said.

The board can spend an amount equal to 1 percent of its $164 million budget – $1.643 million – simply by getting Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) approval, BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said. The remaining $1.4 million must be approved by the BET and the Common Council as a special appropriation, he said.

“There isn’t any mechanism for carrying funds forward for a future year. If not allocated to us now, it would go in the general fund and could be spent on anything by the city,” Lyons said.

There’s been no feedback yet from Finance Director Thomas Hamilton, he said.

“The $1.6 million would automatically be able to be placed in their coffers,” Rilling said. “Some of the other things we can look at and see exactly what we can do and how we can do it. I know that there are some capital items that they are looking, if we can find that these capital items are coming down the pike it might be wise to use the funds now. So we’ll just see what happens, it will be in discussions over the next couple of days and it will be brought before the Board of Estimate and Taxation.
“I do want to commend the Board of Education, I do want to commend Dr. Rivera and his staff really for their transparency, their fiscal responsibility and working together with the city to try to make sure that we get things done but in a responsible way,” Rilling said.

Some Norwalkers wonder why the money has to be spent.

“We’re going to look at every aspect. Of course we want to make sure that we keep taxes as low as we possibly can,” Rilling said.

This year’s operating budget is $8,114,206 higher than last year’s budget, but $7.6 million was mandated by collective bargaining agreements and pension fund additions made before Rilling took office, he said. Only $500,000 of the hike was optional. That went to fund school resource officers and to keep the libraries open on Sundays, he said. (For more information read this story.)

“We’re trying to be as fiscally responsible as we possibly can,” Rilling said. “We understand we went through a reval, which really created some problems. Some people’s taxes went down, other people’s taxes went up, but we are trying to work as diligently as we can to protect next year when we hopefully will see taxes kind of stable.”


22 responses to “Rilling lauds Norwalk BoE’s transparency regarding its $2.9 million surplus”

  1. anon

    “…we hopefully will see taxes kind of stable.” says Rilling. How does he define stability? Homeowners are baseline over-taxed. 93% of the tax increase went to “…collective bargaining agreements and pension fund additions made before Rilling took office”

    The Board of Education found efficiencies, kudos.

    What is Rilling going to do to find efficiencies and what is Rilling going to do about those collective bargaining agreements that are killing Norwalk taxpayers.

  2. Taxpayer Fatigue

    This is great work by Dr. Rivera and his staff and they should be thanked for their diligence and fiscal responsibility. But, before we rush to spend the savings, let’s find out what the mandated increase amounts are for 2015/16? They were $7.6M for 2014/15 – how much will they be for 2015/2016? The BOE budget is the largest driver of tax increases every year and our stagnant property values are directly attributable to the low school test scores that Norwalk has, especially when compared to surrounding communities.

  3. Pibermanfmc

    Good to see positive comments from the Mayor. Does he still plan to meet individually with BOE members to discuss bizarre accusations of discrimination by the Board against some of its members and their call for resignation of current and former Chairs ? Or will the Mayor be content with having criticized the former BOE Chair ? And continue not to criticize the BOE members for their utterly bizarre statements unprecedented in Norwalk and throughout CT that brought such negative publicity to our City ?

  4. Don’t Panic

    There is a difference between transparency and self-congratulatory PR. It is stunning that we have been so trained NOT to expect the basics after so many years under Moccia that having the B of E do what it is supposed to be doing looks extraordinary to observers. Was there some option available where they couldn’t report the surplus to the City and the BET?
    Question: Do Lyons and Rivera share their “S” patch and cape? Or do they each have their own?

  5. One and Done

    This only affirms that the city has been wasting millions over the years. Give the money back to the taxpayers instead of looking for new and improved ways to piss it away.

  6. EveT

    I consider the language in the last sentence of @One and Done objectionably profane.

  7. Bill

    Not profane, apt

  8. OhNoNorwalk

    Fiscal Responsibility is a joke. Outsource the Police, Fire and Overpaid managers in the city. That is Fiscal Responsibility. We our over taxed in this town.

  9. LWitherspoon

    Congratulations to Mike Lyons, Dr. Rivera, and the BoE for achieving the fiscal responsibility that led to the savings.
    If the money can be spent in ways that are guaranteed to create long-term yearly savings well in excess of the initial spending, let’s consider it. Otherwise, return the money to the general fund and give taxpayers a break next year.
    Kudos to Taxpayer Fatigue for asking an excellent question above. Before spending any of the $2.9 million, let’s look look at what the mandated salary increases for the City unions will cost us next year. Perhaps it would be prudent to put the money aside to pay for those increases, rather than spending the money on something shiny only to hit taxpayers with yet another increase next year.
    As a candidate, Rilling stated that “Norwalk taxes are excessive for the services received in exchange.” As Mayor, he now has an opportunity to do something about it. Will he?
    Source for Rilling’s quote: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/05/dem-questionnaire-responses-shed-new-light-on-mayor-candidates/

  10. Mike Lyons

    Fatigue – “The BOE budget is the largest driver of tax increases every year and our stagnant property values are directly attributable to the low school test scores that Norwalk has, especially when compared to surrounding communities.”
    So the solution is what? To NOT take actions designed to get the scores up? To NOT take actions so we can get special education in order so we can bring students back in house and potentially save millions every year on the out-of-district tuitions we pay now?
    So if the Board runs big deficits (a few years back), its bad. If it gets its financial house in order and runs surpluses, its bad. Got it.

  11. One and Done

    Mike, its not bad to have a surplus and I know all things aren’t equal here….BUT…if you are spending less than expected and scores are going up versus years we were spending more than budgeted and scores were going down…..THEN….maybe the answer to lower test scores is to not spend as much. We’ve tried everything else, why not try this? Maybe, just maybe budgetary pressures and strong fiscal management are making our resources more productive and efficient and resulting in better quality? Just a thought.

  12. Mike Lyons

    One, I agree with you. Our focus (e.g., K-5 Literacy program) is on quality, not just dollars (the curricular materials we chose are higher quality than what was recommended last year but at half the cost). Its just a bit frustrating to have made so much progress on instituting financial sanity on the Board and then be accused of engaging in “self-congratulatory PR”.

  13. LWitherspoon

    @Mike Lyons
    Approximately how much are BoE employee salary costs projected to rise in 2015/2016?

  14. Taxpayer Fatigue

    M Lyons – please read my comments again. I congratulated Dr. Rivera and his staff for getting the BOE’s financial house under some sort of control after years of mismanagement. I haven’t suggested cuts in the school budget either. We have increased spending in the BOE budget and added new positions, introduced new technology, etc. and we are paying higher taxes as a result – that is a fact, not an emotional exaggeration. I hope that it all works – that our kids receive the education that they deserve and that significant improvements are reflected in test scores. Like it or not, the reality is that Norwalk is not a desirable place to live if you can afford other towns like Fairfield because our taxes are relatively high, and the school’s test scores are low, hence our stagnant property values. Whether test scores really measure effectiveness can be debated, but it is what families and businesses look at before they make a decision to invest in Norwalk. I think most people are pleased that despite a few dysfunctional BOE members and one who is continually absent, the BOE is functioning again, and Dr. Rivera seems to be very competent. But, there has been no statistical improvement in test scores yet, and I recognize that takes time – how long and what is reasonable – I don’t know, but I would assume we will begin seeing some significant results in another year or two – and not just a one or two point statistical aberration. It is a fact that more than half of our property taxes go towards our schools – and I am glad we are investing in them, but is it wrong to expect some kind of measurable return, ie., improved test scores? By all appearances, you and Dr. Rivera seem to be doing a great job and we should continue to invest, but I expect measurable improved results, and I also expect highly-paid competent managers to find savings to defer inevitable cost increases for the services provided.

    If you and Dr. Rivera have a plan to bring more special education in house that will save “millions of dollars”, then by all means bring it forward. But it needs to be a real plan. How much do we have to invest? When do the savings occur? What will be done with the savings? Those are all fair questions that need to be answered before making any investment and it is not in any way unreasonable to ask them.

    Some people on this blog are ready to canonize you and Dr. Rivera as saints right now. As a volunteer, you do deserve a lot of credit for all the hassle you are putting up with (and maybe you should be made a saint right now for having to deal with it). All I’m saying is that we need measurable results and we have to temper our investments with the reality of the current poor economy, our high property taxes, and our stagnant real estate values – as well as known contractual commitments that are going to increase costs to the taxpayers. If Dr. Rivera and his team, along with the support of the BOE, deliver a 10 to 15 basis point improvement in our test scores within the next five years, I’ll make the sainthood petition to the pope myself!

  15. piberman

    It never ceases to amaze me that despite having far and away the most competent BOE Chair and Superintendent in the City’s modern history we still have citizens anxious to micro manage BOE/Supt. decisions. Does anyone remember that the BOE was elected to use its best judgment in running our Public Schools ? And how come these wizards of micro management have nothing to say about Council decisions ? Is it because the Council President doesn’t write in Nancy’s ? Does anyone commend the Council for super decision making ? The best way to really honor Mike Lyons – arguably the most professional and competent public servant in modern Norwalk’s history – is to acknowledge his abilities. That means asking questions rather than telling “the man” how to do his job.

  16. Bobby Arvanitakis

    2.9 million surplus.
    Who takes the credit?
    Who tells ” Because we outsource custodial jobs?)
    Some politicians (not public servants) are suffering “the Pinocchio syndrome.”
    Long way to replace the five million missing, a year ago.

  17. Bobby Arvanitakis


    Does anyone remember that the BOE was elected to use its best judgment in running our Public Schools ?

    Mr. anonymous, you are making a little mistake.
    BoE persons are elected to serve the people wellbeing, not to run a dictatorship.
    BoE persons they don’t even like or hear each other.
    The majority always wins, even if they make a BAD decision.
    They lost the Mayoral election and they BoE want to punish Norwalk voters. That’s the sad truth and truth has very little friends.
    A proud Norwalk citizen for 40 years, that doesn’t hide.

  18. Don’t Panic

    Taxpayer Fatigue is correct. Fiscal management is not the end goal here, improving the schools is. When the RESULTS start rolling in, the you can start the patting each other on the back.
    It is easy to bungee in and make a lot of changes–as Rivera has done elsewhere. If he is still here to take a bow when the fruits of these very expensive managerial plantings are harvested, I will be in the front row to applaud.
    in the meantime Lyons should wait to start his run for mayor until after November.
    Oh, and can we stop handing out bonuses to management while we are outsourcing services. This is one practice from the private sectot we should not be replicating here.

  19. Suzanne

    Mr. Lyons, I am always puzzled at the emphasis on K-5 literacy and other programs. Why is 6-12 not included in these programs and resulting statistics or are they? As with Head Start, it has been shown there are significant benefits to young children’s learning abilities with this program but they drop off if not reinforced in their subsequent public education.
    When my husband and I moved here, we were told that the primary education was excellent but that we might want to consider private education for at least high school. A friend recently sent her child to Brian McMahan (sp?) and had to do just that.
    Congratulations on your surplus but can you address this please? Thank you.

  20. Mike Lyons

    Suzanne, the emphasis on K-5 is based on the clear understanding of literacy experts that if the proper groundwork isn’t laid down in those years, it becomes extremely difficult to compensate for that lack in later years.
    However, note that our K-5 Literacy Program is the last element of our English and Math Common Core implementations. We put K-5 Common Core math into effect two to three years ago (GoMath), put 6-8 Common Core math in place last year (see https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/08/math-curriculum-authorized-by-norwalk-boe (read my statement at the end of the comments section), implemented Common Core-compliant algebra and related higher math programs in 2012-2013, and approved our Common Core English program for 6-12 in 2013 as well. We have appropriated over $4 million for Common Core implementation in the last two years.
    I know some people pull their kids from our schools because of things they were “told.” In my case, my three children went through Norwalk High School; one went to George Washington University in DC and is now a Navy officer and carrier pilot; the second went to Johns Hopkins University and is now enrolled at Tufts Veterinary School; the last one starts Berklee College of Music (Boston) next week. Our high schools send kids to most of the Ivys every year. I think people are being “told” the wrong things.
    As noted above, we have moved forward with Common Core at ALL schools and ALL grades, with K-5 Literacy the final piece. Hopefully people will now give us a second look.

  21. Mike Lyons

    Panic, you’re right, results are the key. Our kids’ standardized test scores have risen notably in the last few years, particularly in math, where we are farthest along in Common Core implementation.
    Also, thanks for the endorsement, but I’m not running for Mayor. 🙂
    Also, can you specify which “bonuses” we’ve “handed out to management”? I’m not aware of any; maybe you can enlighten me.

  22. Suzanne

    Mr. Lyons, Thank you for the summary and congratulations on the success of your children’s academic achievements.

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