Rivera pitches $168 million ‘responsible’ BOE budget

Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera promotes his plans for change at Norwalk Public Schools at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera was finally allowed to passionately present his operating budget funding request for the next school year Tuesday, gaining unanimous Board of Education approval for the $168.1 million plan as he spoke of a “full frontal attack” on the achievement gap in Norwalk Public Schools.

Rivera talked about taking a tough attitude toward school administrators and staff and advocated a vision for the future that might include changing the grade levels at Norwalk schools. He and Chief Financial Officer Richard Rudl pitched both the operating budget and a $5.9 million capital budget request, which also attained unanimous approval.

The operating budget presentation had been planned for Dec. 17 but was postponed because of snow. Budget documents have been online since Dec. 27.

The requests will now go to the city’s finance department.

Rivera talked of creating a culture of accountability.

“If we are going to really transform Norwalk Public Schools and get the kind of high performance that we expect from every single child in this school, we have to be going on all cylinders and on all tracks,” he said. “We have to look at how we change the culture that we operate in, high expectations … building the knowledge and the skills constantly of our teachers and our school leaders. Principals are key in our buildings. We’ve got to be really clear about the standards that we have for our principals, similarly for our teachers.”

School quality reviews and professional standards aligned with new evaluation systems were among the priorities laid out in the budget.

“When we have a standard where everybody is rated a proficient or exemplary and our performance data is telling us otherwise, we are accepting mediocrity,” he said. “We can’t. We have to be clear in what our professional standards are, how that gets to be then aligned with our performance system. … We have to raise the bar for everybody.”

Every year, one or two schools would go through a vigorous review, he said. As the switch to Common Core State Standards progresses, there will be non-negotiable standards for skills teachers and administrators must have, he said.

Special Education also is a priority. Rivera said he and others spent all day last Friday studying the Capital Region Education Council (CREC) review of Norwalk’s special education department. The budget includes $245,000 to implement the report’s recommendations.

It also calls for $285,000 for a Human Resources department redesign, reorganization, staff recruitment and systems improvement. “How we select our staff, the kinds of orientations and introductions they get, all of that is critically important,” he said, pitching the request for a “state of the art” HR department.

Rivera’s plan calls for the elimination of six assistant principal positions, with the goal of having a full-time curriculum and instruction site director at each elementary school, focusing on Common Core, K-3 literacy and supervision and evaluation. The budget would fund six such directors. Rivera said he is confident that a foundation – which he cannot name at present – will come through with funding in late February for five more, bringing the total to 11.

The budget calls for a one-time $100,000 expense to create a facility utilization plan. He spoke of possibly changing which grades attend which schools.

Rudl said there are 100 more students in the schools this year, and an additional 100 are projected for next year. A significantly greater percentage of students are on free or reduced lunch, Rivera said, going on to say that he is still trying to understand the way Connecticut allocates education funding that the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula “drives him crazy”.

There are other factors: state reimbursement for transportation costs and special education costs are going down, he said.

The operating budget was done using a multi-year approach for the first time so administrators can “begin to target those potential adjustments we want to do in the future,” Rivera said.

The budget calls for a 3.6 percent increase over last year’s budget. A 4.7 percent increase is forecast for 2015-2016 and a 3.5 percent increase is forecast for the year after that.

BOE Chairman Mike Lyons said a lot of work and “very deep thought” had gone into the “fiscally responsible” budget requests. He said he appreciated the improvements made last year and this year, after seeing “incoherent” budgets in his six years on the Board of Estimate and Taxation.

“I really get the sense now that we are getting some realistic goals and targets that we can aim at,” he said.


18 responses to “Rivera pitches $168 million ‘responsible’ BOE budget”

  1. marjoriem

    Sounds good!

  2. piberman

    The challenge in the coming year will lies in the new contract with the hostile NFT that’s counting on Mayor Rilling’s support to secure a large enough contract increase to maintain if not improve their embarrassingly large 5th highest salary ranking in the state. Norwalk taxpayers are hoping the BOE will again have the grit to take the NFT to arbitration to secure a contract representing the income of the community. No matter how the contract negotiations end we can be sure that retaining a prominent Superintendent long enough to make a real difference depends on a BOE having the grit to prevent the NFT from having a seat at the table as it did for many, many years.

  3. marjoriem

    Berman, you sound like a broken record. You just keep repeating and repeating and repeating ad nauseam.

  4. Oldtimer

    Declaring an intent to go to arbitration at this time, before meaningful negotiations, is going on record as having no intent to negotiate fully and fairly, as required by law. Even if Plberman has good intentions, his suggestion could work against the City’s best interest. After both sides have negotiated to the best of their ability and failed to reach an agreement, then is the only time to consider arbitration. Results at arbitration can go either way, of course.

  5. longtime resident

    Geez. There is so much hat could be said about the superintndent’s budget proposal. Give us a break, piberman. Your posts, no matter what thread, are nearly verbatim. It’s gotten tedious.

  6. anonymous

    Great presentation by the Superintendent.

    PBerman speaks uncomfortable truths by reminding taxpayers that overly generous employee salaries, constant raises, and ever-rising Cadillac benefit costs always trump students.

  7. You may want to check your facts

    Except that’s not what’s happening.

  8. anonymous

    You may want to check your facts, you may want to check your facts.

  9. marjoriem

    Let’s agree to disagree. Those who feel that teachers’ salaries and benefits are the Cadillac model of Fairfield County, no one will change your mythical thinking. Those who try to explain why salaries are what they are, don’t waste your breath explaining anymore. People believe what they want to believe. No one wants to listen to either side anymore. It’s boring and old. This is about the superintendent’s budget for 2014-2015. It’s reality. It’s the now. Let’s discuss it.

  10. @marjorem,
    Its mythical thinking that the teachers are worth the salaries they are making.

  11. David

    Irishgirl: some come on then, what do you think teachers should be paid? Give a number, or relative amount to what they get paid right now. Be specific.

  12. More of the Same

    A 4% increase request is a great start. The BOE should counter with 2 and end up agreeing at 3. That is how budget negotiations work in the real world. For the naysayers…. whoever can’t trim 1% off an increase is not qualified to run such an enterprise. There is fat everywhere and we who do budgeting professionally know that there is always padding involved. End it at 3 and everyone go home happy for 1 year.

  13. marjoriem

    Look, if you insist on laying blame, it was Sue Haynie who caused the 4% increase. As I understand it, she put forth a 0% increase for the teachers for two years in a row and refused to budge. The Union’s last best offer was 4%. The arbitrator had to choose between the two last best offers. That’s the law. No arbitrator is going to choose a 0% increase for two years in a row. There was no chance for a compromise. This is the way arbitration works. So the salary issue did go to arbitration, but Sue Haynie didn’t know how the final decision is made. In arbitration. She obviously didn’t do her homework.

  14. longtime resident

    marjoriem, you absolutely correct. Haynie blew it. The arbitrator must choose one position or the other, and they would never have chosen a zero% increase two years in a row.

  15. jlightfield

    The highest paid public sector employee in the State of Connecticut is a basketball coach. Every time anyone posts here about how Norwalk teachers are paid too much, please substitute “basketball coach.” Then look up the graduation rates of UCONN basketball players. And then ask what is the purpose of a college degree. Then, maybe, we will have a real debate about education.

  16. Joe

    Regarding the second Norwalk Board of Education meeting that Norwalk taxpayers were allowed to see on TV after the two year black-out;

    Could someone please tell Mr. Rivera to use the microphone next time.

    His budget address was hard-to-hear and annoying,

    After 45 minutes of non-budgetary gibberish and platitudes, Rivera was followed by his assistant who also made sure to stand away from the microphone as he rattled off many numbers very quickly.

    And then when the committee members began asking questions, the TV video abruptly cuts off!

    Apparently, $150 Million per year isn’t enough to afford an extra hour of video tape.

    And the black-out continues.

  17. More of the same

    @JL. UConn basketball is a profit center. Why mess with one of the few segments of state government that doesn’t cost more than the value it provides? If an NPS teacher were to bring tens of millions in direct revenues to the city, I would be the first to say pay them for it.
    Then there are the intangibles. A good basketball team draws enrollment. Our enrollment numbers are down historically. What does that tell you?

  18. @David (teacher, I take it???)
    30-50% less.
    Does that satisfy you?

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