Rowayton parents pepper Rivera with questions

NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk Public Schools budget forum Wednesday in Rowayton turned into a forum with the superintendent as Manny Rivera fielded questions about everything from school schedules to the importance of the arts.

About 30 people attended the budget forum at Roton Middle School, a spike from the two people at a forum the night before and the four at the first forum last week.

Rivera said he would have a proposed budget recommendation ready next week. The initial projection, if everything remained the same, was for a 4.5 percent increase over last year – a $7,561,230 jump – but that has been decreased by negotiations with unions, he said.

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera talks to parents Wednesday in Roton Middle School.
Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera talks to parents Wednesday in Roton Middle School.

“We knew a year ago that we were going to have to take steps to control spending but also continue our program development,” Rivera said. “… We have  actually been very effective in working together with our unions and there is savings that I will share with the board when I present the recommended budget to the Finance Committee.”

But, he said, he is concerned about sustainability. A two-year grant from the Dalio Foundation has paid for site curriculum and instructional specialists, a replacement position for assistant principals. Rivera said he is concerned about maintaining the positions when the grant runs out at the end of the next school year.

Rivera said it had been projected that there would be 11,175 students in Norwalk this year. There are 11,345. Four new teachers had been budgeted but six or seven have been hired, he said.

“It’s interesting, even Stamford had a huge enrollment growth, unanticipated. I even got an email from their superintendent seeking whether or not there were school districts that had space that could handle some of the growth in Stamford. Other districts had significant growth,” Rivera said.

Although Norwalk did not get the Race to the Top grant it had sought to improve school libraries a year ago, PTO’s and other organizations have stepped up to renovate some of the libraries and purge old books, he said.  Interestingly, the copyrights of most of the books are about 20 years old, dating back to 1995, he said.

Norwalk is continuing to advance the strides it has made with its new math programs, literacy and social studies, Rivera said. Deputy Superintendent Tony Daddona is leading committees in world language and social studies, he said.

He also stressed the importance of offering children learning opportunities around the clock.

“I heard some really great news,” Rivera said. “I haven’t seen it yet, but the evaluator for our summer program was just taken aback by the results that we had when we doubled the number of kids we had in summer school this year, and some of the results that have been coming out of that program I hope to have ready to share with the board very soon.”

The first question posed came from a Columbus Magnet School parent, Judy Phillips. She wanted to know what could be done for children who are academically talented. “If we are going to really reach all of our children we need to look at those above level,” she said.

Funny thing, Rivera said – the next professional development day, to be held on Nov. 4, includes three speakers who will talk about identifying talented children. “It’s on our radar screen,” he said.

That became a bit of a theme. Another parent suggested that digital media specialists for fourth- and fifth-graders are needed in school libraries. Director of Technology and Innovations Ralph Valenzisi reminded everyone about the attempt to get a Race to the Top grant.

“It was on the radar before… One of the things we found is the PTA’s at Rowayton and Silvermine have really jumped in,” Valenzisi said. It might be possible to offer more training for people who are already involved and make them media curators, he said.

Another parent said it broke her heart to have her children come home and say they hate the art and music classes. “Academics in isolation aren’t going to be able to help our kids,” she said, explaining that her husband got a job with a hedge fund doing computer programming partly because he had gone to art school and could fix things more effectively with his creative thinking.

Rivera agreed that it was key to support the arts.

Lisa Thomson asked if the schools could fix the scheduling. Different elementary schools do different things, she said. By the time kids reach high school they often end up in study halls because their classes don’t mesh, she said.

Rivera agreed that is a problem. The schools had a consultant for a short time, but, “You have to come to the realization that you can’t do everything. There are some choices that have to be made,” he said.

Teachers need to learn things, too, and the instructional times overlap, he said. It’s difficult to maximize the time efficiencies of “itinerant staff,” the social workers and special ed instructors, he said, as they have children in two or three schools and the conflicting schedules make for a very inefficient use of time.

Daddona said the high school schedules are being studied, and it looks like block scheduling will be the choice. That decision needs to be made by December because course selection hinges on it, he said.

A seven-period schedule is  not going to work at the middle schools with the revised curriculum. More periods are needed, and there may be double math periods, he said.

Elementary school scheduling decisions will be made by February, he said. The problem is the differing sizes of the schools and the teachers’ contractual needs for prep time, he said.

There are four-, five- and six-day schedules.

“Kids do well with a four-day schedule,” he said. “It’s us adults that don’t do well with that. That seems to be working, but when we go to our larger schools it’s a problem because we can’t get the teachers’ prep time in, so we’re researching all of that now.”

Another parent asked if the school days might be lengthened.

Rivera said that would be great, but there are financial and contractual constraints. The solution is to offer after-school learning, he said.

Another parent said it is absurd to have elementary school students going to school at 9:20 a.m. Parents need to get to work, she said. And, “We are dying with getting our high-schoolers up at 6:30,” she said. “Our kids are getting four or five hours of sleep.”

“Unfortunately this is another example of the tail wagging the dog,” Rivera said. There are three tiers of buses, and things have to be done in order, not simultaneously, due to financial constraints, he said.

“Why not just reverse high school and elementary?” one parent asked.

“When is the next superintendent?” Rivera joked.

BoE member Mike Barbis said some school districts are doing that. It’s a big problem, as some high schoolers have sports and others have after-school jobs, he said.

Another parent complained that her teenager has a double open end – two free periods at the end of the day  because credit requirements have been met – and is out of school at 12:15 p.m. every day.

“As we get more expert at what we call personalizing learning, the high school day doesn’t have to be the same for all kids,” Rivera said. “I think that’s the adjustment we have to make, and even for some staff, that might be on a different schedule. There are high schools that have actually made those kinds of adjustments where they have certain staff come in later and then they stay later. If you think about it, some students may come to school four days a week in the mornings and then in the afternoons they may be more offsite; on a Friday they may be elsewhere. We as a system need to get more sophisticated about this whole idea of personalized learning and connecting learning to students and that means having flexible scheduling and knowing what it means and how to work it in our schools. It doesn’t quite answer your question, but it’s certainly something we ought not ignore.”

The next NPS budget forum will be at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 5, at Ponus Ridge Middle School. 


9 responses to “Rowayton parents pepper Rivera with questions”

  1. MarjorieM

    Looks like I was right about the assistant principals (now called curriculum directors). The budget decisions that looked so great last year will not be sustainable. What happened to the three year budget plan?

  2. Kevin Di Mauro


    A very good question. I remember a big discussion here at NON involving Mike Lyons, you, and other commentators only a couple of months ago.

    Mike Lyons insisted that it was Manny Rivera’s recent 3 year budget that resulted in the 2 million dollar surplus for the BOE. If I remember correctly he accused you of trying to “rewrite history” by crediting the surplus to other people.

    Maybe Mike can explain what happened to the surplus and the 3 year budget plan. Why is there now a new budget proposal with over 7.5 million increase?

  3. MarjorieM

    Looks like the honeymoon is over. No one is coming to the superintendent’s defense.

  4. Mike Lyons

    Kevin, ‘what happened to the surplus’ is exactly what we said would happen with the surplus — the designated uses are discussed in this NON article (https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2014/09/norwalk-boes-1-6-spending-plan-gets-unanimous-bet-approval) and others.

    The $7.5 million increase for next year is exactly what was called for in the 3-Year Plan (though we have achieved several favorable union contract negotiations that will bring the actual figure below that).

    Addressing continuation of the Curriculum Specialists is something that has also been discussed here many times.

    There’s nothing new here, so I’m at a bit of a loss why you and Marj are acting like there is …

  5. Kevin Di Mauro


    Thanks for the reply.

    Is this 3 year budget plan available to the public ?

  6. Mike Lyons

    The summary is 4 slides from the end of this presentation (http://www.norwalkps.org/common/pages/DisplayFile.aspx?itemId=3277992) fromthe school system’s web site. The detailed 3-year budget is not on the web site but is available from the Finance department.

  7. Kevin Di Mauro

    Thanks again.

  8. Kevin Di Mauro


    The most recent link provided by Mike Lyons shows the 3 year plan. Page 29 titled “Multi-Year Projection” includes budget amounts for fiscal years 2013/2014, 2014/2015, and also proposed amounts for years 2015/2016 increased 4.7% and 2016/2017 increased 3.5%.

  9. Yankee Clipper

    Thanks Mike Lyons!

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