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May 242011
 

Cities across Connecticut and country are facing severe budget cuts that are impacting education and Norwalk is no exception.  It doesn’t help that our state has a broken Education Cost Sharing formula that hurts cities like ours.  Sadly, finance reform legislation did not get past the Education Committee in Hartford.  But now that Governor Malloy has passed a state budget, he is working on legislation that will bring about more accountability practices to school funding over the next few days.

We’ve tried to make it easy.  Please take the time to cut and paste the following letter below (and/or make your own edits) and send your email to Governor Malloy today!

State level finance reform of any kind will help Norwalk!

Thanks,

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Governor Malloy  governor.malloy@ct.gov

I live in the City of Norwalk and as you noted in your budget address, our school funding system is broken, and it’s high time we fix it.  A common chart of accounts is a critical first step in the right direction, and I hope you’ll lead the way by including provisions for this accounting system in the budget implementer legislation.

Right now, there is little or no accountability for the billions Connecticut spends on public education every year; widely varying district accounting practices make it nearly impossible to compare budgets and spending across districts throughout the state.

Given your leadership in establishing GAAP accounting for the state budget, a common chart of accounts is a logical additional step toward implementing improved spending practices in Connecticut — after all, school district expenditures are often the largest part of a municipality’s budget.

Without improved accountability for how school districts spend their funds, fully transparent accounting for municipalities will be impossible to achieve.

I very much appreciate the leadership position you staked out by calling for an overhaul to our school funding system, and hope that you will continue to lead on this issue by including a common chart of accounts for school districts in the budget implementer legislation.

Sincerely,

(Your Name, Norwalk CT)

May 212011
 

To Members of the Board Of Education:

We’re down to the wire now with the proposed cuts and it’s not going to be pretty.  Unless the two largest collective bargaining units can come to some financial agreement, we will have to live with the superintendent’s painful list of budget cuts.

There are NO GOOD CUTS!

We all know that specific members of NPS, or organizations or job categories get repeatedly mentioned in the blogs and press  but the fact remains that everybody in education is protected by a contract (individual or collectively bargained for) that makes little provision  about their actual performance and whether or not they do it well or poorly.  As parents, taxpayers, businesses and community members, we must hope that the Board of Education and union leadership will support Dr. Marks as she tries to balance the budget while at the same time protecting our most valuable future asset – the children of Norwalk.

Aside from that, the only thing that parents, residents and members of the BOE can do is write and speak with local politicians, as well as, our State Representatives and Senator and DEMAND their support for education in Norwalk and fight for reform. Currently, the Education Committee in Hartford is debating things like fair ECS funding and an end to LIFO and implementation of adult accountability measures, so that when reductions come or changes need to be made in personnel, they can be based upon performance and not local cronyism or 25+ years of NPS politics.

This community and this Board of Education need to come together and support Dr. Marks.  We can and MUST do better.  As painful as it is, the BOE must reconcile the budget ASAP so that we can get on with the task at hand …educating our children.

Thank you.

Lisa Thomson

May 162011
 

TESTIMONY

In Support of Raised S.B. 1160

AN ACT CONCERNING SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION, THE DEVELOPMENT OF A MODEL TEACHER PERFORMANCE EVALUATION SYSTEM, AND TEACHER TENURE LAWS AND COOPERATIVE ARRANGEMENTS.

 

Senators and Representatives of the Education Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit my written testimony regarding S.B. 1160, To study issues relating to school transportation; to require the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council to develop a model teacher performance evaluation system for use by local and regional boards of education and regional educational service centers; and to include employment in a cooperative arrangement as part of the definition of tenure for purposes of teacher tenure laws.

My particular testimony relates to the development of a model teacher performance evaluation system for use by local and regional boards of education and regional educational service centers.

I wholly support and endorse your initiation of bill to study this particular issue, as well as teacher tenure, as I consider each to be critical components with respect to addressing the dire condition of Connecticut’s economy and national ranking of our educational achievement gap.

I am an executive member and co-founder of a grass roots organization, known as R.Ed APPLES  of Norwalk www.redapplesnorwalk.org which has  70+ registered member s that include parents, PTC/PTA Presidents, taxpayers, concerned citizens, neighborhood activists, politicians and local business owners.

We are political but non-partisan, independent, pro education and  pro teacher but most importantly pro educational change and reform.  While located in Fairfield County, Norwalk is an urban school district, with high levels of poverty and a significant amount of at risk children that need to have qualified staff instructing them.

Our objective has been to politely, persistently and publicly communicate education reform issues to the Superintendent, Norwalk Board of Education, union leadership, local and state politicians, and Norwalk community by conducting debates, speaking out, writing editorials and emails and now it would appear providing written testimony.

Our three may focuses have been on:

  • adult accountability,
  • closing the achievement gap of at risk students and
  • increasing academic rigor

Below are 3 specific initiatives that we have strongly advocated for in Norwalk.  I feel each of these bear discussion in your Education Committee, regarding the teacher evaluation component of the bill:

  • Advocated  for participation by Norwalk in Race to the Top, when our district was not going to participate; ultimately did, but unfortunately did not have the support of our teacher’s union leadership due to largely to the evaluation component.  In the end Connecticut was not successful, perhaps in large part because as a state, we did not go far enough in the evaluation and adult accountability components of the federal grant.
  • Promoted the Foundations of Reading Assessment so as to ensure that children (particularly those at risk have a teacher that knows how to teach reading for both new and experienced teachers hired before 2009.
  • Established links with other state and national reform advocacy groups like CONNCAN in Connecticut and Educators4 Excellence in New York State who are challenging the LIFO policies and Michelle Rhee’s national campaign of Students First.

Connecticut ranks near the top on per pupil spending, but at the bottom in terms of closing its achievement gap.   While educational funding cannot be ignored (particularly during these incredibly challenging economic times) it would appear that it is not the ONLY driver in terms of advancing student achievement, particularly as it relates to education in the State of Connecticut.

While the teacher evaluation process and LIFO policies are no doubt fraught with challenges with respect to how to make it fair, I humbly ask members of the Education Committee, is it fair to short change a child’s education, with a teacher that is not performing, underperforming or failing?

It seems to me that education is caught up in a system that cannot reward the 80% of good teachers and/or principals for the great performance or inspiration to students that they perform any more than it can get rid of the ineffective ones.  And, we’ve been caught up in this debate for years and years now.

Meaningful evaluations or assessments or development plans are not standard at our state level and are too prone to the whims of individual school district union contracts.  So, when we find ourselves in the economic crisis that we find ourselves in today, we cannot make sure that the right layoffs are occurring when times get tough.

I hope that the members of the Education Committee will rigorously discuss and debate the teacher evaluation process to ensure that we have the most qualified teachers teaching and that the LIFO policy is re-examined.

Thank you very much for your consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

Lisa Thomson

Co Founder – Red APPLES of Norwalk

May 162011
 

Written Testimony on Senate Bill 1195

Before the Education Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly

March 24, 2011

Good afternoon members of the Committee. My name is Patrick MacDonald and I am a student at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk.

I’m here to talk to you about what it’s like to attend school in a district that is at a disadvantage due to the current ECS formula. I’ve heard a lot people around the state and in my city, especially politicians, talk about how proud they are to have gone through a Connecticut public school. Yet students in my district can tell you better than anyone else that our schools aren’t where they need to be – and they are not where they once used to be. Every day, we feel the pressure of the competition a global economy entails, and every day we feel the consequences of not being prepared for that competition, whether it’s worrying if we can make it into that top college or edge out other applicants for a dream job.

What do our political leaders have to say about this? Year after year after year, meeting after meeting after meeting, speaker after speaker after speaker, students have heard the same thing: it’s all about the children, this is for the children, we’re here for the children.  But we the students of Norwalk Public Schools will not be convinced that our state leaders are committed to its students’ future until we see that every student is given the skills they need to be able to compete in a global economy, until every student embraces learning, and until every student can achieve their highest potential.

Now our elected officials must ask themselves what sort of public school systems they’d like for the future.  Do they really want to condemn the students of Norwalk and other communities not receiving their fair share of ECS funding, to a lackluster school system?  Do they really want to further debilitate students, and make it even harder for them to compete in the world?  We hear that when times are better, we can invest in our schools.  But let’s face it: state officials can’t continue down this dangerous path of putting off the dire need for fair and equitable investment; our children, who we care for so deeply, are already falling too far behind, the stakes for Norwalk and Connecticut are already too high, and the crisis unfolding in our schools has been too long ignored, to keep pushing back what is so long overdue.

For those of us students who have younger brothers and sisters going through the school system, we can only look at them and wonder: will they have the bright future that they deserve?  This state must remember that if we can build a better public school system, we can build a better Connecticut, and if we can build a better Connecticut, we can build that brighter future that we so desperately need.  I hope you will pass Senate Bill 1195. Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee today.

Patrick MacDonald,

10 Silver River Court,

Norwalk, CT, 06850

TESTIMONY

of Lisa Thomson, R.Ed APPLES, Norwalk, CT

 

Regarding  S.B.  1195: An Act Concerning School Finance Reform.  To replace the state’s current mechanism for funding public school education with a long term, sustainable pupil based funding system.

 

Senators and Representatives of the Appropriations Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit my testimony regarding S.B. 1195 directed at replacing the current education funding model.

I am here to support and endorse a more equitable funding system for the children who attend our Connecticut public schools that is based upon a simplified, common sense concept that puts students first and takes into account their individual learning needs at the public schools they attend.  I am an executive member and co-founder of a grassroots organization known as R.Ed APPLES of Norwalk (www.redapplesnorwalk.org), which has 75+ registered members that include parents, PTC/PTA Presidents, educators, taxpayers, concerned citizens, neighborhood activists, politicians and local business owners.  It does take a village!

We are political but non-partisan, independent, pro education and pro teacher, but most importantly, pro change and reform across a spectrum of educational issues ranging from greater adult accountability to school finance reform.

Although we are located in Fairfield County, Norwalk is an urban school district, with high levels of poverty and a significant number of at-risk children that have additional learning needs that require more resources than what might ordinarily be required for wealthier communities in Connecticut.

It is well known that urban school districts have seen a jump in their poverty levels across the nation and Connecticut is no exception.  As an example, Norwalk’s student population has held fairly steady over the years at approximately 11,000.  Yet, in the past 5 years, the number of students that qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch has jumped from 2,555 students in 2005 to 4,744 in 2010 (an increase from 23.1 % of our total student body to 43.7%.)  Also, 13% of that base represents ELL students.

It is not my intention to pit one city against another in a fight over limited state dollars, but it seems to me that the current system has an arbitrary foundation level, does not take into account student needs, calculates municipal wealth unfairly, and fails to fund special education satisfactorily.  As the 6th largest city in Connecticut, these represent Norwalk’s educational issues.

Education is the most important investment we can make as a state and country.  Without educated citizens, our economy is strained even further and businesses will not invest in our state.

The achievement gap in Connecticut between our low income and higher income students is the worst in the country and our top performing students are purportedly one year behind Massachusetts.

The current funding system is not transparent.  As we move toward more accountability as a nation and state, it is important that parents and taxpayers know where their state tax dollars are going.  I am speaking of history here, but any formula that required the proposal of another bill to try and explain the funding formula to the public, was probably a convoluted one.

I am not an educator, but I am the daughter of one.  I have also spent over 25 years in the corporate sector, spending nearly half of my career working overseas in both Europe and Asia.  I fear for the children of Connecticut and around the country.  And I especially fear for the lower income, at risk children.  I fear that they will NOT have the skills necessary to compete for jobs in Connecticut, let alone a global economy.  I also fear for Connecticut. Without an educated workforce, companies will not invest and residents will move out.

While money alone will not solve our educational crisis, a more equitable, balanced and transparent formula would make it easier for the 169 school districts to share and compare best practices by comparing apples to apples not apples to oranges when trying to improve student achievement.

I hope that the members of the Appropriations Committee will rigorously discuss and debate the proposed education funding model so as to ensure a more fair, transparent, and effective funding system for all in our great State.

Thank you,

Lisa Thomson
Co- Founder – R.Ed APPLES of Norwalk
Attachment: Norwalk Common Council Resolution on ECS Passed on January 25, 2011

Whereas, The State of Connecticut Educational Cost Sharing grant system is Connecticut’s primary education equalization aid program; and

Whereas the ECS formula is designed to allocate grant funds to school districts to fairly reflect student need as a function of poverty, test performance and limited English  proficiency as well as district wealth, and

Whereas, it is the contention of the Common Council of the City of Norwalk  that, when compared with other Connecticut municipalities of similar sociological composition,  the ECS grant allocation to the City of Norwalk is substantially smaller; and

Whereas, the Council sites as example the following data:

The growth of Norwalk’s percentage of students from non-English Language homes from 24.3% in the year 2000-2001 to 35.0% in the year 2005-2006, and the growth in the percentage of non-English language speaking students from 7.7% to 12.5% during the same period (while the across the State comparable percentage  increased from only 3.7% to 5.2%).

The growth in numbers of Norwalk children eligible for free or reduced priced meals from 23.1% in 2004-2005 to 39.9% in 2009-2010 (while the comparable State-wide percentages increased from 26.4% to 32.9%).

The percentage of Norwalk’s educational costs derived from Connecticut Educational Cost Sharing Grants decreased from 11.7% to 11.1% between 2001 and 2008, ranking Norwalk second-to-last in the percentage category and last in actual revenue sharing dollars received among Connecticut’s cities as demonstrated in the following chart:

District % of School Revenues Provided By State 2007-2008Budget ($ millions) State Portion ($ millions
Bridgeport 68.2 268 183
Danbury 69.2 119 83
Hartford 63.2 364 230
New Britain 60.4 137 83
New Haven 60.9 312 189
Norwalk 11.1 160 18
Stamford 8.8 234 21
Waterbury 56.2 232 130

Cont.

Pastoral communities without apparent urban challenges often receive comparatively higher ECS support than the City of Norwalk.

District ECS % 2007-2008
Canterbury 46.5
Canton 18.2
Hebron 35.0
Mansfield 33.3
Watertown 35.6
Wethersfield 18.5
Wolcott 44.7
Woodstock 35.4
Norwalk 11.1

and, Whereas, the Common Council of the City of Norwalk, lacking more conclusive argument that the allocation of grants resulting from State ECS formula has been adjusted to reflect rapid sociological and demographic changes of the past decade, and that these changes would increase Norwalk’s portion of the State Grant allocation.

Now, therefore, be it resolved: The Norwalk Common Council respectfully requests, on behalf of the Citizens of Norwalk, that Connecticut Education Cost Sharing Grants be reviewed and appropriately revised to reflect recent changes in sociological, economic and demographic information; and adjusted favorably to account for such changes.

May 132011
 

The newspapers and blogs  picked up  my the Letter to Editor a week ago regarding taxpayer and voter frustration over pre-campaign rhetoric by both political parties over so-called education reform.  Below is my original letter and supporting financial data backed up by sources.


I am writing to all of you as an independent citizen (like a good many of us in Norwalk) who are frustrated by the political parties’ inability or unwillingness to seriously step up to the plate with regards to education reform here in our City of Norwalk.  Over the past several months, the local papers and blogs have highlighted everything from A-Z about the issues surrounding the state of our education, but I have not seen any genuine willingness by the political parties to go beyond traditional party rhetoric, or personal attacks of opponents, on what is surely a very complicated issue.

Please consider the following issues backed up with data on the following pages:

  • Norwalk is committed to educating its free and reduced lunch student population
  • Norwalk residents pay more to educate their children as a percentage of family income than our richer neighbors
  • Norwalk does not receive is fair share of ECS funding from the state  despite its significant free and reduced lunch student population
  • The City of Norwalk (like cities across the US) is struggling in negotiations with the leadership of its two largest collective bargaining units on everything from job assignments, to work rules to pay despite the fact that our staff are among the highest paid in the state.

I would hate to see any of you use political party sound bites, disingenuously directed at education reform, in an effort to attack your opponents or score points with the electorate without highlighting your own platforms. Therefore, I am hoping that the papers and blogs publish my letter and the following data for the citizens of Norwalk. And, I hope that each of you, as you go forward with your campaigns,  deem it worthy to  share with the voters of Norwalk, your PLANS for dealing with these various issues in order to move education reform and the future economic vibrancy of this great city forward.

Respectfully submitted,

Lisa Thomson

Founder – Red APPLES of Norwalk

_________________________________________________________________________

BACK UP DATA

Norwalk is committed to Educating Its Growing Free and Reduced Lunch Student Population

  • It’s well known that urban school districts have seen a jump in their poverty levels across the nation
  • Norwalk’s student population has held fairly steady over the years at approximately 11,000.
  • Yet, in the past 5 years, the number of students that qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch has jumped from 2,555 students in 2005 to 4,744 in 2010.
  • This represents an increase from 23.1 % of its total student body to 43.7%.
  • 13% of that student base represents English Language Learners.

Source: Dr. Susan Marks NPS Budget 2010-11 Budget Planning

Norwalk residents pay more to educate their children as a percentage of family income than its richer neighbors.

 

  • Norwalk’s neighboring towns, average over twice the median family income yet spending is consistent with these richer towns and one case is more.
City/Town Per Pupil Spending Median Family Income % of Income Contribution
New Canaan $15,711 $141,788 11%
Westport $15,409 $119,872 13%
Wilton $14,013 $141,428 10%
NORWALK $13,940 $59,839 23%
Darien $13,367 $146,755 9%

Source: Fred Wilms, Norwalk Bureau of Estimation and Taxation (07/08 data)

Norwalk does not receive its fair share of ECS funding from the State of Connecticut despite its significant free and reduced lunch student population

  • The percentage of Norwalk’s educational costs derived from Connecticut Educational Cost Sharing Grants ranks Norwalk second-to-last in the percentage category and LAST in actual revenue sharing dollars received among Connecticut’s cities as demonstrated in the following chart:
District % of School Revenues Provided By State 2007-2008Budget ($ millions) State Portion ($ millions)
Bridgeport 68.2 268 183
Danbury 69.2 119 83
Hartford 63.2 364 230
New Britain 60.4 137 83
New Haven 60.9 312 189
Norwalk 11.1 160 18
Stamford 8.8 234 21
Waterbury 56.2 232 130

Pastoral communities without apparent urban challenges often receive comparatively higher ECS support than Norwalk

District ECS % 2007-2008
Canterbury 46.5
Canton 18.2
Hebron 35.0
Mansfield 33.3
Watertown 35.6
Wethersfield 18.5
Wolcott 44.7
Woodstock 35.4
Norwalk 11.1

Source:  Norwalk Office of the City Clerk : From Common Council ECS Resolution Regular Meeting January 25, 2011.

The City of Norwalk (like many cities across the US) is struggling in its negotiations with the leadership of its two largest collective bargaining units:  the National Federation of Teachers (NFT) and the Norwalk Association of School Administration (NASA) to close the 2011-12 school budget gap despite a tax proposed 2% tax increase from the BET to residents, despite the fact that its membership is among the highest paid, with the best benefits in Connecticut.

Average CT State Teacher Salaries 2007-08

Dist # Districts Average FTE  Teacher Salary State Rank
57 Greenwich $75,499 1
103 Norwalk $74,229 2
161 Wilton $73,307 3
118 Ridgefield $72,457 4
4 Avon $71,989 5
135 Stamford $71,214 6
209 Region09 $70,715 7
157 Weston $70,347 8
51 Fairfield $69,880 9
117 Redding $69,404 10
90 New Canaan $69,208 11
158 Westport $66,786 18
35 Darien $66,204 24
15 Bridgeport $60,988 68

Source: CT State Department of Education (website staff data 4/21/10)

  • Norwalk Teacher Insurance Coverages Are the BestNorwalk teachers have medical, dental, vision and life insurance coverages and benefits that are unparalleled  in each category and collectively in the state and nation.” Source: Januar,y 2010, The Vanguard NFT Newsletter, Bruce Mellion, President
Bargaining Unit No. of Employees Average Salary Average Years of Service
Executives 4 $ 172,370 10.6
Administration 58 $ 137,435 9.4
Teachers 902 $ 81,158 12.0

Source: Norwalk Board of Education 2/17/2011