Due to the comments space limitation with Moina’s blog, Norwalk Net, I have responded to questions/comments posted by Lisa DR in response my earlier comments about the Supt. Dr. Marks, union leadership and the Board of Education.
I am not privy to all of Dr. Marks’ plans. I’m a parent not a member of NPS staff. But here’s what I’ve observed as someone who chooses to stay informed. The fact that much has become transparent, is progress in and of itself.
1) Started the budget committee process with all stakeholders last fall.
2) Sent out survey to parents regarding calendar changes by front end loading time in the classroom to earlier in the year to minimize the disruption in the fall. NOT SUPPORTED BY THE UNION.
3) Initiated a parent and staff survey by school to solicit input (will be interesting to see what that reveals.)
4) (While not perfect) implementing a Teacher of the Year Program to recognize a profession that has sadly lost its reputation over the years (DISCLOSURE: I’m the daughter of a retired public school teacher and communicate with my mother regularly about the current state of education.) NOT SUPPORTED BY THE UNION
5) Replaced the Director of HR and CFO so we can get a better handle on personnel issues that have resulted in costly lawsuits to this city (no doubt diminishing programs for our kids) and cleaning up our finances.
6) Reached out to the business community for innovative grants and funding for things that our taxes are not covering (i.e. early literacy, curriculum reviews)
7) Proposed ideas for cleaning up Norwalk’s middle schools (that’s where we have most of our attrition) and creating academic magnets across the 4 schools (WILL REQUIRE UNIONCONTRACT CHANGES, WHO KNOWS IF IT WILL BE SUPPORTED)
8) More collaboration with Norwalk Community College at the high school level (NOT SUPPORTED BY THE UNION)
Since coming to Norwalk, Dr. Marks has had to deal with personnel after personnel issue and the budget. Does anyone mention the kids …no? It’s all about the adults and what THEY want. Implementing the vision thing is challenging when you have 1) a graying population in Norwalk not necessarily vested in education financing 2) rising health care costs at the expense of curriculum and programs. Norwalk needs to think outside of the box. I was saddened to see much of the staff that spoke in public BoE meeting simply advocating for not- cutting- their- own positions, rather than putting forth recommendations in a terrible economy.
WHAT TO GIVE THE UNION IF THEY HAD MADE CONCESSIONS?
We have 10% unemployment as a nation and we rank behind most of the industrialized world in math and science. Our NPS staff are the second highest paid in the state and we are a district in need of improvement. Educators across this nation have air tight contracts that do not allow for effective teachers to be recognized nor ineffective ones to be let go. To me that equals mediocrity. Union issues are national in nature. Did you see Waiting for Superman. Norwalk is no exception.
As for the 2012 Budget, according to the allocations in the original budget dated December, 2010, Norwalk saw an increase in NPS wages of + 2.32%, and insurance and other benefits costs of +8.38% at the expense of Supplies and Materials decreasing by -2.48% and Equipment by -13.83%. Our taxes actually went up by 3% to pay salary and benefits, while the allocation towards our kid’s books and technology went dramatically down. At this juncture, it is difficult to figure out what more we can give the unions.
CENTRAL OFFICE: If you were at one of the BOE meeting on June 7th, you would have heard me advocate for the elimination of the Dir. of Elementary Ed and some of the AP positions. State laws allow for no action or measure on evaluations for Principals or Teachers…so what’s the point? Besides in an economy like this, with painful cuts, it’s all hands on deck…or should I say all hands into the classroom. I also advocated for Dr. Marks to be allowed to re-organize central office as she deems fit in order to better support the classroom. She will however, need approval from the BoE on any recommendations she makes.
BoE MEMBERS AND REFORM. I throw my hands up and say I honestly don’t know what to do. As an unaffiliated registered voter, I am friendly with members of both political parties. But here are my observations: 1) It’s a thankless job for those who seek it; 2) You have BOTH political parties pulling the strings on members and potential candidates. 3) Personality and style differences abound; 4)There has been no training for these folks to oversee a 150M+ budget; 5) Ideology bumps up against practicality; 6) Years and years of Stockholm Syndrome exists – where in many cases many BoE members have gotten too cozy with administrators, especially when staff and BoE members have been around for decades. 7) And finally, from what I can see, a town of people who sometimes just like to fight.
The current structure seems to have insured a stalemate and with that status quo. Perhaps charter reform is what the city needs?
Not originally from Norwalk, I am constantly amazed at how this town prefers to plot and scheme and fight amongst itself and air its dirty laundry to our surrounding wealthier suburbs (who incidentally aren’t without their own educational problems…just look at Greenwich!) I’ve tried to be respectful but forthright in my personal observations of what goes on in this district and have not hid behind anonymous signatures…thus putting myself in the firing line. My public comments about the two major union heads is based upon MY direct interaction with the two of them as an involved parent.
Finally, US education is in a real pickle at the moment and its going to require a combination of legislation, student based funding and teamwork to move things forward…not just for Norwalk but for the country. Activism is not for the faint of heart. Sadly, my sons will come of age in a country that will be 2nd in the world to China and with an educational system that is in need of a drastic overhaul. Governor Malloy has promised REFORM for Connecticut in 2012. It can’t happen soon enough for our great City.