Lyons claims big victory as Facebook battle over ‘Fix it First’ churns on

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), center, and Mayor Harry Rilling, right, on Monday alert parents to the facts that the Board of Education's facilities improvement plan would not fix most Norwalk schools for years.

State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), center, and Mayor Harry Rilling, right, on Monday alert parents to the facts that the Board of Education’s facilities improvement plan would not fix most Norwalk schools for years.

Updated, Feb. 20, PDF added; Updated, 5:40 p.m., Shirley Mosby’s terms on the BoE.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk parents may be pleased to hear the latest from Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons.

Mayor Harry Rilling, according to Lyons, has been swayed to support new school construction.

“The challenge is to come up with a schedule of projects that the city can afford.  That’s what we’ll be working on with him,” Lyons said in an early morning email.

Norwalk parents have made quite the assault via social media on the Fix it First plan announced Monday by Rilling, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) and other Norwalk leaders. In response, Duff, on Facebook, again said he was frustrated in attempts to get information about the BoE’s developing facilities plan.

Lyons’ comment to NancyOnNorwalk came in that context.

Duff, in a series of Facebook posts, said, “I asked to be kept in the loop multiple times last year. I was told that until the BOE had approved a plan there was no need. It’s tough to present something before their plan was presented. I want what’s best like you and believe spending the funds to fix schools now makes more sense than building new schools and waiting up to 15 years to fix our current schools…. I’m optimistic something will be done. I’m a parent too and want to see the best schools. Why now? Simple. My requests both informally and in writing from last year weren’t answered until January 20.”

Lyons responded:

“Bob wasn’t kept out of anything. We invited the whole Norwalk community to attend all of our public meetings on our Strategic Plan and Facilities Plan. All sorts of community leaders attended (without requiring engraved invitations). State Rep. Lavielle attended several, as did Rep. Morris. Bob Duff never attended any (and never contacted me about any of this). He wasn’t obligated to, of course; but the door was wide open at all those meetings and he never walked in.”

NancyOnNorwalk asked Duff for the response he got on Jan. 20. Duff and his advisor, Mary Pugh, provided a correspondence that began on Dec. 7.

Duff wrote to Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski:

“I believe I speak for many city residents who are following the issue of overcrowding in our schools and agree with you, and the Board of Education, that action needs to be taken to remedy the s This issue is long overdue and should have been addressed by former superintendents along with both current and former members of the Board.

“However, I am concerned with the process by which these plans are being There appears to be a lack of inclusivity shown by your office, which is very troubling to me. To date, I have not been approached by you or the Board as to any aspect of these potential plans. As the state senator representing Norwalk, it is imperative for the state legislative delegation to be kept apprised of the step by step developments regarding these projects. It’s possible you may have briefed other legislators, but I’ve asked you, members of your cabinet and Board members unofficially at community functions over the last few months, for information regarding the plans and have not received any feedback. At this point, my knowledge base is what has been reported in the media. I’m sure you understand my concern.”


On Jan. 13, Duff wrote to Adamowski:

“Thank you for your office’s call yesterday seeking availability for you to meet with me and the other members of Norwalk’s state legislative delegation.

“To date, I have not heard back from you, either in writing or via phone communication, that you have received, read or plan to respond to my letter of December 7, 2016. I think it would be best if you could reply to that letter prior to the meeting, so that the Norwalk delegation will be properly prepared for a productive discussion.”


Adamowski, in a Jan. 20 reply, emphasized that it’s the BoE’s decision to make recommendations for the school system, and explained the two-year process that led to the recommendation to build two new schools.

Adamowski said the Board had voted on a plan, and, “Now that there is clarity on the recommendations, we have arranged a breakfast briefing for the Norwalk legislative delegation on February 10, 2017 at 8:15 am at Columbus School in South Norwalk… As you point out, the upgrading and expansion of Norwalk’s Schools is long overdue and crucial to the City’s continued development. The Board and I look forward to working with you on the next stage of this important undertaking.”


Duff was invited to a pre-briefing, but that never happened, according to Duff, because of illness and snowstorm.

A conversation on the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education, between Common Council member David McCarthy and Mary Pugh, campaign manager for State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25).

A conversation on the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education, between Common Council member David McCarthy and Mary Pugh, campaign manager for State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25).

Asked about this correspondence, Lyons said, “Bob never contacted me in any manner (email, phone, or in any other way) to request any information about the plan. Had he done so, I would have responded immediately.”

What about long overdue? Absolutely correct, Lyons said, continuing to bash Duff.

“That’s why we supported doing the facilities study when Manny recommended it, and commenced a year-long, very public review (including many meetings seeking public input) after getting the study, and then approved the Phase I Plan and capital budget request that’s under consideration now (only to have Bob throw a last-minute monkey wrench into the machinery with his proposal),” Lyons said. “Current members of the Board have been addressing this for the last two years — what were we supposed to do, address it before we got on the Board?  Shirley Mosby and Rosa Murray WERE on the previous Boards that did nothing about this problem – but Bob was happy to have them with him at his press conference.”

Mosby served on the BoE from 2007 to 2009, after being appointed to fill an open position. She was elected to her current term in 2013.

NoN asked about the expectation that state legislators would attend BoE meetings, and asked if it were possible that personal animosities have gotten in the way of communication.

Lyons said:

“State legislators are welcome to attend our meetings, but I’ve never considered them obligated to (and have posted statements on Facebook saying they aren’t obligated to attend). Gail Lavielle attends many, and Fred Wilms and Bruce Morris are often seen; Duff and Perone, never.  That’s up to them.

“We didn’t send Duff or Perone engraved invitations, that’s true; Lavielle, Morris and Wilms weren’t invited either, but our meetings are well publicized, and they’ve had no trouble figuring out when and where they are (as average citizens do all the time, also) and showing up.  Our legislators aren’t obligated to go, and we aren’t obligated to invite them.

“The typical way school projects go is that the local BoE develops the plans, gets local approvals, and then applies to the State for funding.  Just as we don’t go to BET or Council members to review our plans until the time is appropriate, we don’t go the state until the time is appropriate.  Here the applications to the state are 4 1/2 months away, so with local submissions out of the way, we invited the legislators in to talk about our plans at the Columbus School breakfast meeting last Friday (months before the filing deadline).

“Now what IS out of the ordinary is for state legislators to try and interfere with the work of the local school board and substitute their plan for the plan put together by the duly-elected Board of Education which (unlike the legislators) has the statutory and charter-directed duty to make such decisions.  THAT you would find unheard of in other communities.

“As for personal animosities, such things can interfere with communications.  Bruce Morris and I don’t get along very well — but if he emails me I respond.  Back in the ’80’s Bill Collins, Ken Slapin and I had a mutual dislike society — but we worked together to get City Hall, the Maritime Aquarium and the Community College built.  Adults can bite their lips and work together even if they don’t like each other.  Half of our state delegation has expressed enthusiastic support for the BoE’s plan, and we’re optimistic that once it is approved by the local agencies, the State will approve it, too.”


Finally, Lyons mentioned the big news.

“I had a great talk with Mayor Rilling tonight, and we’re going to be meeting with him shortly to go over the capital and operating budgets.  We have a lot to work on and we’re going to do our best to get as much done for our children as the City can afford.  When the final plans are submitted, hopefully Reps. Perone and Morris, and Sen. Duff, will join Reps. Lavielle, Wilms and Wood and support the state funding we’ll need to complete the plan.”


Rilling was not available for comment. Lyons said, “He met with Adamowski this morning and talked to me in the car while I was driving up to Boston.  We’re fine with Harry.”

There’s been quite an outcry on Facebook, following the Monday press conference where Fix it First was announced.

Most of it is on the Norwalk Parents for Education page, where, at 2:16 a.m., there were eight comments on the NoN post of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) endorsement of Fix it First.

“I highly doubt teachers were consulted by Mary X. Yordon who heads up the teachers union. I bet if we polled the teachers in the City of Norwalk she would be not be supported,” Nora King wrote.

In another post, Jessica Garnett said:

“Point of clarity that needs to be made regarding the FACILITIES plan. The current plan put together by the BOE is the ONLY proposed and BOE approved plan (it was voted on by the BOE) making its way through the approval system.

“Should the city NOT approve this plan, under the City CHARTER it’s too late to submit a full plan that would have enough time to meet state guidelines for a funding request by June 30th.

“A NEW plan would have to go through the approval process next year to submit for a June 30, 2018 deadline and would effectively set us back a full year.”


That drew comments about it being timed for after this year’s election.

The nine comments on a link to the NoN story about the operating budget discussion at Tuesday’s Council meeting had nine comments at 2:22 a.m., including one from a parent threatening to move out of town because of “all the political nonsense happening here.”

The link to the NoN story about the Fix it First press conference at 81 comments at 2:48 a.m.

“What kind of Mickey Mouse organization completely bypasses an ELECTED Board of Ed which is currently working on these very issues? Harry Rilling, Bob Duff, Chris Perone, Steve Serasis, Bruce Morris, Shirley Mosby and Yvel Crevecoeur have effectively decided to stage a vote of ‘no confidence’ on the Board of Ed? On what basis?” James Cahn wrote.

“I have NOT made a decision, and it is the responsibility of Council and BoE to do their homework on every idea presented to us. No slant, only bipartisan due diligence. So please do NOT speak to my actions or thoughts without knowing them or fully grasping the idea of obligation to all our city residents. I was at the press release to hear and learn more. NOT to speak to it or support it at this point. It’s all about gathering ALL the information, analysis, then make a fully informed decision…anything less would be irresponsible,” Serasis replied.

“Does anyone know how I would find out if an application to start a charter school (even though we already have a great one) has been submitted by Mr. Morris for the Ely property in SoNo? I have a $100 that says it’s in the works,” a mother said.

Lyons posted a lengthy diatribe at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, using the word “incompetent” over and over.

“As Al Gore has noted, the truth can be inconvenient. Because FOUR of the leaders standing with Bob at his press conference Monday supporting this alternate plan had all ENDORSED the Board’s plan to first build new schools LAST MONTH. Were Mayor Rilling, Rep. Morris, Board of Ed member Crevecoeur and community leader Rev. Curtis also incompetent fools, unable to grasp Bob’s brilliant insight until he ‘explained’ it to them over the weekend?” Lyons wrote.

That included a reminder that Rilling publicly endorsed the plan, in a statement read at the Jan. 17 BoE meeting by Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King.

“The mayor supports the Board of Education proposal to build the new schools and he will include the requested funding in the capital budget,” Lyons posted, leaving out Rilling’s plea, through King, that the Board not vote on the plan that night so that the community could have more input.

“Let me be clear. I DON’T think Mayor Rilling, State Rep. Morris, Dr. Crevecoeur and Rev. Curtis were being incompetent fools, or heartless people who don’t care about the children of Norwalk, when they all endorsed the Board’s plan to build new schools first as recently as three weeks ago,” Lyons wrote. “But that’s the clear implication of the statements in the ‘alternate plan’ and in particular by Sen. Duff’s political campaign manager, Mary Pugh, on this site earlier today aimed at the rest of the Board of Education.”

“Lyons….. I know you are loving the politics of this,” Pugh wrote in one response. “Deal with that at election time. Meantime…keep your focus on the students and the community…”

And in another, Pugh said, “ I love the idea of new schools….. just want to get the current 19 schools fixed first. I think it is sad to put students into “crumbling” schools. (I think a few of you called it that)


Harry Rilling February 16, 2017 at 8:45 am

Nancy. You emailed me at 1:35 this morning after I had retired for the night. So of course I was unavailable for comment. Yesterday I had conversations with Dr. Adamowski, Senator Duff, Mike Lyons and Mary Yordon.

I have told all concerned that we need to meet and put together a plan that best meets the needs of the city whatever that may be. I’ve stated in the past I support school construction but recognize the poor conditions in our existing schools. Both issues are serious and need to be addressed. We have scheduled a meeting and hopefully will put together a proposal that addresses and prioritizes the needs of our city without creating a burden for our taxpayers.

Donna February 16, 2017 at 9:36 am

There are operational and capital expenses associated with increased enrollment. Their co-conspirators are new housing units and other sources of new students entering the public schools. So here we have a very costly school building and improvement plan in the works and a breathtaking request from the BoE for a 10% increase, but no talk about how the city plans to stem this tide. If there are 40 students per classroom, as one BoE member threatened if their budget isn’t approved, then when does the city plan to address the costly problem of too many children to educate and not enough tax dollars to do them justice? Rather than adding housing units in the form of apartments and condos, the focus should be on attracting businesses to add to the tax base of the city. But with a crappy infrastructure (starting with the sidewalks in disrepair and no fines for failure to clear snow from public walks), businesses aren’t attracted to Norwalk. The city has too much vacant commercial and retail space and too many residents, especially school age children.

I don’t know if Norwalk needs a city planner who is hired or elected, but many of the problems facing this city could be addressed through a town plan and better zoning regulations. . And zoning commission positions should be elected to create accountability. The city needs a mission and vision to guide decision-making instead of tackling problems crisis by crisis.

Mary Pugh February 16, 2017 at 10:29 am

Perhaps some do not realize that I am only a campaign manager when there is a campaign. Not involved in any campaigns at the moment.

But I am a resident and fully support the FIX IT 1st program because I am worried about the 11K+ students in existing schools whose needs are not being met.

Mike Barbis February 16, 2017 at 12:33 pm

Mary … I am not sure why you cannot understand this but there are too many students in the existing schools … we need to build new capacity. You and Bob should take a tour inside of Jefferson School instead of hosting a political stunt in the parking lot … after you get a tour, and maybe a whiff of the backed up sewage, you will then understand that the site cannot host 600 students … a feature of your Band Aid plan.

Peter Franz February 16, 2017 at 1:19 pm

There seems to be confusion over a couple of major cost/income issues. First, there is no evidence that the “tide” of students that have been claimed here and other NoN areas of comment is having anything like the cost impact implied. This is not to defend illegal apartments, this is not to defend non-citizens attending school, it is simply to keep topics in context relative to their actual, not imagined impact.

The second is the rants against new apartments. I think it takes a lot of imagination to suggest that any government is encouraging this change in how people are choosing to live. In other words, apartments are popular. Without going on and on about stagnant wages or the preferred urban lifestyle of younger real estate shoppers, it’s clearly the market that is dictating this change we all see in Norwalk.

Retail is contracting, so why are we continuing to believe ever-larger retail businesses are going to provide for Norwalk’s future? Also, Norwalk seems to be doing fairly well with attracting commercial tenants, but this too is a challenging market that few see as a growth area. Well that leaves manufacturing, tourism and good-old fashioned residential property as the key areas Norwalk should be looking at for tax income, and manufacturing is just not going to be back anytime soon. Apartments are a big part of Norwalk’s future, like it or not.

Victor Cavallo February 16, 2017 at 4:39 pm

Mayor:  this meeting you now seek in order to mediate the opposing viewpoints should have been sought before you joined in the politically motivated effort to undermine your duly elected Board of Education and your fellow Board members; you being an ex-officio member.  Norwalk’s Board of Education has the authority by State statute and local Charter to be general caretaker of the local school district. State elected officials have no business in being involved unless and until a legislative process calls for their involvement, e.g. in this case requests for state funding.  And then they would only be involved collectively in legislative action. Individual State elected officials have NO authority whatsoever external to the legislative process.

The only explanation for this stunt – and it’s undeniable –  is that it was designed to influence the upcoming BOE elections and the subsequent election of its officers. That the NFT endorses it lends credence to that conclusion.  
It’s laughable that this exercise is being promoted under the guise of cutting capital costs. When democratic state legislators advance plans to promote tax-saving cost-cutting – especially Connecticut democratic legislators – the alarm bells of hypocrisy should rip your eardrums.

And from whence the hubris for these state free-spenders to influence a municipality’s budgets and plans?  If Senator Duff had done his job with ECS funding, Norwalk would be miles away from this mess. So, it seems, that Senator Duff wants to deflect criticism away from his ECS failure by attempting to minimize or reduce Norwalk’s need for ECS funds by, in turn, coercing Norwalk into cutting its educational budgets. Too smart by a half, but not smart enough to fool anyone.

When you conduct this meeting, will you be acting as Board of Education ex-officio, or emissary/agent of the Fix-Its?  There appear to be different levels of conflict with you acting in either role, and as Mayor, you have no express authority to do either.  Is your recusal or disqualification now in order, incident to any future BOE votes on related issues?  Perhaps his ought to be analyzed by Corporation Counsel.

I hope this controversy is settled soon; even if you have to work toward leaving Senator Duff and Representatives Morris and Perone with egg on their faces.   

April G. February 16, 2017 at 7:13 pm

More quantitative wording would be better here (and simply using the word “may” doesn’t cut it if you are trying to *quietly* suggest that it’s not all)? Nancy, you begin the article by stating “Norwalk parents may be pleased to hear the latest…” and then go on to say how “Norwalk parents have made quite the assault via social media on the Fix It First plan…”. Your wording leads the reader to assume that all or most parents are pleased with the supposed victory and are assaulting the plan and that in itself is not accurate if you read through all of the FB posts from commenters. *Some* parents. *Some* Norwalkers. It would be more objective to show a more thorough cross-section of the thoughts and comments presented.

Karl February 16, 2017 at 8:41 pm

Just wondering if the lawsuit Rep. Morris has against the City of Norwalk has anything to do with these sudden winds of change . Just asking .
Editor’s note: NancyOnNorwalk can find no record of a lawsuit filed by Bruce Morris against Norwalk. Reportedly, there’s a complaint to the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities(CHRO).

Skyler R February 16, 2017 at 8:49 pm

April — we know you are a big Bob Duff fan and support his Fix It plan … but you are in a very small minority. Most of us think it is a travesty and support the BOE

April G. February 17, 2017 at 11:45 am

Skyler R-My comment was to point out what a difference a word or few words can make when reporting. Minority or not, all voices count. Yes, I do respect Bob Duff (fan? what is he, a band?) and feel that he has our schools, our students, and our city in his best interest. Somewhere in all of this there is the perfect solution for our city and I can only hope that it comes sooner rather than later.

Bryan Meek February 17, 2017 at 8:00 pm

Bob Duff could really do us a solid if he focused on some of the more onerous laws on the state books that are the direct cause of such costly construction.

We don’t have to sacrifice the environment, but we could save millions if we went to some reasonable levels of contaminant acceptance in line with most other states and developed countries. Connecticut is over the edge in this regard.

Also, prevailing wage laws require us to pay brick layers $65 an hour for one when those resources cost $20-$30 on the open market which seems to be a fair rate.

Most legislators go to Hartford to battle for their schools. Bob is a friend and just can’t believe he actually came down from Hartford to battle against ours given all the nonsense going on up there.

I hope he comes back to Norwalk for us.

Donna February 17, 2017 at 10:55 pm

Too many students does not dictate new construction, especially when there are empty buildings and warehouses as far as the eye can see. Has the BoE comsideeed bringing an existing warehouse or other building up to code? Other towns have rehabbed older buildings in addition to new construction. Political stunt or not, Norwalk can’t keep building new schools to accommodate the overflow and not address the cause of the overflow.

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