Norwalk has ignored deteriorating Cranbury Elementary

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To the editor:

As a parent of a 10-year-old, the PTO president of Cranbury Elementary School for the past two years, an executive board member for three years prior to that, and a consistent part time volunteer in our school library for five years, I am constantly disappointed by the lack of vision and support given by our leaders to the education of the children of Norwalk.

In 2011, when my son was in preschool, I was attending meetings to get our 58-year-old school the desperately needed renovations it was due.  We were one of three schools up for renovation.  Unfortunately, our request got bumped.  We were told we would be next.  Six years later we are still waiting. 

I have attended dozens of budget meetings over the years as parents fought to be heard as devastating cuts were made to the education budget.  I have sat through at least 60 general and executive committee PTO meetings (one meeting a month for 10 months over six years) at my school listening to frustrated parents, teachers and administrators vent, discuss, collaborate and brainstorm on how the PTO can help find solutions to our many problems because of the lack of financial support from the city. It is an ongoing discussion.

In the meantime, our school building has been slowly deteriorating.  I have watched as light fixture covers dangle from the ceiling of the library because they are so old they cannot be replaced.  There is not enough money in the budget to replace them so they have to be jimmy rigged to stay in place.  I have watched as children (and adults) fall off the cafeteria table seats because they unexpectedly fold up if there are not enough people sitting on them at the same time.  (These tables fold up into the wall to save space because Cranbury does not have a separate gym and cafeteria for its 450 students.)  I have seen children and adults slip and fall walking into our building because we have received only one of the three entryway floor mats we requested several years ago (and were promised we would receive in November.) Our parking lot is a disaster, literally putting lives in jeopardy at drop off and pick up.  Our repeated requests to have the parking lot flow changed in order to make it safer have been dismissed.  What this says to me, as a parent and a taxpayer, is that city leaders would rather risk the chance of a child or staff member getting seriously injured rather than be proactive in fixing decades long problems in our school.

We cannot run Smartboards, fans and computers in classrooms at the same time because we blow circuits.  In the past, I have watched as students get taught in closets and our specials teachers use portable carts to teach off of because we do not have enough classroom space to accommodate those needs.  These are only a few of the issues we deal with on a daily basis at Cranbury School.  I know that we are not alone.

The news that Bob Barron has removed the funding for the following items from the budget is DEVASTATING to our school district:  funding for electrical upgrades studies at Cranbury and Fox Run; funding to renovate Jefferson School, funding to renovate Columbus as an IB school (after Columbus is moved to the Ely campus) and funding for the renovation of Rowayton School’s cafeteria.  I am obviously disappointed that Cranbury School’s needs have once again been disregarded. (Even though my son is graduating and will never see any improvements at Cranbury.)  But I am disgusted that the city is not renovating Jefferson School.  How do you justify cramming 600 kids into a school built for 400?  Clearly you have not stepped foot in one Norwalk school lately.  You do not understand the gravity of the decisions you are making.

I know many people who are fed up and moving out of Norwalk.  It is hard not to think twice about it when we see our $25,000 request for electrical systems work eliminated for a $500,000 outdoor cafe that benefits yet another private developer.  Handouts for private developers is not what is going to make this city a desirable place to live while we continue to ignore the welfare of our children.

The leaders of Norwalk have made it clear over the years that our children’s education is not a priority. I am disappointed.  I am frustrated. I am angry.  It is deplorable.  It is embarrassing. It is insulting.

I understand the decision to make these cuts is now in the hands of Mayor Rilling.  If it is really about “what is best for the children”, prove it Mr. Mayor, and reconsider funding more of the Board of Ed’s budget and the needs of the children of Norwalk.

Becky Aurilio



Non partisan February 8, 2017 at 6:13 am

Just a thought- Maybe Use the 4 million dollars buried in the Ely new school site budget for needed repairs??

Nora K King February 8, 2017 at 9:18 am


Great letter.

I am an in agreement with you regarding most of our schools. Unfortunately, it is not just Cranbury. The lack of investment in our schools is a crime especially when we have state of the art City Hall, Fire Department and Police Department.

I think this facilities study that was completed is amazing and focusing in on the deteriorating infrastructure of our schools. We continually make poor decisions when we renovate on top of that. The fact they put a new addition off of Rowayton and didn’t add air conditioning. Summer school and use of the facilities are now the way of the future. The list is long for the poor management of our schools.

This stems almost a decade back. We had a mayor for eight years, Dick Moccia, who didn’t believe in investing in the schools and we had long term Council Folks like Doug Hempstead that felt trailers were okay and the schools didn’t need air conditioning. The guard that believes because they went to school this way it is okay for future generations. They have catered to the good old guard who only care about low taxes. I like low taxes as well but there are ways to build your infrastructure and your grand list and still keep manageable taxes. But it requires leadership with a strong backbone. Most folks can’t handle that. That is what I love about our new Superintendent of Schools. He is kind to parents but he has a backbone on what needs to be done to move us forward.

The Council and the Mayor need to be held accountable if they do not support the facility study. So far I haven’t heard that they don’t. I think the fact that Bob Barron was so narrow sighted in his recommendations is definitely alarming. The fact that the renovation for Columbus or Jefferson was left out of his five-year plan – in my mind speaks to a level of competence that is not there.

I support the funding for the schools and the electrical improvements needed at Cranbury and will fight to keep it in the budget when the Planning Commission does their final vote. On Feb 21st Bob Barron comes to the Planning Commission meeting to make his recommendations and on Feb 23rd the Planning Commission then makes its recommendation at an open meeting. It then goes to the Mayor for review. It is up to him along with the BET and Common Council on setting and approving the cap and making the final recommendation.

I think parents (taxpayers and voters) need to be heard loud and clearly that not updating our schools is not acceptable.

The problem with Norwalk is that we keep electing the same old people year after year that make these bad decisions. That and so many people just don’t come out and vote. By electing good people who support our schools and the impact that good schools have on the grand list is often overlooked by the folks we elect. The next election is in November and those who have not supported the schools for the past ten years should be voted out of office. However, the other issue Norwalk faces is that no one wants to run for office. Common Council members don’t even get paid for the amount of hours they put in and often times they are not even qualified for the job. So often our choices on who to vote for are not optimal. It is actually quite sad. The entire City Structure of government should be changed and we need radical reform of our City Charter. But the voters spoke loud and clear in the last election that they like the status quo.



Jlightfield February 8, 2017 at 9:39 am

Year after year, same old story. Redevelopment sinks more capital dollars into a tiny area of SoNo with promises that this time, things will improve. The property asssments instead go down. Don’t quite believe this? The City of Norwalk’s tax bill lookup provides a fascinating year over year comparison. Look for yourself.

Meanwhile, dollars that could be spent on Norwalk Center area’s Jefferson school are denied. And the Parking Authority clings to a bad plan put out by Redevelopment to “sell” a municipal parking lot for a few thousand dollars, in order to let a developer build yet another apartment building, while the Norwalk Library board of Trustees wants the City to pay $4 million to buy a parking lot up Wall Street in order to preserve a surface parking lot, and keep it from a private developer wanting to build, wait for it . . . an apartment building.

There is so much to blame to pass around on this sad pathetic cluster of ineptitude that I simply overwhelmed with where to start, except to remind myself that basic management principals begin with the understanding that you can not manage what you don’t know. And when successive administrations of councilpeeps and Mayor’s continue to fund the Redevelopment Agency as their planning entity, then you get CDBG funds that don’t fix Norwalk’s schools, and projects that always fit into the small geographic footprint of an agency that deems more important than any other.

Lisa Thomson February 8, 2017 at 9:55 am

Nice letter.

Until parents realize and demand that we update and reorganize our outdated city charter for 21st Century governance- it pretty much insures that no one person will be accountable or in charge of Norwalk and city departments (and that includes the BOE) will not work together for shared outcomes of our growing city. We’ll continue to lunge from crisis to crisis – be it planning, zoning, development, parks and rec. DPW or education. The money simply won’t be there.

On a more specific note – when 5% of the BOE increase is due to the best insurance benefits in the state (when the private sector has had to make adjustments) or if Malloy gets his way and pushes teacher pensions back to municipalities – there will be even less money for school building maintenance or new schools or reading, writing and arithmetic.

Parents are a large organized group, but do not represent the majority of residents in the city. If you don’t show up or demand charter revision or better communication and governance between the schools and P&Z, ( and only come out at budget time for the schools) then you will get more of the same, because the Grand List will not be able to keep up with BOE demands. As a parent and taxpayer who has fought for structural changes since 2009, I am not ideological, its simply math.

Ed Long time resident February 8, 2017 at 10:43 am

I have to disagree here and Bob Barron deserves our respect. It is the high mill rates that have chased out residents here mainly attributed to the BOE . My simple question is if parents are so passionate about thinking more spending is the answer why not voluntarily collect fees and hold fund raisers to facilitate upgrading the schools than sacrificing our seniors, retirees and others who are barely holding on thinking someday spending can be controlled? Sorry . . . I don’t think being an alarmist is appropriate to tilt the scales to more spending taxpayers appear not to want.

Non partisan February 8, 2017 at 12:55 pm

@ Nora

Beautiful facilities don’t make great students.

My own children attended a school district that spent over 25k per student per year.
They also had trailers and modular additions.

TR February 8, 2017 at 8:47 pm

I have seen firsthand the flight from this city due to one reason alone… the school system. Living on a small dead end road filled with kids of all ages we were fortunate to have an amazing extended family of neighbors. We chose to stay because of our son’s involvement in the amazing music program at NHS. 4 of the 7 families (who loved the neighborhood by the way) chose to move because they felt that the Norwalk school system was not adequate. Of the remaining 3, 1 family enrolled their kids in private schools after trying the neighborhood schools. That leaves 2 families. Out of 7. I know of at least 2 families on the next street who left for the same reason. The homes were purchased by other young couples starting or about to start families. Will they also feel the need to jump ship when their children reach school age? How obvious does this need to be?

Nora K King February 8, 2017 at 10:12 pm

To all – I respect your opinions but the days of that it was okay for us doesn’t work anymore. Our schools are overcrowded. Kids learn on electronics and the schools don’t support that anymore.

It is not okay for kids to be going to school in trailers. We need to advocate for children. For all those folks who are older you need to advocate for education and children. They are the future of our country.

We all have had our chance to save, figure out our retirement etc. Children do not have that choice. We have to advocate for them.

Non partisan February 9, 2017 at 9:10 am

@Nora and all others

I could not agree with you more. OUR children deserve better. I also truly believe that our schools are judged by young families based on test scores and programs. The Adults need to grow up.

I personally do not have a problem with higher taxes to provide more school services. But don’t waste OUR money on central office, $4m tennis courts. don’t overcrowd our schools with poor planning, and pro sanctuary city policies. Don’t encourage overcrowding by allowing illegal accessory apartments. dont wast 10mm on overpaying for staff insurance. While I’m at it – why are we still promoting more affordable housing- we already met our state required goal.

If the city government showed the least interest in dealing with the big picture- I’d be the first in line to witness the ground breaking. Until then……..

Education101 February 9, 2017 at 9:53 am

“For all those folks who are older you need to advocate for education and children. . . . We all have had our chance to save, figure out our retirement etc. For all those folks who are older you need to advocate for education and children. . . . We all have had our chance to save, figure out our retirement etc.” Really!!?# What world do some live on to infer those who are retired, have no means to increase income levels and can barely hang on to sacrifice more? Please stop with the self-righteous and lectures . . . Many long-time retired residents have never planned their retirement to fund bloated school budgets many more multiples than the average cost of living. I have to wonder.

April G February 10, 2017 at 8:03 am

Great letter and I completely agree with it. Having sat in the same seat as PTO President at Cranbury and now one on the NHS Governance Council, I continue to see all that Becky describes. Fighting for improvements to our schools that should be considered basics… such as adequate outlets to charge all this “new technology”, lights that work, Wi-Fi for students that we request research from during the school day, properly functioning heating and cooling systems, modern, thriving libraries…well, the list goes on and on, sadly enough.

I’ve been asking the question lately….how would those at City Hall making these decisions feel if when they showed up to work and the lights didn’t work, their internet connection was spotty or barely functioning, the ceiling leaked, the heat was blasting at sweltering temps and the office itself was in poor physical state? Would they be able to do their jobs successfully during the day? Would they feel proud and motivated to walk through the doors each morning? Would they be able to accomplish all that their bosses expected of them (perform! perform! perform!)?

I’m thinking not and this is precisely what we are asking the students in Norwalk to do, all the while paying lip-service to a “21st century education”.

I heard some great words recently that I cannot get of my mind. It was said by a lawmaker on Capitol Hill and it was “Show me your budget and I will show you your priorities”.

Those words say it all, I believe.

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