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Norwalk leaders on new schools plan: ‘Fix it First’

Norwalk officials, led by

Norwalk officials, led by State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), center, and Mayor Harry Rilling, right, lead a press conference Monday next to Jefferson Elementary School.

Updated, 2:19 a.m., complete story.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk parents are suffering from a misconception – they think the $118 million capital budget request submitted by the Board of Education this year will mean that their child’s school will soon be fixed, Mayor Harry Rilling said Monday.

In fact, the BoE facilities plan front loads construction of two new schools and plans renovations at older schools, in other parts of the city, in five or 10 years, said Rilling, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137), State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) and other leaders as they announced an alternative plan to “Fix it First.”

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story.

The plan, a surprise to most BoE members, is to spend $100 million of Norwalk capital funds, plus the expected 32 percent contribution from the state, to repair issues at all 19 schools within three years. Then new schools would be considered.

This announcement at a morning press conference has ignited a firestorm of online outrage.

“We met with Duff and Morris on Friday morning — 3 days ago! — at Columbus School to discuss our facilities plans, and they didn’t say ONE WORD about this alternative plan they had obviously been cooking up for some time,” BoE chairman Mike Lyons said on the Facebook group Norwalk Parents for Education. “We have been totally open and transparent throughout this planning process, and thought we were having an honest discussion with our legislators. With all the NPS people involved in Facilities there, that would have been a perfect time to bring up alternatives. Instead they played dumb, and then this morning sand-bagged us with this half-baked alternative plan based largely on obsolete plans from over a decade ago.”

Duff, in return, said to NancyOnNorwalk that he was shocked that no one at the Board of Education has reached out to the state legislative delegation.

State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) said something similar three months ago.

“We’re in the phone book,” he said. “Call us.”

 

The background of the proposal

The Fix it First plan hinges on enacting a plan approved by the BoE in 2012, to build an addition onto Jefferson Magnet School.

fix-it-first-17-0213

The BoE plan was developed by Silver, Petrucelli & Associates and Milone & MacBroom in a $300,000 facilities feasibility study initiated in 2014 by then-Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera. It’s was debated by the BoE Facilities Committee, led by Mike Barbis, for most of a year before making its way to the entire Board in December.

At that point, BoE member Yvel Crevecoeur, who attended Monday’s press conference, led an effort to take the plan in another direction. He attempted to gain another two weeks to discuss educational options, making a motion to approve the concept of building new schools but hold off on choosing curriculum. That failed five to four, with Crevecoeur, Shirley Mosby, Artie Kassimis and Sherelle Harris voting yes. The four abstained on the following vote, on the overall plan.

While the recommendations made by Silver Petrucelli for physical improvements have been discussed for a year by some BoE members, the educational components were also a surprise, sprung by Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski in December after a racial balancing study negated the original plan for a South Norwalk neighborhood school.

The approved plan calls for K-8 magnet schools at Ponus Ridge Middle School and at the Nathaniel Ely pre-school site, followed by renovations to the current Columbus Magnet School and Jefferson Elementary School. Then other schools might be addressed; although there’s an effort to address electrical problems at Cranbury Elementary School and Fox Run Elementary School within a year or two.

Morris has opposed the Ely plan, pleading repeatedly for more community input, especially after Adamowski announced that Columbus would move to Ely.

 

The press conference

Also standing with Rilling, et al, at Monday’s bombshell press conference were Common Council member Steve Serasis (D-District A), the Rev. Lindsay Curtis, former BoE member Rosa Murray and two mothers whose children formerly attended Cranbury, April Guilbault and Blaire Anderson.

“I have spent countless hours in the classrooms volunteering and I see exactly firsthand what these classrooms in these schools need. Every year, we have our hopes risen in terms of new infrastructure improvements and it just isn’t happening. I believe that I can speak for many parents and say that my patience is running out. I am done with waiting and I can say that I don’t think that our city is giving our students the fundamentals they need to achieve the way we want and hope that they will achieve,” Guilbault said.

“What has been presented by the Board of Education has been very myopic,” Curtis said. “For whatever reason, for whatever the motivation. But this makes so much more sense, that we are caring for our community, known as Norwalk, that all of our children deserve the very best, and better schools than what we have now.”

“The current Board of Education plan endorses spending almost a quarter of a billion dollars on four schools (one new, two rebuilds, one with addition/re-build) when every school requires attention,” the Fix it First handout states.

The conditions at Jefferson would not be addressed for seven years, Duff said.

The PowerPoint presentation from a December committee meeting, which is posted on the NPS website, shows that Jefferson’s “renovate as new” project would start in 2024. The actual 2016-17 capital budget request shows the renovation planned for 2019.

Adamowski argues that some of the school’s population would shift to Ponus or stay in South Norwalk at the new Ely school under the BoE plan, hopefully easing overcrowding at Jefferson. Ponus is regarded as “swing space,” a place to put the kids when schools are being renovated.

Duff pointed out that Silver Petrucelli’s enrollment statistics show a drop in the number of children in coming years.

“It begs the question, why would we spend that kind of money when we can have money in the existing schools that we have right now, and provide the needed renovations for schools, again, like Cranbury, Fox Run, Columbus, Jefferson and all the schools across the city of Norwalk?” Duff said. “… We could use that money smarter and better for the parents, students and taxpayers of the city.”

In 2012, the BoE approved a capital budget request that included plans to put a one-story addition on the back of Jefferson Elementary School in 2015-2016. A one-story addition to Cranbury Elementary School was planned for construction in 2016-2017. A two-story addition for Columbus Magnet School was planned for 2017-2018.

The approved 2012-13 capital budget had $987,834 scheduled for Jefferson in2013-14, $3.7 million in 2014-15, $4.28 million in 2015-16 and $1.46 in 2016-17.

The Planning Commission, in 2014, included $357,000 for Jefferson in its 2015-16 plan and nearly $8 million in its 2016-17 plan. These expected expenditures were moved back a year in the 2015-16 capital budget, with $358,000 scheduled for 2016-17 and $7,949,000 in 2017-18. The plans were not in the 2016-17 budget at all, after Rivera’s facilities study steered things in another direction.

Now, “All the other schools out there are on some sort of a 15-year plan that hasn’t been funded or even really approved or has any kind of a plan whatsoever, so parents who are sitting there, waiting for their schools to be fixed, will be waiting over a decade for their schools to be fixed. Many parents like myself will be long gone, out of the system,” Duff said.

Rilling said he’s gotten a lot of emails from parents requesting support for the BoE’s plan, but an “overwhelming number” of them referenced repairs at existing schools, that won’t happen for at least five years.

“Parents who are reaching out to me, saying please fix our schools. … That’s what this meeting is about: let’s fix our schools,” Rilling said. “… We want to really turn the pyramid upside down from what the Board of Education plan is.”

Fix it First makes more sense, Morris said.

A Monday press conference next to Jefferson Elementary School.

A Monday press conference next to Jefferson Elementary School.

“This also allows us to do something else that many of us have been talking about, part of the ‘Board of Ed’ process, and that is take a look at the entire district because part of the strategic operating plan does include open school choice,” Morris said. “So, this will allow us to address immediate needs that benefit the most kids with the fewest amount of dollars, and revisit that plan district-wide to see how do we really implement school choice, also in the most effective way, and it will really help us with school achievement.”

“We want to give students the best infrastructure we possibly can but we also have an obligation to the taxpayers to make sure that we spend their money wisely,” Rilling said. “This plan here allows us to fix some very, very critical issues in a lot of the different schools. It became apparent to me when I started getting emails from many parents that the information that was put out there wasn’t accurately being portrayed. People were thinking that the current plan would be fixing Cranbury School, Wolfpit School, Jefferson School – this year, and that’s not the case whatsoever.”

“I have no idea why back in 2012 when they voted on the capital plans that nothing ever got done, but now it’s time to say, ‘Let’s get the schools fixed, let’s make sure we do it right, let’s do the students who are currently in the schools a good facility and a good infrastructure,’ and also protecting the taxpayer dollars,” Rilling said. “We have lots of people who can’t afford a significant tax increase this year but if we do it right we can protect them and still give the children the schools they deserve.”

“It’s a tragedy that this one fell back in this process. This plan would address those portables immediately,” Morris said.

Jefferson lost its computer lab because it ran out of space, Perone said.

“This school is maxed out. This school is at 171 percent capacity, he said, of the 600 students crammed into a school built for 400.

His son was in fifth grade at Jefferson when news came down that the school would be fixed next year, and he thought he’d miss it because he was moving on, Perone said, explaining that was only last year.

“At the rate, they are going he is likely going to be graduating high school by the time they get around to fixing this school,” Perone said. “There are a lot of kids in there; this is a great school, a great magnet school, and the strengths of the school are very solid, but at the same time, this is … It’s doing the right things. We need to do right by it as well. That is why we are singling out this school as an example of why we need to prioritize and why we need to fix it.”

Parents have had school repairs dangled in front of them, only to have the plans dropped, Duff said.

“Parents and students all across this city are hungering for construction to be done on the schools,” Duff said. “I think that’s why you see parents who are very anxious about, ‘When is this going to happen?’ They seem excited about the fact that there may be some construction but we want to make sure that it’s clear to them, that in the plan that the current Board has put out, it doesn’t address any of the schools except Ponus Ridge Middle School, over the next four years. Anderson spoke of the electrical problems at Cranbury.

“The inability of those buildings to handle the technology that is necessary now for all of children to succeed – and all of the state district tests are being administered now on electronics. The students have these Chromebooks that crash in the middle of them trying to take a test. The whole school goes down,” she said, asserting that the data in the tests is lost.

Norwalk High School parents, speaking to the BoE Facilities Committee Monday night, said the school’s wireless has a tendency to shut down, with some parents paying on their data plans to allow their children to get work done in the school.

“The piece that has not been fully discussed here is how will the capital plan affect the operations plan,” Morris said Monday morning. “We know that the budget that we were given this year is a huge one, so if we are really going to do something for schools in the future there needs to be a plan that even operationally everyone understands and wants to vet.”

“That is not anything that we have not already asked for,” Curtis said. “… There’s a lot of smart people out here.”

Crevecoeur and Serasis were silent.

“As Board members, we should be diligent with our fiscal responsibility as well as our responsibility to our children,” Mosby said. “We should make sure that all children are being taken care of at the same time. That is why I strongly support this, where it’s going to touch all of our children, kids that are in need now as well as addressing issues of the future.”

Fix it First would repair issues but is not the “renovate as new” approach sponsored by the BoE and its consultants.

“The plan would be to spend money on an addition here at Jefferson to get rid of the portables first, and then do the rest of the schools as well,” Duff said.

“(Renovate as new) could end up becoming the second phase of the plan. At least you got to do the (Jefferson) addition because the real immediate need was to get rid of the portables,” Morris said.
No mention was made of children being bused out of South Norwalk, which the BoE has said is costing millions annually.

The Ponus construction has been estimated by Silver Petrucelli as costing $400 a square foot.

“When we really looked at it, when can accomplish the same thing for $200 a square foot,” Rilling said.

“A lot of reasons to fall back and do this the right way for our kids and our taxpayers,” Morris said.

 

The backlash begins

“Obviously, we’ve had no opportunity to study this, since they choose to release it through a press conference instead of talking to us,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said in an email. “Which is pretty astonishing, considering that Duff and Morris sat in a room with us on Friday morning at a meeting called to explain our facilities plan to them, and didn’t say ONE WORD about this other ‘plan’, even though all the school staff and Board members involved in facilities planning were there for the meeting.  It’s sad to see the mayor and these officials stoop to a political stunt instead of having a serious discussion about the plans with the people actually responsible for rebuilding our schools.”

Then the bloodletting began on Facebook.

“I’ve seen this three page ‘plan’ put together by politicians and you can compare it to the hundreds of pages in the professional plans we based our decisions on. Considering that Sen. Duff told us three days ago that he hadn’t even seen our overall plan, I think calling this alternative ‘half-baked’ is completely accurate,” Lyons said.

A 2015 Facebook thread posted Monday on the FB group, "Norwalk Parents for Education." Rilling, in 2015, said confidentially that he was looking into the old Armory site on New Canaan Avenue. That did not work out for a number of reasons, he said Monday.

A 2015 Facebook thread posted Monday on the FB group, “Norwalk Parents for Education.” Rilling, in 2015, said confidentially that he was looking into the old Armory site on New Canaan Avenue. That did not work out for a number of reasons, he said Monday.

“Cranbury parents should ask themselves if they are prepared to have their kids go to school in a construction zone for 3 years,” BoE member Bryan Meek wrote. “Don’t worry the project wouldn’t start in less than 2 or 3 years, so your kids might be gone by then. The plans we spent 2 years on crafting addressed this. Don’t be fooled by this political theatre.”

“I have been involved in Norwalk government since 1982 and I have never seen such an underhanded political stunt in all those 35 years,” Lyons wrote. “I’m sitting here in utter astonishment that these people would play political games like this with the well-being of our children. If this was a legitimate proposal, why not mention it to the Board leadership, and instead hold a press conference where the news media got the ‘plan’ before the Board did? I’m beyond disgusted.”

 

NPS weighs in, Duff denies being ‘underhanded’

NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams released this statement at 6 p.m.:

 

“Members of the Board of Education and Superintendent were surprised and disconcerted by the press conference this morning, during which Mayor Rilling and Senator Duff outlined an alternative facilities plan for Norwalk Public Schools. Neither the Mayor nor Senator Duff had any prior communication with the Board or Dr. Adamowski prior to what is perceived to be a ‘political’ event.

“There are many questions regarding the outlined plan, which appears to be based in part on a now-outdated document from 2012. The proposal does not appear to conform to the updated Facilities Master Plan Study completed last year, or the Board of Education’s Strategic Operating Plan. It does not meet current building standards, account for swing space during construction or provide enough seats for Norwalk growing enrollment of school children. It is doubtful that the majority of the Board could approve such a plan, which may not be practical, factually accurate and has had no community input.

“The Board will have no further comment on the alternative plan until Mayor Rilling has the opportunity to meet with Board members and share his ideas.”

 

Duff emailed NoN a response to the accusation of being “underhanded:”

“This is a plan to fix schools first and present another idea to the public.

“We used the BOE 2016 facilities plan as our base, the 2015 facilities report for a Norwalk High School and the 2012 capital plan approved by the BOE.

“Many times I asked board staff for updates and then sent a letter in December to Dr. Adamowski to ask more formally.

“Frankly, I’m shocked that the BOE would vote and approve on a plan asking the state for $60 million without seeking any input.

“Our current schools need immediate help, especially Jefferson. Fixing the schools first and then considering new schools is a much more logical plan.”

 

Barbis seeks to rally motivated parents

Barbis, at the Monday night meeting, encouraged NHS parents to contact Rilling.

“There is a whole group of people in Norwalk who are not playing by the rules,” Barbis said. “We’ve been working on a facilities plan for the whole school for two years now. Legislators who never partook in any of the discussion, never came to any of the meetings, and now they are saying after the fact – yes, I’m talking about Bob Duff …  Now he’s come up with this alternate plan. It’s going to be too late to get any of it filed with the state by June 30th. We’re going to lose a year because of political gamesmanship.”

Finance Director Bob Barron recommended funding the Ely request but cut the Ponus request in half.  This is a step in the process, that moves through the Planning Commission and the Board of Estimate and Taxation before hitting the Common Council.

Barbis said Barron rejected the plan and, “It really puts all the work the ‘Board of Ed’ has been doing for two years, it kind of wastes all that effort.”

“Under state statute it is our responsibility to develop the plans and vet them, it is then up to the city to fund them. It is very clear that was the mayor and Bob Duff did today that they are not planning to approve the plan… The mayor at the end of the day calls the shots when it comes to the capital budget. It’s not the Board of Ed.”

“Crafting capital budgets in Norwalk is a collective effort controlled by the Charter,” Common Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said in a late-night email. “Each year the BET sets a limit on capital spending and the Council has final say on who gets what. Of course, the Mayor plays an important role, especially on the BET, but in reality devising capital budgets are collective endeavors, as it should be.”

 

A ‘smoke screen’

“They can say anything they want,” Lyons said. “It’s all a parent-manipulating smoke screen to cover what’s going on here, which is killing work on the schools for a full year, just as Bruce Morris wanted.  Those projects back in ’12 (which I voted on a month after taking office, basically just as a rookie member endorsing the previous board’s work) were an unplanned, haphazard set of school projects without even a semblance of anything like a master plan (sort of like the City when it comes to Zoning, come to think of it).  Manny Rivera said we needed to stop doing everything in this school system on an ad-hoc basis and actually come up with a long-term, comprehensive, interconnected plan.  We finished the last ad-hoc projects (Naramake and Rowayton), and did the first complete study of the system in 20 years.  We spent a year analyzing it, adjusting it, holding multiple public meetings, and approving it.  That whole time the Mayor sat as an ex-officio member of the BoE and said NOTHING about the plan.  Bob Duff never came to a meeting (Gail Lavielle did, to several) and said NOTHING about the plan.  On Friday Duff sat in a meeting with us to discuss the plan and said NOTHING about it.  And today — with no studies, no professional analysis, no bipartisanship and no public input at all (funny, I thought that was some kind of crime!) announced a return to the very kind of unplanned, ad-hoc approach to these problems that got us here in the first place.  I’m really, really tired of these political games.”

“I stand ready, willing and able to help work together to get a plan agreed to and approved by the deadline. As a parent, I want to get working as quickly as possible on our schools,” Duff said.

Morris denied that it’s a stunt.

“On numerous occasions since the BOE’s community meeting held on October 26th, I and others requested the opportunity to provide input toward the Facilities Plan,” Morris said in a late-night email. “Members of the public specifically requested the BOE allow an advisory group provide input before a decision was made. Community input was reduced to unscientific surveys that provided the answers the BOE was looking for and three minute statements allowed at the end of the few Facility Meetings held between November and December. I respectfully and consistently made the case that the proposed plan and more importantly process to determine a plan, did not adequately allow an opportunity to vet other options. I was initially allowed to speak longer than three minutes at one meeting and then cut off from speaking. At one meeting a Board member slammed his hand on the table while demanding an alternative plan from me. I don’t understand why the BOE, who did not allow a collaborative process toward developing their plan, would now be disturbed that an alternative has been offered after the fact. Prior to the BOE vote on their proposed plan, I advised members during that meeting, the legislative delegation had not been consulted about their potential decision.’

Morris continued, “This isn’t about political stunts – it is about elected representatives ensuring the needs of all citizens are met efficiently and equitably. This plan is good for more students and staff members than the BOE, it is better for all taxpayers, addresses Jefferson portables sooner rather than later and provides potential to collaboratively plan a high-quality school choice system.”

Original story, published 1:35 p.m. Feb. 13: 

 

Norwalk officials, led by

Norwalk officials, led by State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), center, and Mayor Harry Rilling, right, lead a press conference Monday next to Jefferson Elementary School.

Updated, 4:50 p.m., Video from Harold Cobin added, along with comment by Bob Duff and response from Mike Lyons. Correction, 3:22 p.m.: April Guilbault and Blaire Anderson have children that went to Cranbury Elementary, not Jefferson; 4 p.m. BoE members abstained.

NORWALK, Conn. – A group of Norwalk leaders has announced a plan to fix Norwalk Public Schools – in opposition to the plan developed by the Norwalk Board of Education.

Mayor Harry Rilling, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25), State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) and State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) held a press conference Monday morning to say “Fix It First.”

Video by Harold Cobin at end of story.
That’s the name of their campaign to spend $100 million on executing needed repairs on Norwalk Schools, as opposed to the BoE- approved plan to spend $117 million on building two new schools, in preparation for renovating various schools into a new condition.

“We feel we can spend $100 million plus the state reimbursement money, to not only fix schools like Jefferson but Cranbury, Fox Run, Columbus, and other schools – Norwalk High School – all around the city of Norwalk,” Duff said.

The men were joined in their press conference by BoE members Shirley Mosby and Yvel Crevecoeur, Common Council member Steve Serasis (D-District A) and two mothers, April Guilbault and Blaire Anderson.

“I have spent countless hours in the classrooms volunteering and I see exactly firsthand what these classrooms in these schools need. Every year, we have our hopes risen in terms of new infrastructure improvements and it just isn’t happening. I believe that I can speak for many parents and say my patience is running out. I don’t believe our city is giving our students the fundamentals they need to achieve the way we want and hope that they will achieve,” Guilbault said.

The Fix It First plan hinges on building an addition onto Jefferson Elementary School, which BoE members say has 600 students in a space built for 400 students. Fix It First proponents are using an plan approved by the BoE in 2012 for an addition on the school, which has not been built.

Morris called that a tragedy. The Fix it First plan would immediately address Jefferson’s overcrowding, Rilling, Duff, Perone and Morris said.

“I have no idea about this plan. I have seen nothing.‎ No one at the Board of Ed either,” BoE Facilities Chairman Mike Barbis said in an email.

“Obviously, we’ve had no opportunity to study this, since they choose to release it through a press conference instead of talking to us,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said in an email. “Which is pretty astonishing, considering that Duff and Morris sat in a room with us on Friday morning at a meeting called to explain our facilities plan to them, and didn’t say ONE WORD about this other ‘plan’, even though all the school staff and Board members involved in facilities planning were there for the meeting.  It’s sad to see the mayor and these officials stoop to a political stunt instead of having a serious discussion about the plans with the people actually responsible for rebuilding our schools.”

Rilling and Perone pointed out during the press conference that Lyons and Barbis voted for the addition.

Rilling said that “an overwhelming” percentage of the emails he has gotten in support of the BoE plan reference fixing the existing schools. Parents don’t realize that the BoE plan puts off fixing schools for years, he said.

The BoE plan was approved on a 5-0-4 vote. Crevecoeur and Mosby abstained, along with Sherelle Harris and Artie Kassimis.

Morris has been pushing to allow South Norwalk to discuss educational options for a new school there. This plan would allow that, Morris said.

This story will be updated.

29 comments

Dani Monsarrat February 13, 2017 at 3:03 pm

What kind of political bait and switch is this? Do any of our politicians give two craps about our kids education? You can’t slap a band-aid on this problem. Quit building condos and put some money into new schools. You’re Fired!

Rob Schutze February 13, 2017 at 3:20 pm

So, if this plan from 2012 (which is outdated now) was rejected then, how can they think that it’s a good plan now? That’s ridiculous.

Julie C February 13, 2017 at 3:35 pm

While yes many of Norwalk’s schools absolutely need significant repairs and improvements, it is also very clear that overcrowding is an issue across the district and that South Norwalk deserves a school. Improvements must be made to provide all Norwalk students strong educational environments and to lessen the number of families that leave Norwalk as soon as kids hit middle school-age. The bigger issue is that there isn’t enough money for all of these needs and they must be prioritized. While it’s great to have additional elected officials interested in making some of these improvements happen, it is not great that there’s been (apparently) no communication with the Board of Ed and NPS. All of the interested parties should come together and figure out the best plan of action to serve students and the educational system as a whole. It’s time to put the personal politics aside and do what’s best for the city’s long term success and most importantly the students currently in our city’s classrooms.

Educator February 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm

I spent 30 years in those old buildings. They are crumbling and in disrepair. Try and plug a computer into any classroom at Cranbury. The rest of the building will pay for it.

I agree with Bob Duff, fix it first!

Erik Anderson February 13, 2017 at 4:56 pm

@Educator – There was a request in this year’s capital budget for the Cranbury electrical issues. We discussed this at great length during one of our Finance Committee meetings and all agreed it should be addressed immediately.

LKT February 13, 2017 at 5:46 pm

When will a parent survey be sent out? When will these elected officials invite and hold several community feedback and input? Will parents be given more time to evaluate these options? What educators were consulted in developing these options? Was there open and candid dialogue when drafting this proposal? For the past year, this is the first I’m hearing of this and through a press conference no less.

Our children should not be used as pawns to maintain or increase your election votes. Our children need a first class education and to barter their future for lower property taxes and your elected positions is a disservice to them in immeasurable proportion. Think about the education that you received; think about the education that your parents fought for you to have or would have wanted for you to have. Please don’t gamble our children’s futures away. Please don’t denigrate their lives merely as a line item in your taxes.

Patrick Cooper February 13, 2017 at 6:19 pm

Exhibit A for what is wrong with Norwalk. Pure politics, absolute malice intended. Note this group when going to the polls folks – and remember this stunt. Remember they don’t care one ounce about the problem – they simply want the credit. Mosby & Morris – how does spending the money differently solve overcrowding? It doesn’t. Just like green lighting insider deals for our insider developers doesn’t do anything for the grand list.

It’s always the same – politics – and it’s freaking dirty. This group owes its political lives to the support of the public unions that literally want to control our BOE and more – they want control of the budget. Why does this look like a reaction to the idea that they should amend the deals relative to health insurance benefits? Anyone other than @Lisa Thompson put 2 plus 2 together – Harry’s re-election bid has who leading the fundraising? And NO ONE says those optics are troubling to the point of being vulgar?

I pray that Mike Lyons doesn’t show up to the next BOE meeting with a boom box playing “take this job and shove it”. Who could blame him. On the other hand – REPUBLICANS – wake the hell up and get a leader in place. The town needs to hear a different vision – we need a different form of government – we need this mayor to be our last mayor. We need a City Manager.

Bryan Meek February 13, 2017 at 7:15 pm

@Erik. And the City’s budget director who serves at the pleasure of the mayor decided to kill it from his capital budget proposal. The Planning Commission, BET, and Council can remedy this error in oversight.

Jalna Jaeger February 13, 2017 at 7:51 pm

I worked at Jefferson school for 7 years. Jefferson was built in the 50’s, it needs a new school. There is not much to fix!
The cafeteria is too small, as is the gym and the hallways. There are classrooms in closets!The heating and air conditioning don’t work very well. There are not handicap accessible restrooms.
There is no teacher lunchroom, and when I left no librarian. What kind of a school is that?
There is minimal playground space , where are the children supposed to play? Many of the students who attend Jefferson have no yard at home,the school playground is their only place to play. Why can Norwalk build thousands of apartments, and condos, but not a new school for the students? The students are our future, they deserve a new school. Forget the Mall build a school!
I am a taxpayer, and I vote!

James Cahn February 13, 2017 at 8:19 pm

This is so tone deaf, it would be hilarious if it weren’t tragic. I don’t know if Bob and Harry’s “Fix it First Fix it Now” is a good plan or not. I know that whomever wrote the book they read on the importance of alliteration in public speaking certainly made their $10. Here’s the problem, though…. To some extent, it doesn’t matter if or not this plan is a good one because regardless, I don’t believe them.

I don’t believe that their intentions are pure. I don’t believe that this isn’t just political showmanship. I don’t believe that they’re most concerned about the kids. I don’t believe that they’ve suddenly had a “Come to Jesus” moment about their responsibility to Norwalk’s tax payers. I don’t believe they are credible. I don’t believe that they are following the best intentions of their hearts.

There are things that I am certain about, though. I am certain that they are not effective or accountable. I am certain that they do not have the capacity to execute. Finally, I am certain that what is of the highest importance to this crew is their desperation to constantly figure out ways to maintain their political titles. That’s shameful and disgusting.

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? To stage a circus and gear up to start campaigning? To have a press conference? And they do it with an obviously calculated, public ambush-style announcement? This speaks volumes about the leadership ability of this crew and it gives us all an intimate look at the “corporate culture” of City Hall. This wasn’t a press conference because they’re really concerned about the kids. This was Harry Rilling’s first public re-election campaign appearance.

It’s past time for Norwalk tax payers to put these people on notice. Tax payers are owed better than this. School kids are owed better than this. These clowns want to play games without a care in the world that they’re effecting the values of most people’s largest asset and that their effecting the futures of CHILDREN.

It takes a truly special kind of selfish to turn figuring out how we can best serve CHILDREN and their PARENTS into some sort of political grand standing opportunity.

It’s also disingenuous to do the hand wringing and paying lip service to the “responsibility to tax payers.” Give me a break. I am most familiar with my own neighborhood and district. I have a professionally prepared analysis that definitively outlines that a bare minimum amount of planning and action in the Wall Street area would generate a NET INCREASE of $1.73MM in tax revenue. This is an analysis that was provided to the elected officials of the city of Norwalk two years ago. Where is the concern about my tax money when you continue to allow yourself to be held hostage by the POKO project? Where is the concern about my tax money when we’re considering giving away property at discount prices to developers? Where is the concern about my tax money when you allow a burned-out shell of a building to negatively effect property values by sitting, untouched for a decade? Where is the concern about my tax money when NONE of the elected officials in District A have demonstrated ANY leadership on ANY of these or any other issues in my district? Where is the concern about my tax money when you don’t bother to enforce any of the quality of life ordinances currently on the books? Where is the concern about my tax money when you’re proposing raises for your selves? Where is the concern about my tax money when you’re hiring a proxy to be your “Assistant Mayor?”

Multiple studies have demonstrated a positive correlation between superior schools and property values. Period. Right now, we don’t even have acceptable schools. If my taxes sky rocket because our schools suddenly become top tier and my property value starts a meaningful acceleration, trust me, I’ll find the money to pay the taxes. But instead, we just want to make sure everyone see us going through the motions and saying the right things. If these people were even half as interested advocating for someone not them as they are in advocating for themselves, we might see real, measurable change.

I know that everyone in this video and involved in this press conference charade will read my comments. So, they should know and assume that I am addressing each of them directly. Do your jobs. You serve at my pleasure and at the pleasure of everybody else who pays taxes to and lives in Norwalk. There is nothing more important to people then their babies. Quit the games. At the very best, you look ridiculous.

Education101 February 13, 2017 at 9:04 pm

Budget busters aka Adamowski, Lyons and company have shown total disregard for the taxpayers by promoting unrealistic budgets beyond the taxpayer means and perhaps this can serve as a needed wake up call and intervention.

Thank you Mayor Rilling you for putting the BOE on notice that operating in a bubble with what seams to be an avalanche of massive spending and budgets as far as the eye can simply not continue unchecked. Distressed taxpayers and struggling retirees who are perennially asked to sacrifice more despite no means of increasing income levels can no longer be ignored. To quote the words of our Mayor Rilling . . . “We have an obligation to the tax payer to make sure that we spend their money wisely.” Are you listening BOE?

Teacher February 13, 2017 at 9:30 pm

I have been an educator in this district for over 12 years and I have yet to see any of these individuals enter my classroom. Where are they when we are asking kids to donate tissues, pencils and paper towels because our paychecks cannot fund our classrooms any more? Where are these politicians when the classroom laptops break and there is no money to replace them? This is a shameful political stunt, fueled by the revolving door of Central Office’s top-heavy administration. Every committee generated by this district for educator “input” is a group of hand-selected puppets to further assist the administrative agenda. They boost their resumes with another “program initiative” and leave Norwalk in the dust and picking up the pieces.

I'm moving February 13, 2017 at 9:37 pm

Rilling “I don’t know why in 2012…..nothing ever got done ” how are you going to ensure something gets done now? Also, how much time and research have you put into “fix it first”? I am sure not nearly as much as the proposed BoE plan.
What would draw or keep families of school aged children to Norwalk? This is a joke.

Non partisan February 13, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Neophytes

You can’t renovate a school to new condition in an overcrowded condition. Where are they putting the students during renovations?

But- The board plan in building a school at Ely impacted a non profit tennis program that was a favorite of the mayor. The board buried in their plan 4mm to move the tennis program – but that made the price for the new school ridiculous.

Maybe the city should take care of what they are suppose to- enforcing our zoning laws- eliminating illegal apartments- and becoming a non sanctuary city. Develop and implement a master plan- for controlled population growth. This would stabilize the student population and ease the burden.

Coordinate health care for all local employees.

The last thing this city needs is more grand standing.

Lisa Thomson February 13, 2017 at 10:21 pm

I can only imagine the political quid pro quos that have played out to get that crew together for a photo op 🙂

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the fact that they put this proposal together WITHOUT the BOE or that their politicized, plan still spends $100 M, albeit justified with a 5 page brief.

This stunt pretty much sums up the amateur state of our city managemen or any genuine attempt to understand why our schools are overcrowded or why our spending levels can’t keep up with Planning & Development or the Grand LIst.

#charterrevision #citymanager

Skyler R February 13, 2017 at 11:54 pm

Wow, I guess this is payback by Bruce Morris for getting fired by the BOE…won’t the public love to hear about his extortion attempts which would serve to inflate his pension (amongst other things) …. taxpayers, you have to love this guy!! And he’s in bed with the Mayor and our State Senator. Nice one!!

Andrew February 14, 2017 at 7:34 am

This tells you where the Mayor and Majority Leaders constituency lies in Norwalk. I can’t pull up the numbers as the city webiste only has results from elections upto 2015 right now; but, apparently more people voted Duff and Morris than did for the BOE members. So parents you now know where you stand in regard to November 2017. Lets see how this shakes out, going to be interesting.

Another small note: I like the reference to not being able to use the Armory as a new school site. I’m going to enjoy the zoning meetings in a couple of years when the new owner will be proposing a few hundred new apartments after all the dust from this has settled.

TYMR February 14, 2017 at 7:44 am

In a community where nearly half the students are receiving free lunch and many others are struggling to make ends meet, it is somewhat confounding why the Board of Education keeps putting forth budgets and capital proposals significantly above the taxpayer means. This should not be of any surprise and Mayor Rilling deserves credit for countering this by a much needed reality check. Further, I think it is a misnomer to promote the misconception that new schools somehow translate to better school rankings. If this was the case, would not Brian McMahon HS rank better?

Concered February 14, 2017 at 8:39 am

To Teacher,

You know that Bob Duff has children currently in the Norwalk public school system, right? Obviously he has stepped foot in the hallways several times and is more than aware of how bad things are. He and his wife are active in their school PTO as well and know how much the PTO pays for versus what the schools get from the city. I can’t speak to the others.

Just curious February 14, 2017 at 9:41 am

Teacher your solution to them not coming in your classroom is simple ADD CAMERAS theyou are attracted to cameras like mice to cheese.

Claire Schoeen February 14, 2017 at 11:40 am

The state is going to spend more than $100 million on the Route 7/Merritt interchange which may or may not be necessary for our future.
How about we take that infrastructure money and use it on our SCHOOLS?
It shouldn’t be an either/or situation. Maintain what we have, but focus on the future by building new AND let’s give South Norwalk a real neighborhood school.

Mike Barbis February 14, 2017 at 2:35 pm

cc-rider Yes, Bruce Morris is “miffed” as you said and he is after NPS for dollars … and a big pension. Taxpayers, stand by!

Carol L. Frank February 14, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Thank you Mayor Rilling and group for putting a stop to this BOE gimme gimme gimme,we the seniors of Norwalk deserve some consideration,we are being taxed out of our homes.
Again thank you Mayor for “taking another look” at a serious problem and just not rubber stamping the BOE absurd request.

Bryan Meek February 14, 2017 at 5:22 pm

@Carol. Have you noticed your house is worth 2/3s of what it was a few years ago before we rotated 8 superintendents through here in the last 10 years. The schools plan would have added $44 in debt expense per year to build the schools to our plan per person over the life of the buildings. Instead we have sent a loud message to realtors and would be buyers to steer clear of Norwalk which will further depress property values and increase the number of rentals in our neighborhood. DId you read the Hour story on our area being one of the worst in the country right now? The mayor’s plan has no cost analysis and is a dust off of something shelved years ago. The Jefferson plan is actually obsolete and wouldn’t be approved per state guidelines. We just spend $250,000 on these plans not to mention 1000s of man hours developing them and then we just found out we won’t have a budget to even work out the details of the mayor’s plans which don’t even exist right now. But I guess your happy and that’s what matters. Stay informed.

Isabelle Hargrove February 14, 2017 at 6:08 pm

We are not being taxed out of our homes because of the BOE and its plan to address overcrowding, the decrepitated state of our schools and the shortcomings of our current system in preparing our kids to lead productive lives in the 21st century economy.

We are being taxed out of our homes, while our property values stagnate, because our city’s budget keeps growing, squeezed between more and more expensive union contracts and a growing population with ever increasing needs, all the while our grand list and funding from the State grows at snail pace.

This appalling political stunt is a pathetic attempt at distracting the public from the fact that Norwalk can’t afford to bring up its school district to 21st century standards because our state and local government have failed Norwalkers miserably.

So, maybe instead of trying to do someone else’s job with a last-minute, 5-pages, high-school-caliber presentation, Senator Duff should be focused on the pathetic funding Norwalk gets from the State under his watch and Mayor Rilling should focus on fixing Wall Street, halting tax increases, growing our grand list at a rate that can sustain increased demand for services, updating zoning, negotiating health plans with the unions and numerous other problems he has failed to solve.

Finally, regardless of how anyone feels about what is the right level of investment in our school system. We all need to realize that this type of political backstabbing is the poison that makes it impossible for our town to find good people to serve. The BOE is mostly comprised of hard working, accomplished individuals from BOTH parties and they were just cut at the knees in a despicable act of cowardice by our leadership and this hurts all of Norwalk.

Lanny February 17, 2017 at 9:36 am

The city is and has been mismanaged for decades. The current issues regarding physical problems with our schools facilities, have been disregarded. Real time issues swept under the rug. There are continuing problems with roof failures, windows falling out, emergency notification failures, heating and cooling issues, and space. These issues have been neglected as a result of incompetancy,and political red tape which spends money to do senseless studies instead of the direct application of funds to make repairs correctly! Thats the operative “correctly.” Band aides fall off. There are and have been safety issues in the schools which are and have been suppressed by the admin.( haha) for fear of public opinion and suppression of a real time state of the buildings. The consensus; and I do believe, is the non residential students in the system which directly impacts class size. So a valid audit must happen. As in the contracting world its always easier to build up than out! Heed those words. The city has relinquished many school sites in its myopic view for future building use. Now the BOE wants to build new schools. And the funds come from where? Our system is a great example of what not to do to operate a school system. Its such a failure in many directions its disgusting! The system has valuable teachers who can’t teach because of poor conditions and rules. The BOE insists annually of spending more money in ways that don’t improve the system. Harry try being of value and not a figure head. Time for a fresh start people of Norwalk!

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

About Nancy

Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.