D’Amelio talks education at forum

Republican State Senate candidate Marc D’Amelio, left, listens to State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142), Wednesday in Nathan Hale Middle School.

Updated, 7:33 a.m.: Copy edits, Isabelle Hargrove comments added

NORWALK, Conn. – Republican State Senate candidate Marc D’Amelio would like to reduce waste at the University of Connecticut, increase Norwalk’s state funding for education, and increase Norwalk’s revenue by allowing cities to charge a sales tax.

D’Amelio’s Senate campaign held a forum Wednesday featuring questions and answers on education funding.  The event was attended by an audience of about 30 in which Republican faithful were well-represented.  D’Amelio is seeking to unseat State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25).

D’Amelio said he grew up in Norwalk and attended Nathan Hale. He met his wife while living in New York City “a little while” and they came back to Norwalk because he “always had a special place” in his heart for his old hometown, he said.

He “started catching the bug” and “instead of sitting back and talking,” he got involved with the Norwalk High School parents club and grew it from “couple of members to 200 members,” he said.

“I know about the Norwalk Public Schools from being a parent and being a student and being a taxpayer,” he said. “I care what’s gong on here.”

D’Amelio said his campaign sought to hold a bipartisan event due to what he characterized as recent partisanship.  “I think what I look to is the Board of Education and what these guys have been able to do, with Mike Lyons and Bryan Meek, and Mike Barbis, who is here.”  Norwalk Board of Ed members in recent years have touted a multi-year strategic operating plan and reforms implemented by Superintendent Stephen Adamowski, which they say have improved student test scores.

Barbis, a member of the Democratic Party who does not support Duff, is Norwalk Board of Education chairman.  He was joined on the panel with State Rep. Fred Wilms (R-142).  Lyons and Meek are Republican BoE members; Meek attended the event.


How are we going to pay for all of this?

Norwalk Public Schools will have a “big ask” next year, “that’s one reason I am here tonight,” Barbis said.  “How are we going to pay for all of this?”

Board members at their July retreat estimated that they’ll be asking for a $12.7 million budget increase for 2019-20.

Norwalk is not getting incremental revenue from grand list growth and at the same time the population is growing.   “The only way to ask for more money is from taxpayers,” Barbis said.  The state’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) formula, which determines how much state funding municipalities receive, has shortchanged Norwalk for years, Barbis said.  The formula has been a perennial sore point in Norwalk because it awards funding based on the value of taxable property, which is relatively high due to Norwalk’s proximity to New York City.  At the same time, panelists said, Norwalk incomes are modest, and student needs are high due to the percentage of students whose first language is not English.

“It’s crazy” that Norwalk gets 10 percent of its school funding from ECS while Bridgeport gets 85 percent and the wealthier West Hartford gets twice as much as Norwalk, Barbis said.  “This is the reality. We are not going to change Hartford.”

The ECS formula was tweaked during the last budget session, and as a result Norwalk will receive $402,369 more next year, according to the Connecticut School Finance Project.  In 2020 Norwalk will receive  $898,036 more than this year and in 2021 the increase will be $1,407,700 more.  In a Sep. 20 comment on NancyOnNorwalk, Barbis wrote that the increases are “barely keeping up with inflation” and that Duff “isn’t really standing up for us in Hartford.”

“At the end of the day it’s not going to really change what we’re looking at right now,” Barbis said. “Every penny… has to come from Norwalk taxpayers. That’s why we are having this discussion, how else can we look at this.”

Wilms, who is being challenged for reelection by Democratic candidate Lucy Dathan, recounted his efforts to change the state’s ECS formula.  He filed a bill has soon as he got to Hartford in 2014, he said.

“Folks thought I was an alien from another planet,” Wilms said.  In order to change the formula, “all we need to do is just introduce bills. Introduce a bill. I have to tell you, when I went up there in 2014, I couldn’t find a single bill that was introduced by anyone from the Norwalk delegation before that.”  Duff has been Norwalk’s State Senator since 2005.


D’Amelio: Norwalk needs a “bulldog”

D’Amelio said his interest in running stems partially from his experience of traveling to Hartford with Drew Todd and Barbara Meyer-Mitchell, now a BoE member, to fight for more ECS funding.

He was astonished by the ECS shortcoming but learned that Education Committee Chairman Andy Fleischmann (D-West Hartford) is a “bulldog,” he said, and after spending 12 hours in the legislative session he drove home saying, “It’s just unbelievable.”

“People have said to me, ‘Well, as a junior senator what could you do?’” D’Amelio said. “I think you just have to be heard and we need people who will go up there and fight and not take no for an answer, and go on record saying, ‘No, Andy, that’s not the way it is. We have people down in Norwalk that are hurting and this is what we deserve.’”

Moderator Lisa Brinton asked if there were other sources of revenue, such as sales tax.

Albania Villalba speaks to Republican State Senate candidate Marc D’Amelio, Thursday in Nathan Hale Middle School.  Villalba said she will vote for D’Amelio.

D’Amelio said he’d support a sales tax because Norwalk is “the hub,” for big box stores, and 70 percent of the items purchased in Norwalk are bought by residents of other communities.

“We think it’s something we can make happen. Now the mall would start to look a little bit different,” if one percent of everything sold there supported Norwalk’s local needs, D’Amelio said.  “That is something that I would be interested to get behind and push,” he added.

“Those are the kind of things we need to do because it’s the only way we are going to be able to fund our school system adequately,” Barbis said.

Wilms on Wednesday said the state writes the rules, and would have to authorize a local sales tax.

“I would support that,” Wilms said. “I have to say in the Mayor’s defense, he agrees with us. I would support allowing Norwalk and other cities to directly charge a sales tax. I believe that we would benefit from that greatly.”

Duff, who D’Amelio is running to unseat, has not indicated a support for a sales tax. In April, Brinton brought it up at a League of Women Voters Pie and Politics event; Duff said that cost controls are needed.  According to Duff, state government has shrunk 15 percent while municipal government size remains unchanged, and “that’s actually what’s choking the state. We have 169 basically small communities with little incentive to work together,” he said.  At the April event he went on to argue for regionalization on some services.

D’Amelio sees it differently.

“I don’t think there’s a ton of waste in Norwalk,” D’Amelio said.  He described some current BoE members “some of the brightest people I have ever met.”

“I think it happens in Hartford,” D’Amelio continued.  He said that the bipartisan budget passed last September but vetoed by Gov. Dannel Malloy would have provided $5 million more in ECS funding for Norwalk.

“There were cuts to higher education… but there is so much waste going on and there are unfunded mandates,” D’Amelio said.


Barbis: unfunded mandates waste school resources

Barbis described unfunded mandates as one of the biggest wastes of resources for Norwalk Public Schools, and cited a new state requirement for an expulsion program that this year will cost $250,000.

D’Amelio campaign manager Isabelle Hargrove later asked if there was a way to increase the amount of money available for lower education by reducing the money for higher education.

“We did that in our budget and we caught all sorts of flak for it,” Wilms said.

D’Amelio said he went to Norwalk Community College and to the University of Connecticut.

“There’s a ton of waste (at UConn). I would love to analyze the University of Connecticut in relation to other top 20 universities,” D’Amelio said.

D’Amelio expressed concern about the tendency of young people to leave Connecticut, and noted that other states offer higher education for everyone.  He’d like to see a loan program that would pay for full tuition but with conditions, such as requiring participants to live in an area that is up and coming, or learn a certain discipline.  This would include a buy out feature, so if a graduate gets an offer to go somewhere else, Connecticut would get paid back, he said.

Near the end of the forum, Meek took the conversation away from education funding.  “Vanilla, Chocolate, or Strawberry?” Meek asked the panel, an apparent poke at Duff’s past ice cream socials.  Audience members chuckled.

“Marc wanted to initiate a conversation about education between the public and representatives from both the legislature and the Board of Ed to explore ideas for improved funding, cost-cutting, and career readiness for all students,” D’Amelio campaign manager Isabelle Hargrove wrote in an e-mail to NoN after the forum.
“Both Mike Barbis and Fred Wilms offered valuable insights and ideas. Fred and Marc share the same vision on many possible solutions and Marc looks forward to working closely with his counterparts in the house of representatives,”
“This forum also confirmed what Marc has known all along. There are solutions to improve education while lessening the heavy burden on Norwalk taxpayers. We can make substantial headway if the Norwalk delegation and the Board of Ed worked more closely together. When elected, Marc is committed to bringing all parties together to finally produce results for Norwalk kids and taxpayers,” Hargrove wrote.

Albania Villalba, an audience member, said she attended the forum because her daughter is a Norwalk High School student and the school is overcrowded.

She’s from the Dominican Republic and has organized a group of five Latino parents, because, “I want to know what we can do better.”

She’ll vote for D’Amelio, she said.


Sue Haynie October 22, 2018 at 5:34 am

This says it all- Wilms states, “In order to change the formula, “all we need to do is just introduce bills… I went up there in 2014, I couldn’t find a single bill that was introduced by anyone from the Norwalk delegation before that.”

Duff has done nothing for Norwalk. If he gets voted in again, Norwalk gets what it deserves…nothing.

Alan October 22, 2018 at 9:17 am

I watched a bit of a tv show with Duff and D’Amelio and you Norwalk voters should be looking at Marc.
You have had Duff for some time now…how has that worked out? He came across as ineffective,plain vanilla. An insider who gets very little done for Norwalk. If it mattered to me, I would do more research on the alternative to Duff. Unfortunately, I am out of district and have my own issues!

James Cahn October 22, 2018 at 9:20 am

A Norwalk sales tax. That’s a brilliant idea. I speak to people in my practice all the time who tell me, “I would move to Norwalk but for the lack of a municipal sales tax.”

Did these people really just come up with the idea that one of the problems “we” have is that I’m not paying enough taxes? No only that, it’s the one thing they all agree on?

It’s such a good idea, we should make it mandatory!

Piberman October 22, 2018 at 11:47 am

Bravo ! In a State with 3 massive tax hikes during the last 2 terms of Democratic Governor Malloy now comes proposals to let municipalities raise their own sales taxes to provide even higher salaries for our well paid public Unions who sensibly live outside Norwalk. Imagine what a local sales tax will do in the hands of our political Mayors without any business or managerial experience. Imagine the reaction of the local business community. CT politicians oft come up with silly ideas. But a local sales tax takes the cake. For a State widely viewed as the nations most mismanaged State it sure “takes the cake”. Hoorah.
Why not just double the auto tax and drive everyone away ! Who wants to retire in Hi Tax CT anyway ?

Former Norwalker October 22, 2018 at 12:13 pm

Interesting to see the stakeholders involved here: bunch of aging white men for the most part with minorities sprinkled around the fringes. @JK: another brilliant marketing approach: “if you’re black, brown or female, trust the GOP to have your best interests at heart… just check the video on the Kavanaugh hearings if you’re uncertain, or the detention camps for the browns on the southern border.

And we’d like to make those tax cuts for the middle class permanent… but we’ll have to get back to you after the midterms on that, K? And don’t mention not being able to write off half your property taxes the way you could before T’s tax reform bill. Nothing to see there, just move along and hope Social Security and Medicaid survive Mitch & Co if we manage to hold the House. It will be worth it just to own the libs!”

At least in CT the GOP’s lock on being the party of the whiniest has a basis in reality, given the moribund state legislature dominated by Dems and the yuge, wonderful hole it’s helped dig in residents’ pockets with billions in unfunded state pension liabilities.

Steve Mann October 22, 2018 at 3:00 pm

Thoroughly informative article and thanks to Nancy for reporting.

I for one think that a muni sale tax is not a bad idea at all. A one percent sales tax or or the current reval money-grab in which my property tax rose .07% for the third consecutuve year. City governments will try to quash this because it provide variable revenues, as opposed to a finite tax increase on the grand list, which lets them know exactly how much of your money they can spend.

Norwalkers should be nothing less than outraged at “Norwalk is not getting incremental revenue from grand list growth and at the same time the population is growing”.

Who didn’t see this coming? State economic picture bleak, jobs growing but GDP down. Companies leaving the state, taking higher-paying jobs, increasing unsold home inventories. and population growing by non-taxed renters yet those are the very people who strain education budgets that you and I pay for. Outrageous and an insult to say the least. Continue to let developers rape the city and it gets worse.

Further outraged at: “It’s crazy” that Norwalk gets 10 percent of its school funding from ECS while Bridgeport gets 85 percent and the wealthier West Hartford gets twice as much as Norwalk”

I submit that no one has been standing up for you. We’ll maybe the clerk at City Hall when you go to pay your taxes. Time for a change. What do we have to lose???

Alan October 22, 2018 at 5:31 pm

The whole state is dysfunctional and set up for corruption.
As for ECS…Greenwich and other towns get NOTHING, or close to it.
We all send money to Hartford and get very little back. Recall that in the last session, the $50 million bailout of Hartford, became a $500-$700 million bailout, and now a Stamford developer is looking for $60 million to “redevelop” around that foolish ballpark.
No matter how much comes in they spend it and more. A perfect example is the $12 “fee” on insurance policies for a bailout of the folks up north and their crumbling foundations. Toni Harp got 15% of that money for New Haven. It is a crime on top of a crime and the current administration spent years protecting the insurance companies and now takes credit for being “proactive”. It makes me sick.
Did the state bail out Bound Brook Estates, back in the day?

Danny October 22, 2018 at 5:54 pm

“Familiarity breeds contempt”. Thank you Senator Duff for all you’ve done … it’s now time for you to focus full-time on Trump’s Tweets and help sell these homes in Norwalk that have been on the market for years!

Unfortunately, when you’re directly associated with Malloy, you become collateral damage. Had you distanced yourself and stood up for us, you’d undoubtedly would’ve captured my vote like years past.

It must be an uncomfortable feeling, knowing that someone is trying to unseat you as the Majority Leader! YIKES!

Where’s Manic Mike? I’m getting my popcorn ready for this thread!

Kathleen October 22, 2018 at 7:24 pm

I see no real substance here about the “How” except for a sales tax.James Cahn, you hit the nail on the head.

Sue Haynie October 23, 2018 at 5:06 am

Agree with above posters, a Norwalk sales tax should be a no-go zone.

70% of the items purchased at big box stores might be bought by residents of other communities, but I would venture to guess that most Norwalkers buy locally too; it’s not like they get a ‘free’ ride!

A sales tax would hurt Norwalk residents, Norwalk taxpayers and Norwalk businesses.

Mitch Adis October 23, 2018 at 4:13 pm

How about a Norwalk Sales tax, but you can get a property tax credit if you own property in the City of Norwalk? Don’t worry Westport, Darien, New Canaan or Wilton will not try to compete and build their own “Big Box Row”. Norwalk owns that market! Time to capitalize!

Tommy D October 23, 2018 at 6:22 pm

Norwalk education? D’Amelio kids go to a private school in Stamford for 60k tuition. Give me a break.

Lisa Brinton Thomson October 23, 2018 at 7:21 pm

Tommy D – I think you missed the point. Bi-partisan Marc got Barbis (D) and Wilms (R) to sit down and talk education. A lot of ground was covered. Despite the FB attacks and comments on this site, the session wasn’t about Marc – unless you want to talk reaching across the aisle and getting those most knowledgeable to engage. Something our state desperately needs.

The repeated ‘personal’ attacks are off message and losing the other side votes. FWIW, I was accosted by a high ranking Dem while at dinner @ Don Carmelo’s with friends the weekend before the event. My friend, a Democrat was so shocked by the 5 minute assault, while eating her quesadilla, she decided then and there that she’d be voting for Marc. Moral of the story – stick to state issues and don’t bug people while they’re eating. 😆

Jeffery October 24, 2018 at 10:17 am

This guy is all over the place. At first it was fix ECS, now its abandon it because it won’t/can’t change and impose a local tax? really? another tax?

I really tried to give Marc a chance because I to believe that we need a change from Bob Duff.
I’m sorry, but more and more I don’t really know where this guy is coming from and what his platform is.
The only thing I really have heard is that Bob Duff is no good, Bob Duff takes a lot of pictures, Bob Duff has a billboard in Bridgeport, Bob Duff is playing dirty politics (with no substantiated claims).

I’d really like to know how a first time Senator with no political experience plans to get anything done in Hartford. Sometimes it may be better to go with the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t.

Scarlet ohara October 24, 2018 at 1:46 pm

Could you imagine the devious laughter (along with the comical hand rubbing) from rilling if norwalk got their own tax? It wouldn’t be 1% but 5% at least and boy would rilling be making his meetings behind closed doors more often.

Isabelle Hargrove October 24, 2018 at 2:05 pm

@Jeffery. From your comment, I gather that you did not attend the forum. Unfortunately, NoN did not videotape it, although Nancy took a recording of its entirety and should post it so more people get the benefit of the conversations that took place.

Finding new funding mechanisms was discussed in addition to continuing to change the ECS formula. We need more aggressive legislators who can handle doing both and get results. We need a Norwalk contingent who will rally around Fred Wilms and Gail Lavielle who have tirelessly worked to change the unfair treatment we receive from the State without the help of Senate Majority Leader Duff or Rep Chris Perone.

The BoE will apparently need an additional $12M next year to execute its strategic plan and fund student population growth. We elect a Senator in the Fall who is unable to provide adequate funding for our schools or relief from unfunded mandates to help cut costs. Then, we march on City Hall in the Spring demanding full funding for our schools. We pit taxpayers against children and educators as well as our BET, Common Council, and BoE against each other.

Meanwhile, the State Senator who failed to provide State funding, although he is MAJORITY LEADER, sits on the sideline unscathed or even interferes with a surprise fix-it-first, half-baked plan to trow more mayhem.

When will Norwalkers finally decide to break this current vicious circle? It borders insanity…

Alan October 25, 2018 at 5:26 pm

While the ECS is a disaster, just keep in mind that that Norwalk receives $11.44 per student and Darien gets….41 CENTS. Greenwich, a whopping .18 CENTS.
Hartford, as usual, gets $201.83.

What is wrong with Connecticut?

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