NancyOnNorwalk asked Board of Education member Bryan Meek on Saturday what he thought of Democrat Erica DePalma stepping forward to challenge him for reelection. This is his response.
I don’t know Erica, but I’m familiar with her husband. Anyone who would consider the sacrifice of time away from family and other interests should be commended for their commitment to civic duty. Democracy works best when we have as many participants as possible. My interest in volunteering in this arena of Norwalk politics goes back to 2001 when we had a unilateral government with 25 members of the Democrats and zero Republicans in any major office. Government works best when it is balanced with viewpoints from all walks of life. I am currently the only elected (to significant office) Republican in the city who is seeking re-election (Lyons and Hempstead are not) and I look forward to defending my seat and continuing to provide the citizens of Norwalk a voice in their local government that doesn’t necessarily fit with the supermajority that is governing the city right now.
While I have accomplished much of what I set out to do for personal goals there is much to be done still and I believe this can be accomplished in the next four years.
Early on a few months after I first on-boarded we hired our current Superintendent after years of incredible turmoil and turnover in the leadership position. My immediate goal of developing continuity in our administration was realized by the hiring of Dr. Adamowski, who initially had stated he would give us five years and a succession plan. He’s been here four years now and filled every key administrative position, while building a pipeline for succession in many key areas.
Shortly after Dr. Adamowski came on board, he had a one on one lunch with each of the board members. Being new to town, he held these lunches over at the Norwalk Inn. Instead, I took him on a field trip of South Norwalk, including a lunch at my boat club. He asked what my interests were and what I would like to accomplish as a board member. I was pretty new on the board then, but I was astonished about the lack of specific internal controls in our financial systems and SPED operations. I was also stunned about the amount we were paying for substitute teachers and bussing. It was there I shared with him that we needed to do things in these areas. We then toured the area, going down to Manresa Island and the Ely school campus at Springwood Park. Since NPS had no schools in these areas, I wanted to give him a sense of how long children spend on school busses and how that money should instead be spent on neighborhood schools.
Four years later, while I wish we were a bit further along, we have one of four massive school construction projects underway including two in South Norwalk and a 10-year plan for improving every single school in the city. The holes in the financial systems that had previously led to $4 million accounting errors and massive layoffs are gone. To name a few other things without going on here, headcount are now tracked in our financial software instead of disjointed spreadsheets all over the district. Substitute teacher spending has fallen almost 50 percent, and while SPED has more work to do there are policies and procedures in place that never existed. Bussing expenditures are being contained and will hopefully ease with the advent of neighborhood schools. Norwalk spends about $3 million a year in bussing expenses that would not exist except for a lack of neighborhood facilities. Besides it not being fair to children to have to ride all over the city for hours upon hours a week, the savings will pay for three new school buildings over time.
Anyway, I could go on. When we save money on operations, it goes directly back into the classroom. That’s my overarching goal for the district as well as hiring Dr. Adamowski’s replacement if the citizens re-elect me this fall. Its been an exciting and at times exhausting 4 years. Anyone willing to put in the 10 to 20 hours a week (sometimes more on contract negotiations, etc…) it takes to help our school system should be commended. I wish her luck and look forward to hearing what her ideas and goals are for the school system.