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Barbis is needed on Norwalk Board of Education

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Mike Barbis is a valuable member of Norwalk’s Board of Education.  With 99 percent of the staff at Norwalk Public Schools having union representatives looking out for them, Mike Barbis is the consistently strong, vocal and unvarnished advocate for the rest of us–those students, parents and taxpayers who have only ourselves and the BOE to protect our interests.

Norwalk public schools have experienced major demographic shifts in the last 6 years. Today there’s about 400 less Black and 800 less white students than in 2013 while the Hispanic population has grown by nearly 1,600 students. The Norwalk school district is changing more than its growing. These changes have created uncertainty and anxiety among various constituencies within the city. 

What you witnessed Tuesday evening is some of that uncertainty and anxiety. What you’re also witnessing is a Democratic Town Committee and Rilling campaign tactic that has come back to haunt them. Wanting to win the election at all costs, they repeatedly used race as a weapon to silence and smear.  Leaking a 5-month-old email to the media 2 days before an election did nothing but fuel divisiveness and anger. The leadership to question should not be Mike Barbis, but rather a DTC and Mayor’s office that chose deflection rather than transparency and proactive leadership on issues of such importance to Norwalk and its residents.

Mike Barbis is hardworking, knowledgeable and passionate. He’s human. He can be intemperate, especially with people who can be intemperate themselves, but he is not a racist.  Mike Barbis should not heed these calls for resignation, he is very much needed on Norwalk’s Board of Education.

Sue Haynie

Former Norwalk Board of Education member

13 comments

David McCarthy November 24, 2019 at 7:45 am

Sue, I won’t disagree with anything you have said, but after 8 years, and with no child in the school system (or coming) the distraction more than outweighs any potential good. The cemeteries are filled with irreplaceable people. Let someone else, who is actually a parent from the community, and not a multiple political office holder have a chance

Tysen Canevari November 24, 2019 at 9:27 am

Sue,

It is amazing and appaling that you would write an editorial in support of a public figure who uses that kind of racist rhetoric. Norwalk prides itself on being a diverse community and nowhere should anyone have to put up with that from another person let alone a board of ed member. I do agree that there should also be outrage against the mayor and gang for sitting on that email. However, the majority seem to give them a pass for some reason. I believe the mayors wife is latino and should share in the anger. While Mike Barbis might have been good at his job, he is certainly not good when it comes to sensitivity! If he was truly noble he would resign and apologize. It would go a long way in the right direction. Norwalk doesnt need the negative publicity. Jerry Springer show is taped in Stamford. We dont need it in Norwalk too!

Piberman November 24, 2019 at 11:25 am

Spot on. The leadership of the BOE under Barbis and Lyons has been superb and critical in acquiring truly Top Talent Superintendents. Beating up and ostracizing a former BOE Chair is disgraceful and further demeans our City’s reputation.

Joanna Cooper November 24, 2019 at 11:57 am

I did not like Mr. Barbis’s use of language in the email he sent six months ago. It is certainly not appropriate for a chairman or member of the BoE to use expletives and call people names. I do understand his frustration, accept his apology and think he has been punished enough for his horrible choice of language. He is human and I do not believe Mr. Barbis is racist. Nor do I believe his email was racist. He was utterly frustrated with the personalities mentioned in that email because they have consistently blocked progress to build much needed schools. It’s not often noted but Barbis’s frustration was also directed at three white men in that email. The narrative has been skewed.

The four who received Mr. Barbis’s email (Rilling, King, Camacho and Melendez) sat on it for five months unconcerned. It does seem it was released (by one of the four) as a political tactic to fan the flames of controversy and sway votes. There certainly is a well established pattern of members of the Democratic Party calling thier opposition racists. This divisive chaos serves Rilling, Duff and the Democratic Party well in many ways.

It’s a powerful distraction from having to answer the tough questions and find real solutions. Such as: How will the city fund the new schools that are needed to fix overcrowding? How will they fund the massive influx of needy ELL students who came here as a result of their sanctuary policies? Where is the outrage over the consistent lack of funding?

Sadly, we live in a bully culture. We don’t have to imagine how intimidating the spectacle created at the swearing in ceremony was for the (all Democrat) BoE members. Mr. Barbis is a Democrat and has become a scapegoat. He has worked hard over many years on the BoE to serve our students. I think he will be the only voice brave enough to challenge our Democrat leaders on this newly elected BoE. I do not want to see him resign.

Elizabeth Gibbs November 24, 2019 at 2:34 pm

Although like everyone else, I am shocked and distressed by the intemperate language in Mike Barbis’s unfortunate email, I am mystified as to why the people he mentioned are opposed to having a magnet school in South Norwalk. Gentrification was one explanation, but a highly unlikely prospect. Certainly that wasn’t the result at Columbus Magnet School. Why would anyone prefer busing hundreds of mostly minority and disadvantaged kids many of whom could enjoy a school close to home where their parents could take a more active role?

JustATaxpayer November 24, 2019 at 3:00 pm

It’s hard for folks to have a dissenting voice in this culture. Asking how we’re going to pay for the exponential increase of hispanic students is met with cries of racism.

Ron Morris November 24, 2019 at 5:40 pm

How anyone could support Barbis and his racist comments is beyond me. This is not the first time he has made these types of comments. He is also not the only one that was on the BOE that had an issue with racism. The BOE for the past 4 years plus has been a disaster. The former BOE Chairs comments are disgraceful and demeans our City’s otherwise great reputation.

John Moeling November 24, 2019 at 6:26 pm

Mike Barbis is and has been concerned for, and supportive of, all the young people of Norwalk. His experience and ability are assets we need.

Absorbing more kids into our schools, and assuring them the resources needed, will be costly. One way to reduce costs is to increase volunteerism. Bring cans and bottles to Brien McMahon. Look into mentoring one of the new kids. Ask a School Principal what would help.

John ONeill November 24, 2019 at 7:18 pm

@John Moeling Based on current bottle deposits we need 600 million cans and bottles to support our ELL program. If you vote for current legislators and the lack of support from Hartford think about that.

Joe November 24, 2019 at 7:29 pm

I hope Mr. Bqrbis stays. First Amendment, sticks and stones, and all that.

What does concern me is the school board being dominated by a retired NYC union teacher.

I thought the school board was supposed to be run by parents and civilians to safeguard the students.

Alan Kibbe November 25, 2019 at 10:15 am

The Norwalk BOE faces an enormous challenge with rapidly-increasing numbers of students enrolling in our schools. With construction or new facilities stalled in Hartford, we need some radical ideas. Perhaps there’s a silver lining to this bruhaha.

I see all the school buildings that sit vacant all summer long. Some are air conditioned. Why not add a summer semester and avoid building new facilities? At least for a while until we see if the increase in enrollment will continue. Students would rotate in attending 2 out of 3 semesters every year. Families with multiple students would be kept on the same rotation.

I am sure teachers would like to pick up extra money by working the full year so that they can have a better wage. Others who use that off time for study could benefit from the more robust offerings from colleges in the non-summer sessions. Demands for day care would be more consistent throughout the year.

Sounds crazy, but let’s think outside the box here!

Helen Demeris November 25, 2019 at 7:01 pm

What disturbs me about Sue Haynie’s letter is the depiction of the increased number of Hispanic students in Norwalk as something to be scared or anxious about. It’s not. Cities change all of the time and we have talented people in positions across our government and public agencies, etc. to help make sure that the city is meeting the needs of all of our residents. Through his pattern of careless and disrespectful language and behavior, Mike Barbis is not well-suited to serve on the BOE. Civility is a prerequisite and Barbis is lacking in that basic skill, which is the minimum qualification for public service.

John ONeill November 27, 2019 at 8:55 am

@Helen — Let’s put Mike Barbis issue to the side for one second. Let’s also agree we need to embrace these new immigrants (Legal or Illegal). They are here and not going back south. Do you realize ELLers have cost Norwalk over $ 225,000,000 dollars over prior 10 years? Do you realize Norwalk’s Band Aid approach is cracking on all sides? Do you realize Norwalk is getting ZERO help from Hartford/DC for this crisis? Yes, cities change but I would say what’s happening in Norwalk schools should not be defined as “change” Maybe if you spent a day in one of our classrooms you’d understand. I’d recommend it..I commend our teachers for their patience. I condemn them (or their leadership) for their silence.

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