NORWALK, Conn. – South Norwalk Democrats plan to meet with their constituents Thursday to discuss a possible new school in the district, ahead of an updated plan being released by the Board of Education.
BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said in Facebook comment that the Board was not invited to the meeting, but Common Council member Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) said in an email that “members who have been the most transparent and forthcoming with District B will be in attendance to answer questions.”
BoE members Erik Anderson, Heidi Keyes and Artie Kassimis said on Facebook that they were not invited and had been unaware of the meeting. BoE members Sherelle Harris and Shirley Mosby did not respond to emails from NancyOnNorwalk; Mike Barbis responded and said he was not invited.
“Join Representative Bruce Morris and Council members Travis Simms and Faye Bowman… at an urgent discussion about options for a neighborhood school on Thursday, October 13, 2016,” reads a flier that was posted Monday on the Facebook page, Norwalk Parents for Education.
The meeting is a 7 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church.
This comes ahead of the BoE Facilities meeting scheduled for Oct. 18, and a South Norwalk Community Forum scheduled by Norwalk Public Schools for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at Nathaniel Ely School, located at 11 Ingalls Ave.
“Reminder to all that an open public meeting that WILL include the Board of Ed and staff with actual presentations on the schools plans was scheduled before this meeting; please be sure to attend this one,” Lyons said in a Facebook post.
Lyons has not responded to NoN emails since shortly after the Board of Education was sued by former Special Education Director Christina Fensore. Inquiries are referred to NPS Communications Director Brenda Wilcox Williams.
The results of the Facilities Study conducted by Milone & McBroom and Silver Petrucelli were released in late January. There have been no substantive public discussions since May, as Barbis, Facilities Committee chairman, said he was seeking more information.
New plans were expected to be announced at a Facilities Committee meeting last week but Morris complained that the meeting had not been properly noticed under the Freedom of Information Act regulations, and it was cancelled.
Jessica Garnett posted the flier for the District B officials’ meeting on Facebook on Sunday night.
“I’m confused, if the BoE isn’t presenting the options about the new schools then who is?” she asked.
Parents of Columbus Magnet School did not know about the meeting, one parent said.
“This is a political meeting designed to scare people into opposing a new school for their own kids. Sad,” Lyons wrote.
“This meeting was just announced, I shared it with everyone in my network,” wrote Jalin Sead, an active member of the Norwalk Branch NAACP. “You guys beat me to the punch sharing it with this group. The good thing about putting things on social media is that it’s out there for people to see. Everyone is invited and I hope we have a great, and diverse turnout of people from the urban core of this city.”
Anderson wrote back asking why the meeting had scheduled without informing the Board of Education. Sead did not reply.
“I will be at this meeting and I hope it is a productive and positive conversation. It does seem odd to me that there is a meeting the BoE is holding on the 26th of October that was planning to cover this exact topic,” Anderson wrote.
A parent said she hadn’t seen any fliers in Spanish.
“I wonder if they are including the Hispanic community seeing as though they make up 50% of our schools population,” she wrote.
The BoE’s flier is in English and Spanish, Lyons replied.
Morris was tagged in the thread but did not respond.
Bowman, in an email to NancyOnNorwalk, wrote:
“The meeting is planned for South Norwalk residents who will be directly impacted by this project.
“The Board of Education members who have been the most transparent and forthcoming with District B will be in attendance to answer questions.
“This forum will bring the voices that have not been heard to the table.
“The flyer does not mention the word ‘opposition’ as Mike Lyons suggests. It does however mention the word ‘options’ and we intend to explore those to the fullest. It’s unfortunate that some Board of Education leaders were not open to do the same despite being informed by Silver Petrucelli to do so.”
Asked what options she meant, Bowman replied:
“I am specifically referring to the location of the school however options may not be limited to the location. As a Councilmember, when I hear a consultant tell me that they do not recommend building at a location due to the marsh like conditions and that the location was only included to appease some Board of Education members, I take that very seriously and am not interested in ignoring the opinions of consultants that taxpayer dollars paid for.”
Barbis said recently that a new school in Connecticut currently requires 10 acres, with a building at about 100,000 square feet. These requirements and the presence of toxic waste at many South Norwalk locations rule out many properties that you would think would be good for a South Norwalk school, Barbis has said repeatedly.
There was a discussion at the Jan. 25 BoE Facilities Committee meeting about wetlands on the Ely site. BoE member Bryan Meek asked about building on part of the property that consultants hadn’t recommended. Ryan Chmielewski of Milone & McBroom told him that there was a wetland there and that the cost of filling it in might be prohibitive.
Morris said last week that Anderson had not been at District B meetings, although his presence has been requested. He said this in the context of telling Barbara Meyer-Mitchell that if she wanted to talk to someone about the concerns coming out of District B Democratic meetings that it shouldn’t be Anderson.
Asked about that, Anderson forwarded a number of emails to NancyOnNorwalk.
“You havent been present at any of the district meetings since your election,” a constituent wrote to Anderson on Oct. 3. “Its been a continuous pattern of excuses trying to justify your absence. Its not acceptable and i am very unhappy. The district elected you to do a job that you have yet to fulfill. Im not quite sure if you missed what your duties are as a district B rep or if you fully understand how to represent us. Well…..you DON’T and wouldn’t know and understand how to represent us since you haven’t been in attendance to listen to our needs. In my personal opinion its time for you to resign so someone else who’s capable and willing to fulfill the position can do so. We need someone who’s going to listen, take us seriously and fight to get things done properly.”
“I was in attendance at District B shortly after my election,” Anderson replied. “In the beginning of 2016, I had a conflicting obligation that prevented me from attending District B meeting. I have since ended that obligation to allow more regular attendance at our meetings. I was planning to attend our September meeting and was unable to attend when the meeting was changed last minute. I will be attending both our November 7th and December 5th meeting and have already put aside these dates in my calendar. My intention is to attend a meeting every business quarter, however will do my best to attend more.”
He continued, “Aside from working towards attending District B meetings on a more consistent basis, I am developing an opportunity for District B residents to meet with me Saturday mornings every other month. My plan is to set up a meeting location central to the district and will share the details with our District B committee and other South Norwalk community groups as they emerge. I am also going to be reaching out to schedule one on one meetings with District B members to allow an opportunity for members to talk with me outside of our monthly district meetings.”
He went on to explain his many duties as a BoE member and his attendance at community outreach meetings, in addition to regular Board and Committee meetings.
In another email, Anderson said, “I have been addressing a health matter in my life that requires my attendance on Monday evenings that coincide with our meetings. As I’ve expressed in prior emails I would love to hear the districts input and I am always available to be reached by email or phone. I am also currently working with the school district to put together a comprehensive communication plan to help keep our district and other districts better informed.”
Anderson provided PDFs that he has sent to District B members, including:
“There is no concrete information to share with the district regarding the prospect of building a new school in South Norwalk, however I have attached information supplied by Mike Barbis after a recent site visit to Nathaniel Ely,” Anderson wrote to District B on Sept. 29. “We are planning a community conversation with all interested members of the community that would like to have input on the ongoing and developing project to build South Norwalk its first neighborhood school for the Norwalk Public School system.”