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NeverWoke: from pleasant city to ghost town

Bruce Kimmel

Bruce Kimmel is a former Board of Education member and former Common Council member.

Long ago, in the late 22nd Century, a city called NeverWoke, located in the northeastern quadrant, was officially designated a ghost town. Historians have long debated what precipitated the demise of what was once a pleasant town with a population as high as 90,000. However, the recent discovery of a trove of documents under the remains of an abandoned school building sheds light on the factors that led to its drastic decline.

Before the discovery, NeverWoke was known as the “homeschooling capital” in what was called Connecticut. Having children stay home instead of attending regular school was popular, though expensive, in the latter decades of the 21st Century, but nobody has been able to explain until now why so many families in NeverWoke opted to school their kids at home.

The story began, according to historians, when an agency called the “Board of Education,” after years of neglecting school facilities, agreed to build a new school at a location referred to as the “Ely site.” What transpired after the announcement confounds the experts.

Many of the documents indicate the local political elite, especially at what was then called “the state level,” did not support construction of the new school. These local elites did not want to create additional recreational space for children in an area that was, in the language of the time, “passive open space occasionally used for barbecues and picnics.” Interestingly, the documents indicate most families in the area strongly supported construction of the new school.

During the squabble over the “Ely site,” a member of the state elite concocted a plan to demolish an existing high school and replace it with a “state of the art” high school in which the state would pay most of the cost. According to records, the “Board of Education” did not support the plan but reluctantly went along with the proposal because the state promised to pay 80 percent of the bill. The educational board was more concerned with conditions in the elementary schools, which were run-down and overcrowded. (A few documents describe a movement, called the “Fix Them First Coalition,” which believed the money would be better spent maintaining the city’s deteriorating elementary schools.)

It is not entirely clear what happened after the high school project was approved by NeverWoke’s legislative body, called the “Common Council.” But in the middle of construction, the state passed a resolution rescinding its commitment to pay the full 80 percent of the costs.

Several documents indicate the project’s price tag escalated drastically after demolition of the existing school took three years longer than anticipated. Also, in the rush to meet state deadlines, local officials badly miscalculated construction costs. Other documents mention a controversial monument planned for the main entrance. There is also evidence of a bitter dispute among NeverWoke’s political elite regarding the name of the new high school. Whatever the reasons, the city was forced to finance the project with minimal help from the state. Funds were thus transferred from long-overdue facility upgrades of the elementary and middle schools.

The high school was finally built. But after several decades, enrollment was less than 50 percent of capacity. Eventually, students from two of the town’s four middle schools were moved into the gargantuan structure. Roughly twenty years after that, the town’s second high school was closed, its students also moving into the new school. All the while, according to old photographs, the other schools in the district literally were falling apart. Deeply in debt because of the new high school and with a rock bottom credit rating, NeverWoke could never muster the funds to maintain these schools.

Most scholars now believe that, as the condition of the elementary schools in NeverWoke deteriorated to unacceptable levels, families were faced with several expensive choices: move out of the city, send their children to what were called private schools, or homeschool their children (often using unemployed teachers as tutors, many of whom refused to work in the dilapidated school buildings). In time, the city became the homeschooling center of the state.

But eventually, with its schools beyond repair (apart from the new high school), and with the state refusing to intervene, the once pleasant city became a ghost town.

16 comments

Jason Milligan March 4, 2020 at 7:05 am

I guess we start to learn why Bruce abruptly quit the Board of Education.

Other than health concerns.

John ONeill March 4, 2020 at 8:08 am

Keep posting Bruce – There was a document you missed. Foreclosures spiked during the period as property taxes dramatically increased which in turn caused value of homes to crater.

Bobby Lamb March 4, 2020 at 9:03 am

????? I don’t even understand this. It’s an incoherent nonsensical rant. Yikes. Scary to think this was almost our BOE chair.

Lady Driver March 4, 2020 at 9:32 am

Ouch. Though I don’t have anything of substance to add to the conversation, this was spot-on. I’m so saddened by this possibility. NeverWoke’s children certainly deserve better. Thank you, Mr. Kimmel for your service and continued pressing on the issues surrounding this fictional town.

Bryan Meek March 4, 2020 at 11:55 am

The State Comptroller’s report is out. January 31st YTD (first 7 months) revenues are in at $9.7 billion. This is down from 10.3 billion last Jan31. Expenditures are 11.4 billion versus 10.9 billion. And this is on top of cutting funding to the pension plans by 60%.

Folks, this state is headed off a fiscal cliff and going to drag everyone along with it. The revenue forecasts are completely bogus and they never stop spending what we don’t have.

And our local government is buying this fantasy that the state can rack up its debt further to build a monument to Duff’s failure to properly fund our schools operating needs. We are cutting requests to fix air quality in buildings for a few $100k, while neighboring towns are closing entire school buildings they neglected for similar issues. We are cutting $8 million in operational funding needs from this year’s school budget, while considering a $225 million building that will seat more children that will require even more operational funding.

Am I on candid camera?

Don’t be fooled by the accounting gimmicks Lembo is using. Insolvency is inevitable at our current pace. https://www.osc.ct.gov/reports/monthly/2020/LetterMar2.html

Gareth Moody March 4, 2020 at 12:29 pm

“It is not entirely clear what happened after the high school project was approved…”

If you are going to write speculative fanfic, you should actually speculate and don’t hide behind passive (aggressive) voice.

Concerned Taxpayer March 4, 2020 at 2:07 pm

The new school was named “Boondoggle High”… by an invisible Senator Bluff and his slippery goldfish Larry

Seth Kent March 4, 2020 at 2:28 pm

@Bobby, what exactly is confusing you?

Although this satire is comical, it’s also scary because of how based in truth it is. I noticed he wisely circumvented bringing immigration into the discussion however…

Patrick Cooper March 4, 2020 at 8:29 pm

Everyone is a little bit of a history buff. The interesting thing about history though is – how it is interpreted, documented, and presented – this changes over time. We learn, well – more.

It’s why I find the description of our apocalyptic future ghost town NeverWoke by a former common council & BOE member – a rather scary prediction. This guy has knocked on my door. Bruce has been close enough to the action in this city for long enough time to be afforded some predictions..

One could question “the story began” part – as even historians have been known to revert to what is properly called – “revisionist” history. No, I don’t think it started there. I believe it started in City Hall. 2013.

Ghost stories are intended to mine the deepest fears of the audience. In this case – it’s a well concocted tale that creates a linkage of policies and decisions to outcomes. And you may differ in opinion, go ahead. But if you miss this – you miss what’s important here: this story is written by a guy who knows the players, the plans, the problems, and the probabilities. He doesn’t see a bright future. He sees a ghost town.

The signs are everywhere.

John ONeill March 4, 2020 at 11:17 pm

@Bryan – Any idea how those state numbers compare to projected numbers? I’d ask Bob Duff, but he doesn’t seem to respond to my questions.

Bryan Meek March 5, 2020 at 2:01 am

@John. The forecasts, if you can believe them, are guised in exhibit D. The state has to collect $9.7 billion in the next 5 months to balance its budget. The trends don’t look good. Accounting gimmicks can only go so far. Big deficit on the horizon I’m sad to say. Every other state in the union growing except us. This is the direct result of our legislature raising taxes and spending when every other blue state tightened the belt. Our pension funds will be insolvent within a decade and there seems to be no inclination to right the ship. To infinity and beyond!

Mike Lyons March 8, 2020 at 12:16 pm

Interesting that the Planning Commission voted to delete the proposed new Norwalk High School project from the capital budget on February 18 and no one in the local news media has reported it.

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