‘Norwalk Community Values party’ supporting two BOE candidates

Norwalk Board of Education member Steven Colarossi makes a point at Tuesday’s meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – An independent political party has cropped up to support two Norwalk Board of Education candidates, including an incumbent currently serving as a Republican.

The Norwalk Community Values party will attempt to focus the BOE’s attention on representing the values of the entire Norwalk community, a press release from BOE member Steven Colarossi said.

Colarossi and Andres Roman, who was raised in Norwalk and is a 1996 graduate of Brien McMahon High School, will appear on the November ballot on the Norwalk Community Values party line, the release said. The party is only running the two candidates for the BOE and is not running candidates for any other elective office, Colarossi said in an email.

The party was founded by Norwalker Jill St. John and formed by Norwalk citizens of all political affiliations, the release said.

“Norwalk citizens value public education and appreciate that Norwalk’s taxpayers make considerable sacrifices to fund a quality education for all our children,” St. John said in the release.  “We need to insure that the members of the Norwalk Board of Education represent those values.”

St. John, a lifelong Norwalk resident, and her husband (and party co-founder), Bill Vitez, are the parents of three children, the release said. Two of their children are graduates of Norwalk High School, where their youngest daughter is a freshman.

They were motivated to seek changes to the Board of Education after the passage of last year’s school department budget that slashed services to elementary school students and that was passed with the lone dissenting vote of Colarossi, the release said.

“When we saw a budget that had such a negative impact on students being approved after less than 20 minutes of discussion, with debate coming from only member Steve Colarossi, we realized that politics had gotten in the way of the types of informed and open discussions that are needed in these tough economic times,” St. John said in the release.

Colarossi, then the chairman of the BOE Finance Committee, generated considerable discussion during the turbulent end of the 2012 school year by releasing an alternative to the budget proposed by then-Superintendent Susan Marks.

The release describes the proposal as a compilation of suggestions for “budget cuts that had been proposed by city and school officials, Board members and citizens.”

“He prepared five different budget scenarios based upon these suggestions even though, as he stated in his emails to his fellow Board members, he did not agree with all of the suggestions,” the release said.

Norwalk Association of School Administrators President Tony Ditrio was among those supporting the alternative budget. It did not get any BOE support.

St. John thought Colarossi’s “Kids First Budget Alternative” made common sense reductions that would have saved “critical” elementary school services, “valuable” middle school educational programs and the high school’s Transportation Technology program, according to the release.

“Steve’s willingness to engage the entire community in a frank and honest budget discussion was what was needed — it was unfortunate that political considerations ruled the day and that discussion were squelched,” she said in the release.

Vitez, an accountant, believed Colarossi appreciated that taxpayers could not be asked to give any more than they already had, the release said. The goal needed to be using the taxpayers’ sacrifice for the greatest good of the students, and Vitez believed that Colarossi had that in mind, the release said.

Roman shares the group’s fundamental belief that Norwalk values its students and taxpayers and that the BOE should represent those values, the release said.

Roman, who is bilingual, has been a member of the National Guard for nearly a decade and is a Stamford Superior Court probation officer, the release said. He has demonstrated a commitment to serving all of Norwalk’s citizens and a commitment to public service that “Norwalk Community Values founders recognize as being critical to improving the way the Norwalk Board of Education functions,” the release said.

“As a dad to two young sons and as a homeowner, Andres appreciates that improving public education must be done with the utmost of respect for Norwalk’s taxpayers,” St. John said in the release.  Roman and Colarossi will be strong, independent advocates for Norwalk’s students, families and taxpayers, the release said.

There is a place for political parties in federal, state and local government, St. John said in the release. “However, that place is not on the Norwalk Board of Education,” she said.

Colarossi said in an email that he will continue to support Republican BOE member Artie Kassimis in his election bid. Kassimis was appointed to his current board seat to serve out Erin Halsey Herring’s term after Herring was named city clerk.


15 responses to “‘Norwalk Community Values party’ supporting two BOE candidates”

  1. LWitherspoon

    Did Mr. Colarossi ever express any interest in running again as a Republican? If so, what was the sequence of events that led to his switch to the NCV party?

  2. Kid Cupcake

    Besides exorbitant pay increases for friends and family and banning cupcakes from the classroom, what is the platform here?

  3. LWitherspoon- When I was asked to submit my resume to the local Republican Town Committee for re-nomination, I respectfully declined.

    Kid Cupcake (who I understand is an alias Twinkie the Kid is using until production starts up again on that ubiquitous sponge cake) seems to be trying hard to make two points. First, that, even though I have consistently voted against contract extensions for top administrators, I somehow support giving “pay increases for friends and family”. That’s false. Also, as I’m sure Kid Cupcake knows, the teachers contract awards teachers a better than 4% raise starting in 2014. The entire BoE never voted to send the contract to arbitration and never voted to accept the arbitration award– if they had, I would have recused myself from the vote because I do have a relative who works for the Norwalk Public Schools (my wife- she’s also my friend, so you did, at least, have that much right).
    Secondly, given all that Kid Cupcake stands for, I understand his concern about cupcakes in the classroom. As he knows, the Policy Committee had nursing staff, health agents, public health experts and many others advocating for an extension of the “healthy foods” initiative, which the Director of Student Health drafted. We reviewed it, and did refer the matter to the entire Board of Education and then asked that it be withdrawn.
    Third, the parents and taxpayers who formed Norwalk Community Values don’t have a litmus test of expecting 100% conformity on all matters that come before the Board of Education. There is a simple expectation that we will represent and advocate for the values of the Norwalk community. Running mates on a ticket need to share a common philosophy (such as assuring accountability among all school officials so that taxpayers dollars are respected and used to provide the best possible public education for all our children).
    Of course, Kid Cupcake, I did draft a new policy to help families whose children require service animals (it eliminated a lot of red tape). I also drafted the policy that required that all school employees report suspicions of child abuse and neglect (that goes far beyond the requirements of the state law) and that authorizes immediate suspensions once allegations are made. I’ve also drafted policies to improve student discipline. If you’re going to choose a policy as a bellweather of what I stand for, I’d think you’d want to choose one that actually speaks to the direct safety and care of our children.

  4. SB

    Doesn’t a political party need a large number of enrolled voters before it gets a line on the ballot? I recall the Independent and Conservative parties both losing their ballot presence due to decreasing enrollment. S

  5. LWitherspoon

    @Steve Colarossi
    Thank you for the answer. What was your reason for declining to submit your resume to the RTC for re-nomination?

  6. Steve Colarossi

    LWitherspoon- As always, I appreciate the question.
    I have had serious concerns with some of the leaders of the local RTC (I’m talking about some of the unelected leaders, not the elected officials- many of whom are friends, like Artie Kassimis and Rick McQuaid, who I will proudly support).

    Last year, when I read in The Hour that the local chair did not believe I had a right to offer an alternative kids’ first budget plan, I questioned if we shared the same commitment to full and open debate. Then there was the email from the same party leader this past fall indicating that the customary annual change in BOE leadership would be “likely to looked at negativity by the general public, [and] could lead to confusion among . . .parents”. Having far more confidence in Norwalk’s parents, I realized that my values were not reflected.

    Local elections should focus on local issues- not the local political party to which a candidate pledges allegiance. Most voters do not vote straight party line, but vote for the people they feel represent their values. Hopefully, Andres Roman and I will be able to convince voters that we represent their values and earn 2 of their 4 votes for BOE.

  7. Lisa Thomson

    Having supported Steve in his first run for the BoE, as a Parents Not Politicians candidate, I was shocked to see how quickly, he came out swinging against Susan Marks, the mild-mannered superintendent who came from a district similar in its demographic makeup to Norwalk, but with better results.

    As a newcomer to the BoE, Steve made the calculated decision to throw his lot in with the status quo administration and union leadership in NPS and resist as many reforms as he possibly could within NPS. Now he is reinventing himself as an independent? As the saying goes… Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice… Shame on me.

    Voters need to understand that it’s not R or D candidates this election season it’s candidates that support the NPS status quo or new blood.

  8. Steve Colarossi

    Lisa Thompson just doesn’t have the facts to support her allegations.
    First, in Susan Marks’ first week on the job, she approved a raise for an interim appointee– something which she neither had the administrative authority nor the budgetary discretion to do. Then, as we were debating her first budget proposal, it was discovered that Supt. Susan Marks had replaced the interim COO with an internal candidate (and filled that person’s administrative post with another employee) , provided those candidates significant raises and sought neither the approval or nor disclosure to the Board of Education regarding those administrative appointments and pay increases. All this was done after our initial discussion during her first week on the job.
    Failing to disclose promotions and raises is surely not a sign of a “reform-minded” candidate, but speaks more to someone who is locked in the past, status-quo universe where the public isn’t entitled to know how their tax dollars are spent. I disagree with that approach.
    When cuts were needed to be made to both of the budgets which Supt. Marks proposed, there was no plan presented to the Board of Education– in fact, I remember quite vividly the frustration I felt with proposed staffing cuts for which there was no detail provided as to which grades or schools would be impacted. Once again, there was an abiding lack of consideration for the right of the public to know how their taxdollars would be spent.
    Furthermore, I was shocked that the superintendent, supported by self-proclaimed “reformers”, would advocate the types of draconian, anti-education cuts that Supt. Marks proposed last June. Quite frankly, crowding children in classrooms, eliminating the team-model of middle school teaching, sacrificing the technology education program at Norwalk High School (which served more than 100 students) and eliminating elementary school intervention aides were all unnecessary cuts as there was room in the budget to make cuts in areas that would have much less of an impact on children’s education. Although some positions were later restored (after my intense lobbying), the fact remains that cuts were made that were neither educationally-sound, well-planned nor fully-disclosed to the public.
    I stood for a balanced approach to how cuts should be made. Supt. Marks did not. I opposed her efforts as my conscience dictated. I trust that, come November, we will find that many parents and taxpayers agreed with my approach.

  9. Joe Espo

    I don’t know what prepossesed the Republicans to put this man up as a BOE candidate four years ago but I’ll bet they’re all ecstatic to be rid of him. It probably wasn’t anticipated (or perhaps Mr. C masked it) that Mr. Colarossi would be so kissy-kissy with Bruce Melion. Perhaps Mr. Colarossi should move to Bridgeport, closer to Bruce and perhaps (dis)grace the BOE there with his effervescent championing of cupcake-phobia and marxist union ideals. He’s a better fit there.

  10. M. Murray’s

    I think the Susan Marks experiment was a pure failure. She had neither the experience to carry out her vision nor the personality and negotiating skill to accomplish her goals. Much like most candidates who come from afar, they are short-termers who do not have the investment in the community to make a long term commitment. Her family never even moved to Norwalk. Lets see how long this Superintendent lasts. Probably long enough to make 3/4 of a million dollars to pad his retirement and then retire to the shore.

  11. Jill st. John

    It seems awfully sad that many seem to believe that pure allegiance to one person or party is more important than the overall goal of quality education and fiscal responsibility. That is the problem with the local “R’s” and “D’s” alike. Norwalk has a finite amount of dollars, and we need to make those dollars work effectively. So you are on the “Marks” team, got it….when Dr. Marks leaves, then who’s team are you on now? Your on the Republican team, how does that translate into education? Making fewer dollars work harder doesn’t seem to need a party…it needs creativity. I know there were times when Steve supported Dr. Marks and I would call to ask why..I got a reasoned explanation, not swearing and abuse. I cannot say the same for some of the other BOE members. I may not have agreed, but I can say that it was a thoughtful reasoned response, that I can respect. Fiscal responsibility used to be a Republican value/ ideal/philosophy, is it still?

  12. Piberman

    We better serve our community by respecting every member of the BOE, no matter our disagreements, and encourage well qualified candidates independent of their political affiliations or absence of same. But rather than look backwards we ought encourage discussion of how the BOE can better function. It will always have budget constraints, challenging personnel problems and the special challenge of hostile unions. Now is a good time to begin that discussion. Every elected body can always reach higher. Our challenge as a community is to encourage capable candidates to present their views on how the BOE can do better. Hopefully the 2 newly announced candidates will thoughtfully add to the discussion.

  13. Piberman

    Mr Colarrosi has an opportunity by virtue of running outside the mainstream parties to change the discussion on how BOE candidates present their candidacy before the public. Over past decades BOE candidates have generally positioned themselves as advocates but offered few particulars. No BOE member in recent memory has taken his advocacy public as often as Mr Colarossi. Indeed, that public advocacy has been criticized mostly not for its contents but for advocacy outside BOE meetings. Even his detractors acknowledge that Mr Colarrosi is hard working and quite thoughtful and productive. No wallflower he.

    Mr Colarossi has a lot to say about the BOE. Rather respond to individual critics or admirers I’d like to suggest that he prepare position papers on how he sees the BOE can do better on its critical mission for the City. Hopefully no more moments on individual BOE members. Such position papers would be a very major contribution to our public discourse. Hopefully when those papers are available they will be treated respectfully as the insights from a hard working BOE member.

    I look forward to hearing what Mr Colarossi has to say during the campaign
    period. It does take some real gumption to strike out on a new path.

  14. EveT

    Some of these comments make it sound like the newly formed party is the “Colarossi party.” If I understand correctly, it was formed to focus on quality education and the use of our tax dollars for that goal, not to spotlight one or two candidates.

  15. thetruth

    It’s amazing that all eight BOE candidates embrace the Common Core, which was written by a trade group that had no teacher or childhood development expert present. In addition, the Core (CCSS) was pushed through to States in 2009 as a stipulation to receive federal funding. So, in other words, these candidates promote Standards that are not researched based, invalid, developmentally inappropriate (especially primary age students), and were approved in an undemocratic fashion- it only required the approval of the Governor and State Ed Commissioner. You have to wonder the motives behind the corporate “reformers” that pushed CCSS through without any public hearing. Sounds like all BOE candidates need an education. I urge fellow Norwalkers to register your disgust regarding the failure of these candidates to do their due diligence and write in Stop CCSS on Nov. 4!

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