NORWALK, Conn. – The Planning Commission’s public hearing on Norwalk’s 2020-21 capital budget drew a crowd of roughly 150 citizens, including several dozen lively commenters, to City Hall Wednesday night.
At the outset, a question put to the Commissioners by NancyOnNorwalk Board Chairwoman Claire Schoen instigated an exchange regarding process. Schoen asked, “What happened to instructional technology? It was not funded when it was requested. I’d like to know why”, to which Planning Commission Chairwoman Fran DiMeglio replied “The Finance-recommended numbers are here. We’re not here to change, his numbers are his numbers….We’re not here to address why he did it.”
School District Chief Financial Officer Tom Hamilton then stated, “The finance director (Henry Dachowitz)’s recommendation is just that, a recommendation. The Planning Commission has the right and the authority – and the responsibility – to come up with its own recommendations, and those recommendations may take the Finance Director’s recommendations into account, but certainly if the Planning Commission feels that a project should be funded, then the Planning Commission has the right and the authority to do that.”
Asked to clarify the time frame for the approved new Cranbury School, Hamilton said, “The city Finance Director has posted his recommendations on the City website, and what I read, unless I misread them, included Cranbury School for the upcoming fiscal year funding in 2020-21.”
Urgent need for Silvermine Elementary driveway improvements ($1.5 million was recommended for this by Dachowitz, but to not be spent until next year) was stressed by a half dozen speakers. Silvermine parent Sasha Carr called the situation “completely unmanageable and unsafe.’
“I’m constantly seeing people almost get hit by cars” she said. “It’s hard to understand how bad it is if you don’t see it for yourself….It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”
A Ponus Ridge Middle School teacher decried his school’s antiquated, broken, mismatched furniture. “You built a $44 million building, and then the City decides to cut the furniture!” Former BOE member Bryan Meek later echoed the complaint: “We’re gonna build a new school and have kids sit on the carpet? We’re not gonna have desks for them?”
In response to a $5 million school cafeteria/kitchen renovation request being bumped to next year, numerous speakers noted Naramake Elementary’s lack of any cafeteria at all. Lunch there is served from a tiny kitchen to students who eat in a partitioned section of the gymnasium while gym classes take place on the other side of the partition. Asked by Commissioner Nora King for a detailed cafeteria cost breakdown, Hamilton replied that such a document already exists, and that he would provide it.
Tracey Magnet School parents and students advocated for a new playground, a project recommended by Dachowitz to move forward in 2020-21 under the auspices of Recreation and Parks.
Referencing the need for security enhancements, IT specialist Michael DePalma warned that hackers see school systems as “low-hanging fruit.”
Decrying Norwalk schools’ lack of solar panels, activist Diane Lauricella asserted that, “We are ten years behind other school districts.”
Accompanied by a passel of Silvermine students, parent Karen Smith stated that the Silvermine playground is 24 years old and needs replacement.
BoE finance chairwoman Barbara Meyer-Mitchell reiterated need for instructional technology curriculum textbooks and materials, security upgrades, maintenance, repairs, furniture, replacement of old unusable pianos, and the Naramake cafeteria.
Regarding the recommended $225 million for a new Norwalk High School, King ruminated, “I haven’t really heard from any parents on why we should be investing in Norwalk High School. No one’s talking about that, so if there’s somebody here that is actually on the pro side, it would be interesting to hear that, because we only have so many dollars… I would like to hear people’s opinion if there are any on that side.”
No one present responded to her invitation.