NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s teachers don’t get enough respect, former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling said Thursday. Neither do other school employees.
The Democrat chose a school that holds “fond memories” for him, Tracey Elementary School, as a backdrop for announcing his education platform as he attempts to topple eight-year incumbent Republican Mayor Richard Moccia in 25 days. He said his attitudes had been formed by interacting with the teachers as they began the school year, and stressed that in his years as police chief he worked to keep the kids safe. He also lobbed a few criticisms at Moccia for the way the school budget came together this spring.
He said he thinks the teachers deserve to be treated better.
“It doesn’t have anything to do with money and benefits,” he said. “It has to do with being respected and getting the support that you need. That’s all they want.”
The teachers, who work with the children every day, are the experts city officials should be consulting, he said.
“We need to do more to prepare our young people to give them the best education possible, to prepare them to go out into that world,” he said. “You do that by working closely with all Board of Education employees. The teachers, the school nurses, the library aides, the teachers’ aides, the custodians, all the people who have direct or indirect contact with our students and who have an impact on them.”
The state’s Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funding needs to be more equitable, he said. “We need a leadership that’s going to be working with the Hartford delegation, to be up in Hartford more frequently.”
Other key points:
• “We also used to do a much better job of giving all parents the opportunity to be engaged in their children’s school lives. Not all parents can do that right now because they may be working two or three jobs, but we have to integrate them into the school system because it’s always been shown that the greatest likelihood of success for a child is parental involvement, working together with the teachers showing the children that there are people that care and how important it is to apply themselves and succeed.”
• “It’s shameful when we get an 8 percent increase in Priority School funding money and ECS and, instead of using that to enhance the Board of Education and to give them that money in addition to what the city was already be putting in, that the money is pulled out and it’s substituted for the money that the city was putting in. So in essence, it’s a wash. You get $1.5 million above and beyond what you’re supposed to be funding the Board of Education for and you use that money for a substitute for city money. That’s taking a step backward.”
• “Taxes are always a concern but I think people when they get a good amount of services for their tax dollars understand that taxes are necessary. If you ask a thousand people if they want to pay taxes they’re going to say no, but they know that taxes are necessary. You have to spend responsibly and you have to fund the Board of Education responsibly, because when people realize that the school system is being funded properly they’re more likely to want to move into Norwalk. That brings more tax revenues. We need to grow our grand list in a positive way so that we can relieve some of the tax burdens, and I’ve said this over and over again, to relieve some of the tax burden off the shoulders of the homeowners yet grow the grand list so we do have more money to fund the school system.”
• “We need to make the Common Core program operational and funded so it can help close the achievement gap.”
City officials are working with the BOE to improve safety at Norwalk Public Schools, but Rilling said it should have been worked on a long time ago.
“It shouldn’t have had to wait for a tragedy someplace for us to be protecting the children in our school system,” he said. “Years ago I sent a police officer, a firefighter and a security person from the schools to Emmitsburg, Md., to learn (at the National Fire Academy) how to put together a schools readiness program. They brought back a generic program, were supposed to be working with the school system and the leadership of the school. The leadership of the city did nothing at that time did nothing to make it happen; it just gathered dust. Now, all of a sudden, it’s something that is a priority.”
He could not recall how many years ago that was, or who had been mayor. Four or five years ago, when Moccia was mayor, Rilling had Sgt. Andre Velez formulate a safety plan for Columbus Magnet School, he said. The recommendations that did not cost money were implemented but other ideas were not, he said.
Moccia declined to comment.