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Letter: Garfunkel's Fresh Ideas Needed in Norwalk

NORWALK – This is a letter to the editor:

In the debates, the mayor has delivered a tired litany of excuses about why the city is barely treading water while his opponent projects an energetic, far-sighted vision that will lift Norwalk up by its boot straps. Among the many issues in this campaign, two stand out: retarded redevelopment and educational achievement.

In his first term, Mayor Moccia squandered the opportunity to attract big businesses to build a complex of high-rise offices/hotel/apartments at the Routes 7/95 site and Waypointe, let alone complete the renovation of Wall Street. No other community between Port Chester and Bridgeport had such a shovel-ready expanse of prime land adjacent to auto and rail transportation, shops, restaurants and recreational facilities. For Norwalk it offered the perfect SMART growth model of high-density land use, and a tremendous shot in the arm as far as jobs, local businesses and tax revenue are concerned.

Mr. Moccia blames the failing economy for keeping firms from moving here. Yet, corporations possess unprecedented cash reserves, and there is no reason why an adept administration, working with state officials and local business leaders, can't lure prospects to build their national or branch headquarters in Norwalk.

Andy Garfunkel personifies the imagination, vigor and drive required to market Norwalk's promise to the corporate world. His pro-active ideas of organizing and hosting national forums on city planning and SMART growth could make our city a buzzword for development.

As for schools, while Norwalk has continued to make incremental improvements in achievement tests, the averages remain unacceptable for the kind of proficiency needed in the 21st-century global economy. We need a major leap forward that involves continued bipartisan investment in early childhood enrichment programs despite the tight Board of Education budgets. Kids in such programs do much better in school than those that don't take part. And the needed investment needn't require tax increases.

In the late '90s, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill that funded statewide opportunities for needy 3- and 4-year-olds to enroll in quality preschool readiness programs. The bill required participating communities to form advisory councils made up of child advocates. In 2009, the Norwalk council advised the city to establish a coordinator to bring together various organizations to fulfill the community's needs. They proposed to fund the position with money from the city and from private donations. The city has paid its share, but will it fully fund that position after the private funds run out?

Andy Garfunkel says yes to that question, and goes further. To make Norwalk a beacon of educational achievement, he wants to host statewide and/or regional educational symposia that promote preschool readiness and the highest degree of literacy in the first three grades. Such steps would spur voluntarism and increased private funding for our system.

Andy's prescription contrasts favorably with outlandish statements by Republicans who claim that the present system doesn't provide the wherewithal to meet state standards. The Board of Education's improvement plan (available online) already includes the "common sense" elements the Republicans are advocating!

Either Mr. Chiaramonte, who heads a majority of Republicans on the BOE, did not read his own plan, or he is trying to pull a fast one. Either way, he and his dissembling cohorts should not be trusted to guide the education of Norwalk's children.

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