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Letter: Norwalk Schools Need Constructive Action

NORWALK, Conn. — TheDailyNorwalk.com accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to letters @ thedailynorwalk.com .

To the Editor,

The time is now!

The head of the union can draw his line in the sand, but so long as the most ineffective educators (administration or teacher) are paid the same as the best with associated pension and health-care benefits out of step with the private sector, the taxpaying public will continue to throw mud at K-12 and society will suffer. So long as parents take no responsibility for what little Johnny does or doesn't do in the classroom, society suffers, and so long as an aging population doesn't think that kids today deserve as good an education as they got 40 years ago ... society suffers.

According to our children's most authoritative source, Wikipedia , the U.S. pension and health-care crisis has been predicted for years, as our contractual obligations and resources set aside to fund them have been out of sync. Shifting demographics since World War II, a lower ratio of workers per retiree and retirees living longer, and a lower birthrate, have all contributed to this financial crisis.

We are now faced with a $500 billion shortfall in pensions for teachers across the United States, according to Time . This is NOT an issue specific only to Norwalk.

The continued finger pointing in the press, comments and blogs without enumerating any helpful solutions is counter-productive, wastes energy and creates unnecessary panic. Replacing politically elected volunteers with another set of politically elected volunteers or replacing a superintendent who came from a highly functioning school district is not the answer, either.

We're in our fourth year of recession, and it's beginning to look like the new reality. Add a 20 percent to 25 percent drop in property values from the peak in 2005, nominal Educational Cost Sharing support from the state compared with other municipalities and a 7.7 percent unemployment figure across the state and you have private sector, city and state struggling to pay its bills.

Norwalk has a population of about 85,000 residents, according to the 2010 census. This consists of about 32,000 households, where 28 percent have children under the age of 18. The last census estimated there were about 9,000 kids in the school system but we know that we have 11,000. If you divide the total number of households into the 5,500 or so families in NPS, you have about 17 percent of the town using the public school system. As one of those families using the system, I also have to accept responsibility for balancing the educational needs of the town with the money we spend.

Our $10 million shortfall is not any one person's fault nor can one person fix it! This is not about a town not supporting education or its teacher and administrators. This is a STRUCTURAL problem that is only going to get more painful if we don't sensibly address the issue with all parties concerned.

There have been a number of solutions kicked around for years, but we knew that none of the solutions would satisfy EVERYBODY, so we collectively kicked the can down the road. Taxpayers and parents have watched education and public services decline, all the while, their tax bills have increased. Effective educators have understood these problems, but found lacking in the different stakeholder leadership any support to move beyond the status quo.

As they say, the rubber has hit the road, the kids are not going away and the coffers are stretched. The time is now for all of us to start thinking outside the box in terms of how we move Norwalk education forward and effectively solve both this near term and the longer term crisis or the Baby Boom generation can kiss its Social Security and pension goodbye when this current generation can't get jobs! The ratio of workers to retirees was 5:1 in 1960, 3:1 in 2009 and is projected to be 2:2.1 in 2030!

Here are some suggestions, but only if the collective leadership has the courage to implement by not letting a good crisis go to waste:

• Close an elementary school and beef up literacy in Grades K-3

• Close a middle school and turn it into a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) magnet

• Investigate other relationships, such as Norwalk Community College, for more online learning classes directed at high school students – reducing butts in seats

• Turn Briggs High School into a good old-fashioned vocational school for those not wishing to go on to college – which incidentally doesn't necessarily guarantee one a job anyway!

Folks need to stop finger pointing with generalities or looking for a smoking gun. This community needs to come up with solutions folks ... not rhetoric!

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