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Letter: Offer Olive Branch to Norwalk Union Leader

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Daily Voice accepts signed, original letters to the editor. Letters may be emailed to letters@dailyvoice.com.

To the Editor,

I am extremely concerned for our schools and the future of our city, particularly after attending last week's public hearing and Common Council meeting where I heard and observed the eloquent and impassioned pleas of our many residents and teachers sadly met with indifference from many of our elected officials. The purpose of the rallies I have organized is two-fold: first, to unite parents and taxpayers in fighting for our children and our city; and two, to create a media event in order to draw attention to its urgency since the budget must be resolved by June 30.

Even without the shortfall, and a possible extension of the city's loan to the Board of Ed, the current budget still leaves our public schools with a nightmare reconciliation plan. Yes, we want answers about the shortfall, and there are signs that the old problems are being looked into and corrected, but the truth is, our schools have been underfunded for five years in a row, already leaving them operating at bare bones. I understand even central office is like a ghost town. What I don't understand is how the reconciliation plan can leave band and sports intact yet decimate literacy at the elementary level, and eliminate libraries at all levels. How can we in good conscience leave some of the other specialty programs intact yet allow students to fall through the cracks without team leaders and assistant principals to guide SRBI (Scientific Research Based Interventions), and put our middle and high school students in danger by eliminating security guards? Charging small fees, on a sliding scale, from families with students in band and sports, as other districts do, would have a huge impact on our financial needs. As a future band parent, I am more than happy to contribute.

As a homeowner I am willing to see our taxes increased to support our schools. Frankly, I don't care if our schools comprise 50 percent of the city's budget – it is the quality of our schools that keep Norwalk vibrant. While I am sensitive to the difficulties of our elderly citizens, I don't understand the over focus on protecting them at the expense of our schools and city itself. It is the schools that draw families to a town and keep us here. It is those families that create your tax base and spend money in Norwalk businesses. You are cutting off your nose to spite your face. A small increase could go a long way, with some type of relief for the elderly as many states offer.

I have read the negative mudslinging in the online papers and the opinions of those who believe they know how to fix our problems when they have never worked in a school system. I believe it is important to not judge a person unless you have walked a mile in their shoes. I have walked a few miles as a teacher myself, so I feel qualified to speak on behalf of the excellent teachers who commit their lives to our children. After spending nearly 20 years of my professional career in broadcast media (thus I understand full well the power of a media event) I walked into my first full-time teaching job at the age of 50 with a wealth of education, and personal and professional experience. I feel honored to have taught seventh grade at Ponus Ridge Middle School for three years, where I have never had a harder or more rewarding job in my life. I feel discouraged by the negative remarks about teachers in our system who, just like me, work an average of 55 or more hours a week, purchase materials for their classrooms to the tune of $2,000 a year, and cry in the car on the way home after we have given everything we have, both intellectually and emotionally, to our students and simply feel exhausted by it. I have spent this past year working in a wealthy district and believe me — and I say this both as a mother whose children's teachers' professionalism and caring have helped each of them excel, and as an observer of dozens of teachers in various settings — there are no better, harder working, more committed teachers anywhere than Norwalk. In my 20 years of collected experience in Norwalk classrooms as both a teacher and a parent, I have seen perhaps one or two tenured teachers who probably should have been dismissed. In a district of 900 teachers, I consider this almost inconsequential.

As recently as one week ago I found myself confused as to why the teachers union has not offered to take a pay freeze. I had spoken with many teachers who, like Mr. Beckley , feel strongly about doing just that. I have since had the opportunity to sit down and look at the numbers documenting how much our teachers have given back in recent years, and hear some of the stories of teachers and their families who have been adversely affected by the high deductibles of the new health insurance plan. I have also come to realize I know absolutely nothing about the complexities and legalities of union contract negotiations, so I feel unqualified to remark on this issue myself. But I do now find myself wondering why there is so much bluster and blame. As a teacher, I never had an interaction with Mr. Mellion, but since our first rally I have had several conversations with him, and I genuinely believe if our elected officials simply acknowledged the givebacks from our teachers and showed appreciation you would be met by a much friendlier face with which to negotiate. PLEASE EXTEND AN OLIVE BRANCH.

I also beg you to put past animosities that belong to a previous administration behind you and come together to keep our classrooms productive and safe. It is not fair to Superintendent Marks, to the great teachers in this district, to the residents of this town, and certainly not the children of our community who deserve the best education our tax dollars can buy. I love this city and want to remain here. These budget cuts and reconciliation plan will not only kill our schools, but will neatly and firmly put the nails in the coffin of this city. Please end this political fighting now.

This is a statement read by Ms. Smyth at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. She has one child entering West Rocks Middle School and two who have graduated from Norwalk Public Schools.

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