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Norwalk Mom 'Dismayed' By School Funding Debate

NORWALK, Conn. – It isn't just that Grace Bustell doesn't know what will happen when she reaches seventh grade in the fall – it's that she doesn't even know if she will be in Norwalk, the only home she has ever known.

Her mother says the family is moving if the massive layoffs planned for Norwalk schools go through.

Barbara Smyth, who shot into the spotlight as the organizer of City Hall protests, was hoping that the wheels of government would turn swiftly to alleviate the fears of Grace and others like her. But Thursday, she said she and other Norwalk residents were "dismayed" to learn that Monday's meeting of the Board of Estimate and Taxation, the board that holds the purse strings to Norwalk's "rainy day fund," has been canceled.

"The Common Council has sent a clear message to the Board of Estimate and Taxation that they have heard the voices of the parents, students and community members of Norwalk and approved the release of rainy day funds to save our schools from impending doom," Smyth wrote in an email to news organizations and Norwalk officials. "The people of Norwalk recognize the catastrophe is at our doorstep and are dismayed to discover the BET meeting scheduled for Monday, July 2, 2012, has been canceled."

Mayor Richard Moccia was fast with a reply. "Please be advised that this meeting was canceled last week prior to any resolution by the council, to imply that the cancellation was done in response to the resolution is incorrect," he wrote in an email. "As much has been said about being responsible and nonconfrontational. It would have been responsible to check with this office before the press release was issued."

Smyth "respectfully requested" in her press release that the meeting be rescheduled and held no later than July 11, with notice put on the city's website by Monday. "The Board of Education must move forward with reinstating positions and programs as quickly as possible to ease parents' and children's fears of what they will find when they return to school this fall," she said.

"We are awaiting information from the Board of Ed and will schedule accordingly to the availability of the volunteer members and myself," Moccia said.

Moccia and others were informed of a related deadline at Tuesday's Common Council meeting. Grace, her sister Maeve Bustell and her mother Margaret Kozlark each took the microphone to say that they would be moving if the situation with the schools was not resolved satisfactorily.

Kozlark said Norwalk would be losing good people: Maeve, a scholar leader at Nathan Hale, wrote a song played by the school's band last month.

Now a Norwalk High freshman, Maeve won the geography bee in seventh grade.

Before the meeting, Kozlark said she rents and works from home, so moving to Fairfield or Newtown would not be difficult. "I can't tell you how disheartened I am," Kozlark said. "My kids were born here. It's ripping my heart out, but how can I as a good parent stay here?"

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