NORWALK, Conn. — A group parents, legislators and school officials gathered outside Jefferson Elementary on a windy Monday morning to explain “Fix It First" — their new proposal to modernize Norwalk’s public schools.
The plan proposes improving and modernizing all of the existing school buildings in the Norwalk School District — before any new schools are built to deal with the district's growing enrollment of students.
"We believe that we need to be fixing our schools first and fixing our schools now -- not only Jefferson School but all of our schools in the entire school district," Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk/Darien) told the crowd at a press conference.
Some elements of the Fix It First proposal include:
- Completing all work simultaneously in three years by spending $100 million, with another 32.5 percent reimbursement from the State of Connecticut;
- Constructing an addition to Jefferson Elementary School to remove portables previously scheduled for 2015;
- Building a one-story addition at Cranbury School that was previously scheduled for 2016;
- Putting on a two-story addition at Columbus Magnet School, scheduled for 2017; and
- Adding major repairs at Norwalk High School and minor repairs at Brien McMahon to the plan.
The plan offered is an alternative to the one approved by the Norwalk Board of Education last month, as officials came out in opposition to it. Those officials included Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk/Darien), state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-Norwalk) and Mayor Harry Rilling as well as other legislators and parents.
According to Duff, the Fix It First plan provides an alternative to the school construction plan that has been presented by the Board of Education.
“Fix It First addresses all of the schools in our school system currently," he said.
Duff used Jefferson Elementary School as an example. “Jefferson School has the most overcrowding in the City of Norwalk, and the fact is that with the current BOE plan, this school will not be addressed until about seven years from now," he said. That is too long to wait, Duff said.
"The Board of Education is asking us to spend a quarter of a billion dollars from the taxpayers of the city and the taxpayers of the state," Duff said. "We feel we can spend a $100 million plus the state reimbursement on top of that to not only fix schools like Jefferson, but Cranbury, Fox Run, Columbus, Norwalk High School and other schools all around the City of Norwalk."
The number of students has been declining in the elementary schools, he said. Because of this, Duff said, “We can use that money smarter and better for the parents, students and the taxpayers of the city."
He stressed the importance of not waiting to fix problems with the school buildings. "The parents who are sitting there waiting for their schools to be fixed will be waiting for over a decade and (by then), many parents, like myself, will be long gone out of the school system.”
Morris said the Fix It First plan makes more sense — dollar for dollar.
"I think this also allows us to address immediate needs that benefit the most kids with the fewest amount of dollars," he said.
Norwalk can later revisit the plan "to see how we really implement school choice in the most effective way," Morris said.
Mayor Rilling agreed, saying it's important not to wait any longer to fix the school buildings.
“Now it’s time to say let’s get the schools fixed, let's make sure we do it right, let’s give the students who are currently in the various schools a good infrastructure and also protect the taxpayer dollars," Rilling said.