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Norwalk BOE Members Clash on Expansions

Board of Education members Sue Haynie and Steve Colarossi are at odds over the 2011-12 capital budget request, set for a vote by the entire board on Tuesday evening. The approximately $30 million request, which spans five years, includes the expansion of five elementary schools—Cranbury, Rowayton, Naramake, Jefferson and Columbus— to ease overcrowding and increasing enrollment projections.

Board of Education member Sue Haynie wrote in a public letter that she will not vote for the capital budget as it stands.  In this economy, she writes, neither the government nor taxpayers have money to spare. She asserts that the BOE has not explored alternatives to the current plan and will pass that responsibility to the City. “Has the BOE done its due diligence, or has it shirked its duty and left the hard questions for other government bodies to wrangle with?” she says.

Haynie suggests capital budgets are about “bricks and mortar”, while the schools' biggest problem is "student achievement and accountability.”

In addition, Haynie adds that while a few schools are overcrowded, others are underused. “Why are we asking for millions of dollars in additions, in this economic climate, when we have not asked the why and what of those underused spaces?” Haynie asks.

If there is an urgency to expand, Haynie argues that Jefferson Elementary School should be “first in line”.  In the current proposal, Jefferson's renovation would come behind Naramake, Rowayton, and Cranbury. “Jefferson has 8 portables that have been in place for six years, has not been significantly renovated in 40 years, sits on a mere six acres of land, has playgrounds with no grass, kindergartens with no direct egress and has had consistent, long-term enrollment increases year after year.”

BOE Finance Committee Chairman Steve Colarossi rebutts several of Haynie’s points.  He says a team of experts were recruited to analyze buildings and population trends and they found that a number of schools were in need of expansion. “In my opinion, the analysis undertaken is a fair assessment of future population shifts," he wrote in a public letter on . "In my opinion, the experts retained by the Board of Education were well-versed in assessing the current data and developing an appropriate model to assess future population trends, “ Colarossi denies the distinction between achievement and "bricks and mortar."  He writes that studies show that physical environment is “critical to student achievement.”

In addition, Colarossi rejects Haynie’s claim that the capital plan neglects Jefferson. He says the overcrowding at Jefferson is caused, in part, because the school is currently both a magnet and neighborhood school.   “Therefore, before there can be a final proposal for expansion and renovation of Jefferson, there must be critical dialogue with the community served by this school," Colarossi writes.

Do you think that we should proceed with school expansions or does the issue need more study?  Do your children attend one of the schools slated for expansion?

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