NORWALK, Conn. Republicans have held a 5-4 majority on Norwalk's Board of Education for the past two years, with District D's Jack Chiaramonte serving as chairman. But the five Democratic candidates believe it is vital that they regain control this year.
The candidates characterized the past two years of GOP leadership as "divisive." Chiaramonte's opponent, former school board member Greg Burnett, 52, is the most outspoken.
"The recent concerns related to the Board of Education's interaction and communication with teachers, parents and union representatives has driven me to become part of the solution and not sit back and allow our school district to continue to deteriorate," said Burnett, vice president of Norwalk Economic Opportunity Nows board of directors, a member of the Board of Health, the Norwalk Facilities Construction Commission and the Human Services Council Mentor Advisory Board.
He also served as an at-large school board member from 2005 to 2009 and is the former PTO Council vice president.
"My record of service and experience equip me to appropriately work with all to ensure our children receive the high quality education they need and are entitled to receive," said Burnett, calling for the replacement of his opponent, Chiaramonte.
"Under the current chairman, I don't believe the school district is headed in the right direction," said Burnett. "There have been interactions in which he has been inappropriate relating to the Board of Education, parents and in union negotiations. We need a different approach and direction a more open dialogue that is respectful to everyone and stresses achievement of all students."
Burnett has campaigned on what he calls "The Five C's" classroom success, communication, cooperation, creativity and comprehensive learning.
In District A, incumbent Democrat Rosa Murray is challenged by Robert Mercurio, a 25-year veteran of the Republican Town Committee who serves on the Conservation Commission, Inland Wetland Agency.
Another incumbent Democrat, Migdalia Rivas, is running unopposed in District B.
In District C, Democrat and former councilman Kevin Poruban is facing Michael W. Lyons, a member of the Board of Estimate & Taxation.
In District E, Democrat Michael Barbis, a Sixth Taxing District commissioner, will face Republican Geoff Kieburtz, who is running for office for the first time.
Poruban, who served on the council for nearly six years, is former co-vice president for the PTO Council and Columbus Magnet School. He said it's important for Democrats to gain a majority on the school board because under the Republicans "things have become far too political."
"We've got to put an end to the 'Us versus Them' mentality on the school board," he said. "We don't have a functional school board right now, as there is a lot of bickering and name calling that is not consistent with the way a school board must operate. Everyone needs to work together for the good of the students, and that's not happening right now."
Barbis said, "I have been a leader in my community and in the schools for over a decade." He cited his service as president of the Rowayton Civic Association from 2004 to 2006, as a Sixth Taxing District commissioner and as co-president of the Parent Teacher Council at Roton Middle School from 2009 to 2011.
"I believe in Norwalk's public schools," Barbis said. "Our school system is facing financial, managerial and operational challenges and needs the experienced leadership I can provide to tackle these challenges."
Murray said she's seeking election to the board she was appointed to replace a board member who resigned because the school system needs to provide "an equal education to all students coming from diverse backgrounds and with various academic needs."
"I understand the importance of focusing on academic achievement based on state standards," Murray said. "We must develop and implementing a district plan to narrow the achievement gap with a bipartisan budget reconciliation that supports our instructional programs and teachers."
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