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Norwalk Schools Cut Expansion Plans

The plan to expand five crowded Norwalk elementary schools has been pared down by the Board of Education because of the city’s tight budget . Under the revised plan, Naramake and Rowayton elementary schools are prioritized for expansion, but neither school will get portable classrooms next year to handle overflow. Instead, certain programs at those schools will relocate to other locations.

At its meeting last Tuesday, the school board voted 4-1 with two abstentions to pass a revised $2.8 capital budget plan for the city. The initial plan had called for $4 million for next year.

Craig Drezek, the district's new chief operating officer, presented a plan that he said would address the district’s "immediate needs." The funds would come from money remaining from a previous construction grant, so no new funds are being requested.

Next year's plan includes only funds for design work at Naramake and Rowayton, he said. Design and construction work at Jefferson, Cranbury and Columbus have been pushed back.

Additional portables at the two schools would have cost the district $350,000. "By relocating district programs in the two schools, this would give us options. It would free up space," said Drezek.

Superintendent Susan Marks supported the revised plan. “The financial situation forced us to think outside of the box,” said Marks. “We are going to have to move programs around. In doing so, we will make the best decision for the kids."

Although Drezek assured board members that “space was available” to move programs, neither he nor Marks were specific about which programs would be moved or where they would go. Drezek indicated that the "options were limited" because only programs that drew students from across the districts could be relocated.

Board member Sue Haynie said possibilities were discussed at a recent board finance committee meeting.  Naramake's Family Resource Center could move to Norwalk High school, where a preschool facility already exists, and Rowayton’s special education classrooms for emotionally disturbed students might move to Silvermine, which has space. Marks said nothing had been finalized and said a committee was evaluating options.

Haynie, who voted against the capital budget, was uneasy about the plan. She questioned whether Naramake would even need an addition if the Family Resource Center were to move out. She also questioned whether it was wise to move emotionally disturbed students from a familiar environment.

Haynie expressed concern about some of the delays. “I’m concerned that Jefferson is being pushed off, in spite of its growth," she said. Jefferson would not see construction until 2014-15 in the new plan. Haynie also said allocations were not made for repairs at eight schools that have been waiting for infrastructure upgrades.

Board members Jodi Bishop-Pullan and Migdalia Rivas abstained. “I’m not sure what we are doing with the space,” Bishop-Pullan said in explaining her vote.

Do you agree with the school board decision on the capital budget plan?

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