NORWALK, Conn. — This op-ed was submitted by Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff in response to the debate in Norwalk over how to best deal with student enrollment and building repairs in the city's schools.
To the editor:
Do you think it is fair that most of Norwalk's 11,000 students have to wait up to 15 years before their school repair needs are addressed?
As some of you may know, Mayor Harry Rilling, Rep. Bruce Morris, Rep. Chris Perone, Board of Education members, community activists, parents and I gathered recently to propose a "Fix It First" plan to immediately and quickly address the infrastructure problems at our 19 schools.
Our plan is not opposed to new schools, but we believe instead that fixing what we have should be the priority while the entire community has a robust conversation about new buildings and how that fits in with the best interests of our students.
I am a parent of two students in the Norwalk Public Schools. Recently state legislators were invited to a meeting with some Board of Education members to talk about their Facilities Plan. When I asked about current schools being addressed like Cranbury Elementary School and Fox Run Elementary School, I was told it is in the 15 year plan after much of the other work is addressed in Phase 1 and Phase 2. That set off alarm bells for me. Much to my chagrin, this is the same approach for many of the other schools around Norwalk.
Last year, I contacted the superintendent, his staff and Board of Ed members numerous times asking to be a part of the process - considering that there is a substantial state investment in any school renovation plan.
After hearing nothing, I wrote two letters last year to Superintendent Steven Adamowski only to get an answer six weeks later. (to view copies of the letters, please visit www.bobduff.com ) A meeting was then scheduled more than six weeks after the BOE plan was approved and released. Only when it was apparent that the BOE plan intended to spend $250 million on five of the 19 schools did I become very concerned.
The plan I helped write turns the BOE plan around and invests in existing schools now and then invests in new schools. I don't think it's fair to let 11,000 students sit in old and crumbling schools in order to build new ones for fewer students. In addition, as much as the BOE claims that the school population is increasing, all of their written data suggests otherwise.
"Fix It First" was crafted by reviewing and endorsing Board of Education-approved plans from January and December 2016 and in small part 2012. “Fix It First” is fiscally responsible, takes into account demographic shifts and is designed to positively impact our current students.
Please read "Fix It First" on my website ( www.bobduff.com ) since the proposal uses existing BOE data. Everything is cited and can be easily referenced in the BOE plan. You can also visit my Facebook page ( www.Facebook.com/senatorduff ) to see pictures and videos sent to me, which documents the current conditions of our schools.
I was pleased to learn that Norwalk's teachers and the Norwalk NAACP wrote separate statements endorsing this plan. I also appreciate everyone who reached out to me publicly and privately via email and social media to express their opinions.
I want what you want — which is what is best for our kids. This is an exciting time to make great investments in our schools. Let's come together as a community and make the best possible decision.
Bob Duff, the Senate majority leader, represents the 25th District, which includes Norwalk and Darien.