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Education supporters rally at Norwich City Council meeting

May 14, 2019

Norwich — A cold, pouring rain Monday did not deter about 100 school supporters holding signs and umbrellas, shouting chants aimed at Alderwoman Joanne Philbrick and cheering when passing motorists honked or waved in support of funding for city schools.

Some wore stickers saying: “Cuts Hurt Kids” and “Fund our Schools.” Others stopped first at the open trunk of Connecticut Education Association representative Mike Casey to pick up association-funded signs: “I Stand with My Students” and “Stop Underfunding our Public Schools.” Many carried hand-made signs, with marker colors quickly running down the soggy poster boards.

Denielle Sandoval, a teacher at the Thomas Mahan School, organized the rally last week after Republican Alderwoman Philbrick stated during a contentious City Council budget meeting that modern education was daylong “subsidized taxpayer-funded day care.” At the same meeting, Republican Mayor Peter Nystrom publicly accused the school system of intentionally overspending its budget.

Sandoval said school supporters rally outside budget hearings routinely in Norwich, but the recent disparaging remarks made Monday’s gathering more important.

“A lot of us cried over it,” she said of teachers’ reaction to Philbrick’s remarks.

At last week’s meeting, the council adopted a preliminary budget that funded the school budget at 3 million short of what the school board said was the minimum needed to keep current programs and staffing. The current 2.4 million deficit. The council in a 4-3 party-line vote, rejected a proposal supported by the three Democratic aldermen to add 12 per hour for eight hours a day and for the 180-day school year, the cost would be $109,520,640.

“As usual with babysitters, they must be paid at the end of each day, and in cash,” Kulos said. “I hope this budget meets your expectations. Remember, nothing but babysitters.”

Resident Rose Fratoni, however, questioned the school budget and agreed with the City Council’s objection to raising the school budget. She said a household cannot overspend its budget and get more money from a different pool of funds, as the school board expects of the city. Fratoni suggested segregating students who do not speak English into a classroom to learn English first before being integrated into regular classes requiring more teachers and classroom supporters.

Resident Marvin Serruto also supported the council’s budget decision.

“Just because you want to be responsible to the taxpayers of Norwich doesn’t mean you don’t like children,” Serruto said.

Republican school board member Dennis Slopak said he was “so disappointed” in Mayor Nystrom. He said Nystrom praised the school board seven years ago after a long school negotiation session resulted in teachers agreeing to no raises and higher health care costs.

“Now you think we’re being dishonest?” Slopak said. “Hell no.”

c.bessette@theday.com