For Danbury mayoral candidates the priority is “education, education, education”


DANBURY – With public schools facing funding and enrollment issues, local education is one of the top concerns for city mayoral candidates.

Republican Dean Esposito and Democrat Roberto Alves aim to study the need for more classrooms and work with the school district to meet their financial needs. But the two mayoral candidates differ greatly on a charter school proposal.

“Our goal is always No. 1 to build the best possible education system for the city,” said Esposito, chief of staff to the mayor.

Alves said he is particularly invested in schools. His two children attend public schools, and it had been a long time since a Danbury mayor had been able to say that, he noted.

“We are the Danbury experience right now,” said Alves, a member of city council.

Charter school

Esposito supports Prospect Charter Schools’ plans to open a charter school in downtown Danbury, while Alves opposes it.

The state Board of Education approved the charter school in 2018, but the state legislature did not provide the operational funding that would be necessary for it to open. Danbury State officials and the senator strongly oppose the plan because they say public resources should go to public schools, which must answer to voters.

This is Alves’ position.

“Right now we are standing up for our public schools,” he said. “That’s the right answer for Danbury because public schools come under the Board of Education.”

But the charter school is a faster way to solve problems of rapid enrollment and space in public schools, Esposito said. Prospect is a reputable charter school, where students would get a high quality education, he said.

“My goal is to be at the forefront of this, to knock on the governor’s door every day if I’m going to provide this service to the city,” Esposito said.

Prospect, who is based in Brooklyn, had to push back its opening date at Danbury by several years. The plan is to open the facility with around 110 sixth-graders in the first semester, then add a new class each year, eventually reaching 770 students.

It’s too slow and wouldn’t fix the growth in enrollment at Danbury quickly enough, Alves said.

Both applicants are supporting Danbury Career Academy, which will ultimately serve 1,400 students, but will not open its first batch of Grade 10 students until fall 2024.

State funding for the charter school would take nothing away from the money that Danbury’s public schools receive, Esposito said. Additionally, a philanthropist pledged $ 25 million to build the school, “so it’s not a huge cost to the city,” he said.

The money for the charter school wouldn’t come from the same pocket of state money that funding for public schools does, but it all comes from the state wallet, Alves said. All the money available should go to public schools, he said.

“If that money is there in the state for this school – our public schools are in dire need of this money, let’s stand up for it,” he said.

The city is divided on the charter school.

The Danbury-based organization Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity grew out of the charter school struggle and opened a community center over the summer on the Main Street property where the school is offered.

Meanwhile, the teachers’ union, which has backed Alves, opposes the charter school.

Esposito praised Danbury’s high quality teachers.

“I congratulate them every day for the work they do, but the reality is that this charter school can be a huge asset to this city,” he said.

Space constraints

Alves argued that Republican administrations over the past 20 years have shown a “lack of forethought, investment and / or care towards our schools.” School enrollment has increased, leading to overcrowding in schools. Another middle school and possibly an elementary school are needed, he said.

“The can has been thrown on the road for so many years,” Alves said. “We don’t have enough space for the students that we have now.

For example, some kindergarten students attend a rented school in Brookfield because COVID social distancing guidelines have made space too tight in elementary schools.

But Esposito said the current administration has shown “foresight” with plans to build schools, such as the planned career academy and the seven classrooms being built as an annex to the school. Ellsworth Avenue Elementary School.

Danbury’s schools are thriving because the city is the state’s “shining star”, Esposito said.

“The city is doing so well and attracting new families and people to the city,” he said. “We need to prepare for an even greater influx of new people. “

Candidates support the Superintendent’s plan to conduct another demographic study to get a better picture of enrollment trends. They would like to find the best or the best demographer because schooling has often exceeded projections. This would be the third demographic study of the school district since November 2019.

Both candidates would like the city to try to buy or lease an existing building for a school, rather than spending the extra money on construction.

“We have to find space,” Esposito said, adding that he was already checking out at a location on the south end. “The reality is that we are running out of a city-wide space city.”

While many companies still allow their employees to work from home, the city may be able to convert a commercial building into a school, Alves said.

“There are probably a lot of commercial property owners out there who are worried about what the next five, 10, 15 years will look like for them,” he said. “Why not partner with these people if there are buildings we can reuse for schools.”

School funding

Both candidates said they would like to avoid raising taxes to provide more money to schools, while also working better with school officials on the budget.

“My goals are education, education, education,” Esposito said. “It means working with the education board, our new superintendent and our … new finance staff.” [department]on the education side.

Esposito said he will be able to meet the needs of schools without raising taxes. This is all the more important as some residents continue to struggle financially due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

“If we have good money management as always, we are going to be able to get by,” he said.

Alves said he will review the school board’s full budget request, but that his goal will be to allocate the city’s resources in a way that sidesteps a tax increase.

“My plan is not to raise taxes,” Alves said. “My plan is to be responsible for our money.”

One strategy Esposito would use is to use the school district’s surplus from previous years towards the new budget, which Danbury has already done. He also wants to push the state for more money to schools because the state is not paying Danbury its fair share, he said.

“This eases the burden on our individual taxpayers,” Esposito said.

Alves proposes to take an increase of up to $ 2.5 million in state PILOT funding – or a payment in lieu of taxes – and direct it to schools.

“All, if not most, of this money should be allocated to our most urgent needs,” he said.

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