Derby voters wrestle with implications 
           of failed school referendum 
    Tuesday, June 20, 2000        By FELICIA HUNTER 

DERBY - One by one, over the course of three hours, residents voiced their opinions Monday evening about the failed school referendum and steps the city should take to address the need for increased classroom space and expanded sports playing fields.

The town meeting drew more than 100 people to the Derby High School auditorium.

Mayor Marc Garofalo called the meeting to seek input from those who both favored and opposed the referendum.

On June 10, Derby residents overwhelmingly voted against spending $44.5 million on school expansion and athletic-field construction projects.

"We wanted to get everybody together and have people give us input," said the mayor at the beginning of the meeting. He asked the crowd to "help us to formulate a productive solution for the future of our city."

Opinions ranged from dividing the two public elementary schools into two separate grade levels - one kindergarten through third grade, the other fourth through eighth grade - to allowing senior citizens to be exempt from paying taxes for a new school. Issues addressed extended from new and folding businesses to local pride.

Those present included parents with children in the school system, senior citizens with adult children, and members of the city's boards and commissions, the majority of which were represented.

Among the issues addressed was the possibility of portable classrooms. James Gildea, chairman of the Board of Education, said the cost for a complex of eight classrooms would be $630,000, but also said that portable classrooms would not address overcrowding in other school areas, such as the cafeteria and the gym.

"I really have to say in all honesty that there is a problem. We do have a number problem, and it needs to be addressed."

Gildea noted that although this year's Derby High School graduating class had 85 students, future classes will be larger. Currently, he said, 153 first-graders are enrolled in the school system.

Most speakers acknowledged that there is a need for improved educational facilities. 

At the end of the meeting, Garofalo said he wanted to "keep the dialogue open" and encouraged people to "speak up.  Please don't wait until two days before [another possible] referendum."  He said he was "really excited" about the turnout.

Felicia Hunter, Valley bureau chief, can be reached at 736-5441.