Derby voters reject school plan
     By Marianne Lippard, Register Correspondent               June 11, 2000 

DERBY ó By a 2-to-1 margin, voters on Saturday rejected a $40.6 million school expansion plan and a $3.7 million package for new athletic fields that took over a year and a half of planning.

The multi-million dollar project called for construction of a 132,000-square-foot high school north of the current high school on Nutmeg Avenue.  The current high school was to be converted into a middle school.  A new track, along with baseball, softball and multipurpose fields, rounded out plans for the two-school campus.

1:  Final figures showed 871 voters favored building the new high school, while 1,536 rejected the plan.  
2:  Only 867 residents voted in favor of converting the current high school to a middle school, versus 1,466 against the plan.
3:  A total of 771 voters favored the concept of spending $3.7 million to build athletic fields, while 1,552 voted against that proposal.

The city would have been responsible for about $22 million, since the state would have reimbursed about 70 percent for the new high school, 50 to 60 percent for the middle school and 35 percent for the recreation complex.

Members of Derby Citizens Directing Education (DECIDE), a group of parents and community leaders favoring the plan, spent the day calling voters and urging them to go to the polls.  Meanwhile, outside the polls at Bradley School, a group of residents opposed to the proposal urged residents to "vote no."  John Kowarik, a member of the Republican Town Committee and the cityís Ethics Board, was among those opposed to the plan.

"I think itís just too costly of a project," Kowarik said, adding he felt the idea of renovating the former Lincoln School on Minerva Street wasnít given adequate consideration.

After the results were tallied, a group of DECIDE volunteers and city leaders expressed disappointment.

Michael Kelleher, president of the Board of Aldermen, spent the day at DECIDEís temporary headquarters and admitted he felt "relatively confident" prior to hearing the results.

"Either the message was bad or they (the voters) didnít understand the need," he said.

Community and Economic Development Director Richard T. Dunne called the defeat "a travesty."  "It doesnít represent a solution," Dunne said, noting that without the improvements the property values in the city "will stay depressed ... it makes our job more difficult."  Based on the current enrollment, Dunne said, the city will need to rent trailers to be used next fall to accommodate the growing school population.

Board of Education Chairman James Gildea said the results were discouraging, adding he was surprised by the margin of defeat.

"Itís not a time to be bitter or to give up. Itís a time to regroup and continue the fight," he said.

Mayor Marc Garofalo could not be reached for comment.