Use Waterbury’s federal COVID funds to invest in students, not buildings
Waterbury students are being denied access to resources that would increase their chances of success and as an advocate for the community I love, it is my responsibility to call those responsible. Mayor Neil O’Leary, Superintendent Verna D. Ruffin and the Waterbury School Board (WBoE) are at fault and the easiest to blame. However, there are others who have failed to protect the fundamental educational rights of Waterbury students, especially black and brown students.
Despite assurances from State Department of Education (SDE) officials Irene Parisi and Desi Nesmith, funding for the U.S. Waterbury bailout was conditionally approved on March 11, without any communication from SDE. . With this conditional approval, we know our advocacy and organization are working. However, this conditional approval will still allow the City of Waterbury to use an unprecedented amount of funding for building maintenance and property improvements instead of investing these precious COVID relief funds in educational programs that would help to attenuate the constant Low level academic achievement of Waterbury students experience.
Waterbury’s plan to spend $57 million on their $89 million US bailout on the property is unprecedented as well as egregious. The $57 million is more than the next 20 school districts combined and more than the 10 school districts most similar to Waterbury in terms of population and demographics. The organization I co-founded, Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education (RACCE), has long opposed this plan since the first round of funding in 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the vast inequalities that many of our communities face. Waterbury is a prime example of this undeniable fact. During this most difficult time, our schools have become a space that showcases a racial inequity that perpetuates long-known social issues like poverty, violence, crime, and health disparities. The WBoE had the opportunity to address these real issues in an authentic and tangible way that would have given students in this community increased access to resources that help lay the foundation for success in the classroom and ultimately in life.
However, the governing bodies of all the schools in Connecticut, the SDE and the State Board of Education, as well as the WBoE, responsible for preparing the future of Waterbury students, made decisions that abandoned the young academics of my community. without the resources to maneuver. by a road strewn with potholes and craters.
RACCE and community partners organized and used direct feedback from stakeholders to create a Community supported plan to use ARP funding to advance racial equity and social justice in our schools. We have presented the plan several times to Superintendent Ruffin of Waterbury, the WBoE, SDE and the State Board of Education. However, Waterbury officials never responded.
A poignant foreshadowing of this blatant decision to turn its back on the students of this community. These decisions and the way they were made are representative of a lack of respect and care for students, especially black and brown students, English language learning students, and LGBTQIA+ students.
The fact is, property upgrades and maintenance should not be done with COVID-19 relief funds. I believe that if those in power want to make improvements to buildings, it should be done on a regular basis or through a bonding process with a capital improvement plan that is subject to full public scrutiny.
Mayor of Waterbury O’Leary, Superintendent Ruffin, WBoE members and state-level governing bodies were appointed to these positions to be the stewards responsible for all Waterbury students. The investment of COVID-19 relief funds was to go directly to our students, educators, staff and programs – not property.
I mourn the students at Waterbury and the opportunities that will be missed because of this short-sighted and foolish decision. However, one thing I can assure the students, parents and authorities of Waterbury; RACCE will continue to fight for and advocate for underserved scholars in Brass City and the rest of Connecticut. And we’ll do it proudly in the open air, not in the middle of the night.
Robert Goodrich is Managing Director of Radical defenders of intercultural education.