Gov. Dannel P. Malloy toured the Roger Sherman Elementary School in Meriden Friday morning two days after announcing he’d found a way to hold municipalities harmless for the loss of federal stimulus money that had previously contributed to the state’s share of Education Cost Sharing grants.
Next week the governor is scheduled to unveil his budget plan and when that happens it is likely he will quickly become unpopular with a lot of people, but on Friday Malloy basked in the admiration of an appreciative school system.
Almost immediately after arriving, Malloy made a new friend in Jose Santos, 10, who was charged with introducing the governor to his school at an assembly. Jose took his job seriously and followed the governor throughout the school, introducing him to schoolmates and teachers and tagging along with reporters who attended the event.
After Jose stepped to the podium and prepped the school for what he anticipated would be an “astonishing speech” from the governor, Malloy told the third, fourth and fifth-graders he expected a lot from them.
“I can look at this audience and feel confident that you are ready to take on the challenges of not only growing up but growing up well and looking forward to a lifetime of learning and great employment and contributing back to your community,” he told the school.
Malloy lauded the school’s preschool program and the manners and hospitality he received from the young students he met there.
Inside that preschool classroom teacher Margaret Rarey and Principal Louise Moss watched as Malloy and House Speaker Chris Donovan interacted with the children.
Malloy told the school that he values education, especially early education, as one of the state’s highest priorities.
“There is nothing more important in the state of Connecticut than the acquisition early in life of reading skills and math skills, and in fact you, in this building, are proving something—that if we make sure that children are reading and performing math skills on grade level in third grade, they’re going to be successful students probably the rest of their lives,” he said.
Malloy took a little time to explain the concept of the state’s budget to the students. He noted that he had managed to keep funding to their school level for the next year.
Meriden School Board member Kevin Scarpati said the school system was looking at losing $7.6 million if the state had failed to hold it harmless. He said he was thankful to the governor for the funding because for two years they’ve been trying to figure out how they were going to close that budget gap.
Meeting Malloy was a great opportunity for Moss’ students, about 550, most of whom had never met a dignitary before.
“I thought he was very relatable and certainly they did understand what he said and it seems to me that they were excited to meet him and see him,” she said.
The decision not to cut education funding was a relief for her school and her district, Moss said. Last year the school was forced to cut two teaching positions and if funding dropped they were expecting to have to cut more, she said. Class sizes at Roger Sherman have been increasing throughout the economic down turn, especially in the higher grade levels, she said. Moss, who’s been the principal at the school for four years, said they have had to tighten their belts some but took the steady funding as a positive sign.
Following the assembly reporters lodged more questions at Malloy about how he had found funds to keep ECS funding steady, something governor seems to be getting tired of.
“This thing that people marvel at, that someone who ran for office on the basis of doing something is going to actually do it is not a comment about me, it’s a comment about how bad politics are in Connecticut,” he said.
After the governor left, the students at Roger Sherman dutifully began helping to put away chairs set up for the event and things seemed to be returning normal but Moss foresees a potential future in politics for at least one of her students.
The decision to have young Jose Santos introduce Malloy wasn’t an arbitrary one, Moss said. A month earlier when U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy visited the school, Jose marched up to the congressman and greeted him, Moss said.
“He went up to Chris Murphy and said, ‘Hi I’m Jose Santos and welcome to Roger Sherman School.’ He did that on his own and we thought he would be perfect to introduce the governor today,” she said.
When Jose was approached with the idea, he said he was afraid but also said he would have to get over that fear, Moss said. And by all accounts he did.