Candidates for Danbury Mayor Offer Differing Views on Charter Schools, Transparency and the Career Academy

Credit: Robin Breeding


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The two candidates for Danbury mayor are on opposite sides of many of the issues facing the city’s schools.

Democrat Roberto Alves, who is challenging Republican Mayor Dean Esposito for a second time, was highly critical of Esposito in an interview with CT Examiner, claiming the administration is neither open, transparent nor honest.

Esposito, for his part, fought back claiming that he’d heard it all before from Alves, who, he said, offers bluster but nothing to back it up.

Alves, a 39-year-old technical sales engineer and treasurer of the state Democratic Party, said: “We’ve had 22 years of excuses. They throw their hands up in the air when things don’t work out and blame somebody else.” Alves was referring to the string of 22 years in the city of Republican mayoral rule; Esposito is seeking his second two-year term.

“They’ve kicked the can down the road and now the chickens are coming home to roost,” Alves said.

Alves, who served on the City Council from 2019-2021, and lost by less than 300 votes in his run against Esposito in 2021, said the current administration hasn’t been forthright and transparent about the costs of the two buildings for the Career Academy. Alves also claims that, because the Board of Education is asking for more money to close a budget gap and avoid teacher layoffs, Esposito is not sincere about his claims that the Board of Education was fully funded to the tune of about $150 million.

“They are not being honest to the claim that the schools are fully funded,” said Alves, who promises to meet with all stakeholders and attend community forums and town halls.

Esposito, who previously served five terms as a city councilman, countered that his administration is open and transparent with everyone, and that he meets often with stakeholders.

“I’ve heard that before from him,” Esposito said of the claims by Alves. “It kind of boggles my mind because we are one of the most open and transparent administrations we’ve had in the city. His comments are unfounded but, you know, they are coming from a desperate candidate who is trying to come up with something.”

The city’s schools are fully funded, said Esposito, and the process of building the Career Academy, at a cost of about $164 million, has been transparent. The new school will house about 1,100 high school and about 300 middle school students 

Danbury has 18 schools – including the largest public high school in the state, the flagship Danbury High School, and about 70 percent minority enrollment.

Esposito said the new Career Academy is his number one priority. The school will feature a curriculum offering alternative educational opportunities to a preparing for a college degree.

Esposito said that because the Career Academy will be opened on repurposed city-owned property, the taxpayers would save “millions of dollars.”

“The curriculum we are going to bring to the Career Academy is a whole new concept. It gets everybody involved in furthering the growth of the students and gives them an opportunity to get a job out of school and to move forward,” said Esposito, who said the city is patterning the academy after a school in Nashville, Tennessee.

Alves said he also supports the Career Academy but if elected, open one his top priorities would be to strengthen partnerships between the city’s schools and the college system in the city – most notably Western Connecticut State University and the Danbury campus of Naugatuck Valley Community College.

“I envision a synergy between us [the city’s schools], WestConn and the Naugatuck Valley chapter whereby they offer temporary degree programs for high school students, where they can get some kind of college credits here, and not just our AP students.” Alves said. “We want to give them [students] exposure to both academia after high school and the trades. They can make real good money as electricians and plumbers.”

While both candidates expressed openness to the idea of opening a charter school in Danbury, Alves said he like to focus on the city’s public schools first.

To the disappointment of Esposito, and many other local Republican leaders, plans to open a charter school in the city have been on hold for years. And even though the state Department of Education has approved a charter school for the city, Danbury’s state delegation has opposed the school, which requires the assent of the legislature. No charter school has opened in the state since 2015.

The 63-year-old Esposito, who lives near Danbury Hospital and was born and raised in the city, said that  he’s made “it perfectly clear from Day one that I think a charter school would be a complete asset to the city of Danbury. Unfortunately, it is being held up by politics from the local delegation, in my opinion.”

Connecticut is the only state in the country that requires legislative approval in the creation of charter schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter School.

Esposito said he’d like to nix the requirement for legislative sign off, saying, “It seems to be working everywhere else.”

Alves said he’s “open” to a charter school in the city, but first wants to try and address the challenges facing parents, teachers and students through the public schools.

“I’ve been the first to say to the charter school advocates that if it doesn’t work, then, absolutely, we should look at any and all options, including charter schools,” said Alves, who currently has two small children in the city’s public school system. “Public schools are so important and we need to actually help out our public schools first.”

There are about 12,110 students enrolled in the city schools.

According to data published by the state, Danbury schools are largely on par with state averages. Chronic absenteeism is 23.7 percent for the city, compared to a statewide average of 23.5 percent. The numbers are also similar for eligibility for free and reduced-price meals at 48.3 percent compared to the statewide average of 42.4 percent.

But 34.5 percent of Danbury students are English language learners, compared to 10 percent statewide.

Both candidates agree that the city’s ethnic diversity is a benefit.

“It tells me we are a diverse community with tremendous opportunity,” Alves said. “If we educate our students and actually invest in what they could be, you’d get people like business owners, political representatives and leaders in industry.”

But Esposito said he’d like to see the school district manage its finances better.

“I think there has to be tighter oversight,” Esposito said. “I’m not pointing fingers at anyone and I’m not saying anyone did anything bad with the money, but I just think it could be managed better.”

Both candidates spoke in favor of a possible systemwide audit of the school district.

“We need a review of the money and that may mean an audit,” Esposito said.

Alves said, if elected mayor, he’d “sit down with the auditors and ask real questions because the city of Danbury was two years late on their last audit.”

Alves also said a big concern for him is the ratio between guidance counselors and students. “At Westside Middle School Academy the ratio is about 350 students to one guidance counselor; it should be more like in the 250 range. It’s an important issue because we really have to help our children where they need it most.”

Esposito said he’s a big believer in meeting with everyone in the education community that can better the lives of students.

Esposito said he meets with Superintendent Kevin Walston “quite often;” meets with union officials representing various teacher and education entities at least quarterly and has frequent meetings with teachers. Esposito said he meets everyday with parents when he travels throughout the city and, when there are specific issues of concern, will meet on those items with “two or three teachers at a time.”

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950