Longtime Norwalk school board member dies unexpectedly

Photo of Emily Morgan
Candidates for Norwalk's Board of Education including incumbent Mike Barbis debate a number of topics, including racial disparity in the district, Tuesday, October 29, 2019, at Grace Baptist Church in Norwalk, Conn. The debate was hosted by CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut).

Candidates for Norwalk's Board of Education including incumbent Mike Barbis debate a number of topics, including racial disparity in the district, Tuesday, October 29, 2019, at Grace Baptist Church in Norwalk, Conn. The debate was hosted by CONECT (Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut).

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

NORWALK — The city’s public schools announced on Wednesday that longtime school board member Mike Barbis died unexpectedly.

“Mike was a passionate and knowledgeable advocate for Norwalk students and schools,” Norwalk Public Schools posted on its Facebook page.

Barbis had served on the Board of Education since 2011 and served as chairman of the board from 2017 to 2019. During his tenure, he also served as chair of the finance committee, negotiations and personnel committee, and facilities committee. As a member of the facilities committee, Barbis oversaw new construction and renovation plans still underway in the school district.

He was an active parent volunteer at Brien McMahon and was a community volunteer in the Rowayton neighborhood. He also was a commissioner for the sixth taxing district in the city.

Many more paid tribute to Barbis on social media, praising his advocacy and dedication to Norwalk Public Schools. Local Republicans called Barbis’ death “a shocking day for Norwalk.” The Democrats remembered him for being outspoken, driven, and never wavering from standing up for what he believed in.

“Mike dedicated a lot of his life to the City of Norwalk, the students of Norwalk, and did everything he could to try to make the public school system the best in the state,” Mayor Harry Rilling said on the city’s Facebook page. “We have made great strides during his time on the Board.”

Heidi Keyes served on the school board with Barbis for eight years and called him not only a fellow board member, but a friend who she will truly miss.

“He was completely dedicated to serving the best interests of all students. He was always trying to do what was best for kids and their families,” Keyes said. “Norwalk lost a great public servant.”

Jessica Garnett, who serves as an administrator for the Norwalk Parents for Education Facebook page, said she first met Barbis years ago at a “how to run for office” seminar hosted by the Norwalk Democrats. They started chatting and became good friends. She appreciated his insight on how the Board of Education, common council, and city officials all operated.

“Being an administrator of the Norwalk Parents page, he was a huge help on all things related to NPS,” Garnett said. “Mike deserves to be remembered for all the time he dedicated to the NPS system. I don’t know anyone who had as much energy as Mike and so selflessly gave his time to his community.”

Funeral arrangements and a memorial service for Barbis are being arranged, according to the school district.

emily.morgan@hearstmediact.com