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Norwalk Board of Ed targets Haynie

Norwalk Board of Education member Sue Haynie speaks at Tuesday's meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – On the surface, it appeared to be an oddly passionate discussion about minutes, but there may have been something deeper going on at this week’s Board of Education meeting.

The inclusion of questions board member Sue Haynie asked of CREC (Capital Region Education Council) presenter Margaret MacDonald in the minutes of the Feb. 5 meeting – in list form – was regarded by Policy Chairman Steven Colarossi as an attempt to distort the meeting record, a flagrant violation of a new policy recently voted on by the board.

It offended other people, too. Norwalk Federation of Teacher President Bruce Mellion  the sole public speaker at the meeting, expressed “deep, deep, deep concern” about the egregious list.

“My understanding is those comments were never made publicly and it raises a series of questions – and they are very serious questions,” Mellion said. “Can any member at anytime choose to add something to the minutes? Can any member of the public choose to do the same? If they do are they limited by the amount they choose to add over a period of time? I have no historical knowledge of this ever occurring at any board meeting, and I have been here for a while. Is this consistent with the rules of operations of the board of ed?”

Mellion asked that the minutes be tabled until the rules were clarified, saying, “Once this goes down this road then it opens up a flood dam,” spurring Mayor Richard Moccia, an ex-officio member of the board, to nod vigorously.

The mayor had other interesting body language during the discussion. He put his hands on his temples briefly while Haynie defended herself and, at another point, sat back, frowning deeply with his hand over his mouth, for several minutes as Haynie spoke.

Haynie said she had asked the questions on the list. Colarossi said the minutes made it look like she had given a long speech; she had not.

“We have a rule,” Colarossi said. “The rule says the minutes record the actions that were taken. The public deserves to know that we are going to follow our rules, that we’re not going to make one exception for one member. We all do our homework, we all do analysis. Some of us come in with notes to read into the record, some of us don’t. Doesn’t make any of us less diligent or less concerned with the children of our city.”

Board member Migdalia Rivas protested the minutes, too, saying that she had asked far more questions than were represented in the brief paragraph that was included. (She had grilled MacDonald on topics including diagnostic codes.)

Board Chairman Mike Lyons said there was another problem with the minutes: His comments refuting claims made by public speaker John Mosby were not included.

The 22-minute discussion ended with Lyons suggestion that secretary Marilyn Knox “take another crack at the minutes.” Haynie agreed they should be reviewed.

Afterward, she said she thought board members had misunderstood what she had done.

“I went through the 51-page CREC report and read it before the meeting,” she said. “I was around for 2008, so I read the 92-page report for several times, too. I have two kids who are special ed. So I had questions that I wanted to ask.”

She handed Knox the questions. Knox included them all – which Haynie said wasn’t a bad thing.

“I think they need to be shortened, but I think they’re all valid questions,” she said.

Haynie was also targeted in another long discussion at the meeting regarding information requests of school administration from board members.

The information requests are “somewhat burdensome for staff,” Colarossi said. Board member Artie Kassimiss referred to the staff spending “10 hours in one day” on a request from a board member. Rivas said board members ask for information they easily could find with a little Internet surfing.

Haynie acknowledged that she was probably one of the board members that does that the most. “I know that under (former Superintendent Susan) Marks, she would say as a board member you should be asking questions,” she said, adding that the number of staff members is the same no as when Marks was in charge.

It was suggested that Lyons become a “traffic cop” for requests. He said he would write up a paragraph for the next meeting describing how that would work.

The meeting agenda included an executive session to discuss the performance of board members and of Interim Superintendent Tony Daddona.

Apparently, the board member in question was Haynie.

Colarossi made his feelings known on NorwalkSpeaks, an education blog, saying in one post, “I was not alone in asking for the executive session to discuss a member’s actions.”

In another post, he said, “First, the initial email by Ms. Haynie that prompted my request for review by the Board was one in which she accused the interim superintendent of endangering her and her family’s safety because he provided to all BoE members information which she had requested.”

So was the executive session about the email? That is unknown, but Haynie didn’t stay for the discussion.

After it was over, the board passed a motion to praise Daddona’s work and offer support for the implementation of his communication policy with BoE members, Colarossi said on NorwalkSpeaks.

He also said, “To those of you who would suggest that the Board of Education has far greater issues with which to contend, I would offer that you should be making that point to the Board member who has habitually expended her colleagues’ time and taxpayer funds not to advance educational objectives but to enshrine her colloquies.”

Lisa Brinton Thomson of the non-partisan education group Red Apples, who watched the meeting, had another take on it.

“There was an awful lot of discussion about what’s not going to be shared, about suppressing information,” she said. “That’s never a good thing.”

9 comments

oldtimer February 23, 2013 at 4:12 pm

While there may not be a legal requirement that minutes be verbatim record of everything said at a meeting, it would seem the public should be able to find both the questions any BoE member posed to anyone who made a presentation to the board, and the answers, at a public meeting.
For Mike Lyons, or anyone else, to decide what should be included in the minutes and what should be excluded, seems to fly in the face of a policy of transparency that the administration, including the BoE, claims to have adopted. The message the public gets is that the chair has assumed the authority to edit the minutes before they are released to the rest of the board and to the public. This is not unusual for chairmen, in the claimed interest of efficiency, but it usually turns out to be censorship of the information available to the public. If the stenographer is censoring the minutes for any reason, wether on her own initiative (doubtful), or at the direction of someone on the board (more likely), an inquiry should be made, at a public meeting, and the person responsible for the censoring identified. I have attended committee meeting where comments by the mayor, demonstrating his bad temper, were left out of the minutes, and I never doubted for a minute how that happened.

Original BARIN February 23, 2013 at 10:30 pm

@Oldtimer,
You hit the nail on the head.
Why can’t anyone say transparency and mean it, no more executive sessions, if you have to go hide that would be considered NOT transparent.
No more hiding behind closed doors, use sessions only for personal privacy issues, period.
Don’t throw Ms. Knox under the bus either, you folks are in charge.

Steve Colarossi February 24, 2013 at 7:05 am

1. Moving beyond a sensational headline (although kudos for its ability to grab my attention), the central point was not whether information should be suppressed (although that is a great spin). Quite to the contrary, the change to the Board’s policy about the minutes, which I drafted, specifically required that all handouts provided at a meeting be included in the minutes.
2. The written notes given to Ms. Knox were transcribed verbatim by her- there was no dispute that Ms. Haynie asked Ms. Knox to include her notes in the minutes. Marilyn Knox is invaluable for her note-keeping ability and an asset to the BoE- no one is faulting her for doing her job. The question was, however, is it proper for one member, acting after the meeting has adjourned, to direct that her notes be included in the minutes? I would suggest that it is not. The fact is that the policy regarding minutes provides members the opportunity to present written materials to the Board and the public at any meeting, at which time those materials would be included in the minutes as a handout.
3. If transparency is the concern, as it should be, then transparency would dictate that members not include items in the minutes after the meeting has closed but rather to do so in the manner prescribed by our rules.

LWitherspoon February 24, 2013 at 8:43 am

@Steve Colarossi
Thank you for clarifying the rules. Excluding the notes based on the fact that Ms. Haynie asked for their inclusion in the minutes after the meeting ended rather than before may comply with the rules, but it does seem like something of a technicality. Why couldn’t the board simply vote at the next meeting to add them to the minutes, noting that the board member forgot to ask for their inclusion prior to the meeting’s end?

oldtimer February 24, 2013 at 9:15 pm

If the presentation was made at a prior public meeting, to the entire BoE, and Ms Haynie asked questions of the presenter, and got answers, that should be in the minutes, both the questions and the answers. The fact that she gave the stenographer a copy of her questions, as a courtesy to make the stenographers job a little easier, is just that, a courtesy. Why is anybody making an issue out of a little courtesy to the stenographer ?

Sue Haynie February 25, 2013 at 12:22 am

SOUNDCLOUD AUDIO
BOE MEETING 2/5/13 CREC REPORT

Comments submitted by Sue Haynie as noted on Page 3 and 4, Board of Education Minutes, February 5, 2013 (not verbatim)

Bullet #1: Assistive Technology Comment-Spoken by Sue Haynie- Begins at time stamp 1.29.44

Bullet #2: Grant Funding Comment-Spoken by Sue Haynie- Begins at time stamp 1.49.10

Bullet #3: Learning Disabilities Comment-Spoken by Sue Haynie- Begins at time stamp 2.13.40

Bullet #4: Effective & Efficient Utilization/3 Factors Comment- Spoken by Peg McDonald- Begins at time stamp 40.45

Bullet #5 & #6: Culture & Inconsistencies Comment-Spoken by Sue Haynie-Begins at time stamp 54.30

Bullet #7: Decision-making Authority Comment- Spoken by Peg McDonald-Begins at time stamp 42.10

Bullet #8: Communication Comment-Spoken by Sue Haynie-Begins at time stamp 1.08.10

Audio version of the CREC Presentation on February 5, 2013, click this link:
https://soundcloud.com/lshaynie/boe-meeting-2-5-13-crec-report

Sue Haynie February 25, 2013 at 12:38 am

Some other interesting documentation and general information regarding the CREC Report presentation that may be of interest.

PowerPoint for 2/5/13 CREC presentation:
http://redapplesnorwalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/CREC-2012-POWER-POINT_PRESENTED-TO-BOE-FEB-5-2013.pdf

Audio for 2/5/13 CREC presentation:
https://soundcloud.com/lshaynie/boe-meeting-2-5-13-crec-report

Full Report CREC 2012:
http://portal.norwalkps.org/npsdepartments/speced/Documents/CREC%20SPECIAL%20ED%20REVIEW%20%20%20JULY%202012.pdf

Full Report CREC 2008:
http://redapplesnorwalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/crecreport.pdf

Peter I Berman February 25, 2013 at 12:20 pm

In a well functioning Board adhering to conventional rules of proper governance board members ought to bend over backwards to avoid publicly criticizing other Board members outside of duly constituted meetings. Especially in public blogs. Such behavior reduces confidence in the BOE.

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