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.”