NORWALK, Conn. – There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the exit of Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Manny Rivera, State Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) said Saturday.
“I saw him the other day,” Duff said at the League of Women Voters of Norwalk’s Pie and Politics forum. “There are some things that he said publicly about why he left, and there is some things he didn’t say publicly about why he left. I think if the public had the full story they might change their tune a little.”
Duff was responding to a request made by Joe Giandurco, a social studies teacher who often attends Board of Education meetings and who is married to Councilwoman Shannon O’Toole Giandurco (R-District D).
Giandurco asked Duff and State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137) what the Democratic Party is planning to do about the BoE situation, referring to “negative and visceral attacks” from Democratic members that “fostered the resignation of probably the best superintendent we have ever had.”
Giandurco said he is in his 14th year as a Norwalk teacher and is on his seventh superintendent.
“It’s getting to the point that I can’t do my job, but I’ll be blamed by the community because I don’t have a leader to rely on,” Giandurco said.
Indeed, Norwalk superintendents have come and gone in this time period:
- Sal Corda 2001-2009
- Susan Marks 2010-2012
- Manny Rivera 2013-2014
There were interim superintendents as well, including Deputy Superintendent Tony Daddona and current interim James Connelly, according to Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large), a former BoE member.
Giandurco said it “took the air out of the balloon of the Norwalk Public Schools the minute (Rivera) resigned.” Norwalk “would be getting ECS funding if (Rivera) was here,” Giandurco said.
Perone said he could agree that the rhetoric needs to be dialed down, calling it a no-brainer.
Party politics are a “whole other conversation,” he said, as BoE members will be held accountable when the next election came around.
Duff came out of the box swinging. “It’s both sides,” he said. “It’s not just one side.”
Duff said that Rivera’s exit was a punch in the gut. The situation will not be helped by people taking cheap shots and attacking the mayor, he said.
“If it was acknowledged that there was probably fault on both sides I think we could move forward. Until we get to that point where we depoliticize this issue, we’re going to have a hard time moving forward,” Duff said.
Reached Sunday, BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said in an email, “If Bob can give a single example of behavior on the part of Dr. Rivera’s supporters that somehow contributed to his departure the way the publicly verifiable (in tapes on your website) behaviors of his three Board opposers did, I’d be happy to talk about it. Otherwise, his comment is just political cover for those who opposed Dr. Rivera and eventually made his life here miserable. Attempting to spread the blame to those who are blameless is a perfect example of politicizing the situation.”
Rivera could not be reached for comment, but he said at the time there was more to his decision than the racism charge, although that was a painful factor. “I’m not going to go down the road of bashing people or being critical of one, two, three, four or five individuals,” Rivera said. “I don’t think that that’s productive or useful. It’s not my style, it’s not how I operate.
“The other observation I made was, ‘Boy, the stakes are really in the ground here.’ I guess part of my concern, which made me think that Norwalk would be a difficult place to be long term, was that I didn’t see things changing,” Rivera said.
Asked by email about Duff’s assertion that Rivera had private reasons for leaving, Mayor Harry Rilling wrote, “I had several private conversations with Dr. Rivera after he announced his intention to take the position in New London. He shared some very personal reasons for his decision. I will not violate the confidence he placed in me. I was very disappointed that he left but respected his decision. We should now move forward to find a new superintendent who will implement the programs started by Dr. Rivera and begin implementing his or her vision.”