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NFT files FOI complaint against Norwalk BoE

Norwalk Board of Education Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek leads the June 8 Committee meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Federation of Teachers has filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the Board of Education and its Finance Committee.

“Another unfortunate example of the NFT choosing antagonism and conflict over cooperation.  But that’s its new leadership’s approach,” BoE Chairman Mike Lyons said, declining further comment.

The complaint stems from the June 8 Finance Committee meeting, where Chairman Bryan Meek announced that he had “socialized” a list of possible cuts and reached a consensus with BoE members. It requests that the Freedom of Information Commission levy civil fines against Meek and Lyons, and the BoE itself, and suggests that all documents be released to the public before meetings.

NFT President Mary Yordon alleges three violations in the complaint mailed Thursday to the Freedom of Information Commission:

  • “The first violation involves the conduct of un-noticed, secret meetings by the circulation of a budget cut list among Board of Education members with the intention of gaining consensus for the cuts before they were introduced.”
  • “The second violation involves the conduct of un-noticed, secret meetings of the Board of Education’s Finance Committee by the circulation of the same budget cut list among Finance Committee members with the intention of gaining consensus for the cuts before they were introduced at the regularly-scheduled Finance Committee meeting of June 8, 2017.”
  • “The third violation involves a misleading Finance Committee Agenda which failed to disclose that specific budget cuts (that had been included on the ‘consensus’ cut-list document) which were to be voted on at the Finance Committee meeting of June 8, 2017.”

NancyOnNorwalk had already asked Lyons about a potential FOI violation with the “consensus” announced by Meek, before Yordon’s complaint was released to the media.

“There is a ‘consensus’ of the Finance Committee; the full Board hasn’t agreed on one,” Lyons wrote in an email. “The Board members were provided with a ‘master list’ of possible cuts by Dr. Adamowksi.  I asked Board members to send Bryan Meek, as Finance Committee chair, any suggestions they had in terms of those proposals (knowing we needed to hit around $2.3 million in cuts to balance the budget).  I believe most members did send him suggestions, and he included that feedback in his own recommendations to the Committee.  The lists differed, so there was no consensus on all cuts; it was just information gathering for the Committee.  I believe Bryan, in saying ‘consensus’, was referring to the recommendations that showed up on everyone’s individual lists.  So, no FOI issue that I can see.”

Meek did not immediately respond to an email.

On June 8, after the Committee meeting, he said, “We knew about the cuts a couple of weeks ago and I have been forging consensus.”

The Board is “85-95 percent in agreement,” he said.

Yordon quotes the June 9 NoN article in her complaint.

“No notice was provided to the public concerning the creation of the ‘cut-list’, its circulation among Board of Education Finance Committee members or the intention that consensus was being sought among the Finance Committee members,” the NFT complaint states. “Therefore, these meetings were conducted without proper notice to the public and violated the Freedom of Information Act.”

“Compounding the impropriety of the secret meetings that had been conduct among members of the Finance Committee and among members of the Board of Education is that the so-called ‘cut list’ was not made public prior to the start of the June 8th meeting and the public was denied any opportunity to address the Finance Committee at that June 8th meeting,” the complaint states, going on to assert that the circulation of a list constitutes a meeting, without proper notice to the public.

Although the list was not circulated, Pathways Academy at Briggs high school students were aware that their school was on the list of possible cuts. Students held a protest June 1 at City Hall, and some attended the June 8 Finance Committee meeting.

The agenda’s line item, “Review and approve recommendations relative to FY 2017-18 budget reconciliation” was inadequate, NFT states.

“At the time the agenda was published, the Finance Committee Chairperson did have a document which detailed specific line items to be cut, and information as to which of those possible cuts had been approved by its members.  Therefore, despite knowing the specific action he intended to undertake upon reaching the ‘reconciliation’ line item, the Chairperson refused to provide that detail on his agenda.  Consequently, the agenda failed to comply with the requirement that an agenda be published twenty-four hours before a meeting of a public agency.”

In addition to levying the “maximum allowable fine” as relief for the violations, NFT requests that the BoE be required to post all documents that have been provided to its members within 24 hours of that release, and at least 24 hours before BoE meetings begin.

It further requests that the BoE be “enjoined from distributing among themselves any document or communication which pertains to any matter within its jurisdiction unless such document is first posted on a publicly accessible website.”

FOIA complaint.meetings.agenda.NFTFINAL

17 comments

Al Bore June 16, 2017 at 7:47 am

Just one more way to take money away from the students and using my tax money defending another frivolous lawsuit for the benefit of the NFT pocketbook.

Concerned June 16, 2017 at 7:55 am

Doesn’t the NFT realize they are public enemy #1 right now? This is going to do nothing towards amassing support for their ridiculous stance on keeping their health insurance. Even better, more money will be spent responding to and fighting this claim.

If the matter wasn’t so serious, it would be funny at this point.

Alan June 16, 2017 at 12:19 pm

Once again the NFT is acting in it’s own interests rather than those of our students. It would useful to learn what services the NFT provides our City and Schools beyond negotiating pay and benefits. Perhaps the NFT contract could be posted on the City website so that citizens could be better informed. Transparency, Mr. Mayor?

Steve Colarossi June 16, 2017 at 12:25 pm

No, Al Bore. It is not frivolous to expect that the Committee evaluating possible budget cuts provide some public notice of what those cuts might be. In fact, it’s the law.

Secondly, given your understandable ire about wasted money, you might want to consider the following plums for largesse in the school department budget:
* an increase of more than $110,000 for “recruitment” (at a time when we’re laying off staff);
* an extra $301,000 in the budget for interns; $75,000 for “school reform” (which is what we are paying central office staff to do); and
* an additional $110,000 (which doesn’t include benefits) so that the Chief Communications Officer can hire an assistant and a secretary.

That doesn’t include giving one group free space in our schools with no rent so that they can operate a private preschool for 72 children. If that doesn’t frost you, consider this: the Superintendent signed a contract to pay this group’s expenses and to provide a grant of $194,300. So in addition to free space, they receive $355,586 from the City. Now, the preschool program that is run by the Board of Education has a net cost of $42,000 for 40 students. Finally, something the government does cheaper than the private sector and the bureaucrats figure out a way to flush the savings down the drain.

Waste, it appears, starts at the top.

Isabelle Hargrove June 16, 2017 at 1:16 pm

This is a shameful way to deflect attention from the union’s decision not to help Norwalk with skyrocketing benefit costs. Here lies the great divide; regular people have no choice but to share in the pain of escalating healthcare costs, but union members can just shrug it off and file a frivolous complaint against volunteers.

cc-rider June 16, 2017 at 1:27 pm

Steve- write a different article about waste in the budget then. It greatly reduces your argument when you change the topic.

A lot of people are having a hard time determining the difference between the insurance plans and reasons why to NOT switch when full well knowing **it is going to hit the fan if it doesn’t happen.

carol June 16, 2017 at 1:51 pm

wherere the parents during all this—-time for them to step up and tell the nft to grow up and stop using threats and harming our children with there demands.

Steve Colarossi June 16, 2017 at 4:36 pm

There really should be no argument on whether or not the public had a right to know the cuts that were considered by the Finance Committee. The law makes it abundantly clear that an agenda needs to give the public proper notice of what is being considered at a meeting.
It might not have made any difference, but the point of the law is to prevent any governmental body from hiding information from the public.
A fair process does matter- it’s important for questions to be asked of those making the decisions. Democracy works when honest information is shared before important decisions are made- not after the fact. Fighting to improve democracy isn’t going to hurt children- in the short-term and long-term, it will help them.

JMB June 16, 2017 at 4:59 pm

Not sure who is up for reelection this year but I have no intention of voting for them. And if I’m a teacher, I take a more active role. The whole damn system needs to be taken apart and put back together. And until that happens, I don’t believe anyone who says they’re putting the kids first.

Debora Goldstein June 16, 2017 at 5:04 pm

Does the BOE have its own counsel, or are we going to have the issue of whether the BOE can utilize Corporation Counsel for an FOI matter (again).

Patrick Cooper June 16, 2017 at 5:38 pm

@Steve Colarossi, regarding your reply to Al Bore, among others, you really think every reader of Non is an idiot? It’s time to take you to school.

Let’s do a little math here, provided these facts straight from the Norwalk Budget:

* For 2017-2018, the approved education budget is $176,150,073, of which 94% is funded by Norwalk Taxpayers. Of this, $112,440,768 is for “personnel services” (salaries & benefits), which is 63.8% of the total education expenditures.
* This represents 52.1% of our entire city budget, and when you add in the additional allowances (24 million), it’s 59.3% of every dollar spent.
* The budget is increasing by 10.1 million (3.1%) this year, of which 4,562,216 is tied to education, and another 1,749,053 is employee BENEFITS (a 5.8% increase in one year), so these two specific line items represent 62.5% of the total INCREASE.
* Looking back, the education budget has increased about 5 million per year (each year) over the past 3-4 years, virtually ALL of this increase attributable to the “personnel services”. Yea, we sure hate our administrators and teachers.

So the BOE has to figure out how to budget against these increases, while dealing with a below average school performance (let’s be fair), need’s unmet certainly during your time on that board (SPED – thanks for that), and a growing New-to-Norwalk (in many cases new to the USA) number of students, with commensurate service needs. The SPED allotments and the capital budgets reflect that sober reflection that it’s now, or that’s it’s never going to be better than horrible.

Well Norwalk is sure growing, right? All that shiny new development, all that big-box retail, all those apartments, surely our tax revenues should be growing from a fatter grand list, right? Again, right from the Norwalk Budget:

* Looking back at 16-17, the Grand list grew by 1.5%. The largest increase in 4 years. Yea!
* Problem is – our budget increased by 3.1% (see above), so to get this to balance, we needed to pass a small mill rate increase of .5% on to the backs of the taxpayers to make up the difference.
* In fact – let’s compare those two items over the past 4 years (out of the grand recession of 2008-2012).
* The grand list growth was 0% (13-14), -7.7% (14-15), .7% (15-16), and this past 1.5% (16-17) – for a four-year total of – minus 5.5%. Right. MINUS. FACT: Our Grand List today is lower than it was in 2009-2010. Go look.
* Meanwhile, our mill rate over the same time-period has gone from 22.19 (13-14) to 25.50 (16-17). That’s PLUS 12.9%.

These are the facts. Costs for the Town of Norwalk are increasing – with a huge percentage of that due to education, with the largest part of that Salaries & Benefits – and my guess is the largest part of that is BENEFITS.

Steve – your pet projects listed total $596,000, which is .003% (3 tenths of 1%) of the education budget. Are you serious? […]

The bottom line is this: our town spends its taxpayer money largely on education (even those without children – for those of you who decry “socialism”). The largest part of that expenditure is Salaries and Benefits, and that part is spiraling north faster than the towns revenues. The largest body – presided over by the NFT, is trying to redirect the populace using a specious proxy (who is only 100% biased because he has a wife who is an employee), towards the evil white haired man on the board, and his nefarious budget underling, who is less than “Meek” when it comes to knowing his numbers (those are FACTS Steve). It is long past time that the Norwalk taxpayers get their heads out of their buster-browns, learn the facts (available in 10 minutes through google), and start to LOUDLY demand two activities out of our town government: 1. Grow the damn Grand List, and 2. Stop capitulating to public union extortion.

As for a final point, I don’t dislike nor care to bash the Teachers. Nor do any of the folks I know, nor do most every one of the commenters here on NoN. It is their bargaining leaders, the union itself – that is the problem. The union cares about the UNION, clearly – but they do not care about their members, nor do they care about the kids. I love how you are so derisive of the “for profit” elements that god forbid might take ½ of a cent out of the unions dollar, but explain to me when the NFT was given the distinction of being a 501c3.

Mike drop.
Editor’s note: This comment was edited to remove name calling, which is against the comments policy

Steve Colarossi June 16, 2017 at 7:33 pm

Patrick,
You didn’t once address the issue of why you don’t have a problem with the BOE withholding information from the public.
As for your detail regarding the apportionment of salary to benefits to expenses, that breakdown is courtesy of the Board of Education who negotiated the last contract.
But, as long as many are given someone to blame for some perceived unfairness in their lives, they will overlook much else. And, this Board of Education, although not providing us transparency, has given many enough bread and circuses to obfuscate the largesse of the central office.

Isabelle Hargrove June 16, 2017 at 9:39 pm

Mr. Copper, bravo! Hopefully, you will have a bright future in public service. Norwalk needs you, badly…

Sue Haynie June 17, 2017 at 6:42 am

@Patrick Cooper, spot on.

Your quote worth repeating, “As for a final point, I don’t dislike nor care to bash the Teachers. Nor do any of the folks I know, nor do most every one of the commenters here on NoN. It is their bargaining leaders, the union itself – that is the problem.”

The union itself, that is the problem. The NFT’s job is to negotiate and advocate for their members.

They do not negotiate the rights or needs of students (or parents or taxpayers).

The NFT negotiates contractually for salary, benefits, work rules and employee terms that are beneficial to their members and their members alone.

That’s the problem. Students and their parents do not have equally powerful contractual protections tenaciously scrutinized and enforced by paid advocates.

If public school parents had a union or equal power, we’d have not had an achievement gap at the level its at for the last 40+ years.

Really?! June 19, 2017 at 9:28 am

@SueHaynie

“If public school parents had a union or equal power, we’d have not had an achievement gap at the level its at for the last 40+ years.”

If you seriously believe that then you need to delete your account.

Donna June 19, 2017 at 11:07 am

@Really?!, “delete your account” is an online insult. And it’s inappropriate in the comments section of NoN.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

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Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.