NORWALK, Conn. — The battle between West Rocks Middle School Principal Lynne Moore and the Norwalk Board of Education has continued, under the radar screen.
More than a year ago, Moore filed a grievance challenging a reprimand she received from Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski. A Board of Education committee upheld the reprimand but an arbitrator in February asked that it be rewritten. Moore and the Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) subsequently appealed the arbitration award in Stamford Superior Court.
No one has mentioned this to NancyOnNorwalk. A Sunday search of the state judicial website turned up the case, which dates to March.
The arbitrator in February ruled that Adamowski’s reprimand did not violate NASA’s collective bargaining agreement, but did violate the contract by including “warnings or unsupported conclusions” not related to the March 28, 2016, West Rocks parent meeting that resulted in Moore being accused of insubordination.
Adamowksi was ordered to rewrite the letter; Moore and NASA claim that the resultant document is unacceptable, alleging, in part, that the arbitrator’s award is invalid because the arbitrator did not retain the power to approve the revised letter.
The grievance stems from the middle school redesign effort, which the Board has since declared a success in improving student achievement.
Adamowski in January 2016 announced the redesign, linking it to a projected $745,000 cut in the school budget, and created a redesign committee which included Moore and other school principals, the NASA complaint states, explaining that the coverage of the redesign by the press prompted “a flood of questions from parents.”
Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo advised Moore not to discuss the redesign at the rumored March meeting without providing a reason, but did not say the meeting could not be held, the complaint states, going on to say that Moore “inadvertently” included a discussion item for middle school redesign on the notice sent to parents, calling this an “oversight.”
“Neither Dr. Moore nor any other middle school principal had ever been told that they could not discuss middle school redesign, particularly with their parents and School Governance Councils,” NASA lawyers state.
Board member Bryan Meek learned about the meeting and emailed then-Chairman Mike Lyons, Heidi Keyes, Artie Kassimis and Mike Barbis, writing, “WTF. How can she hold this before the [middle school redesign] committee has even met? Or am I missing something? Sounds like subterfuge if you ask me.”
“Sounds like Lynne plans to rile up the parents to fight the redesign,” Lyons subsequently wrote to Adamowski.
Lyons wrote to Adamowski, Costanzo and then-Norwalk Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Michael Conner:
“Well, one of two things needs to happen here. First (preferable) is to tell Moore to cancel the meeting and that she is not to be presenting anything to the community on middle school design until the [Central Office] determines we’re ready to do so. Second (less preferable … ) is to have [Central Office] staff there to answer questions and attempt to neutralize the craziness (hard to do when we don’t have an agreed plan yet).”
NASA’s lawyers assert that Moore didn’t discuss the redesign at the subsequent meeting but handed out news articles and introduced Costanzo and Conner, resulting in an hour and a half of back and forth between the administrators and the parents, although Moore hadn’t expected their presence.
Adamowski’s reprimand said that Moore had been told not to discuss the redesign but had the meeting anyway, placing “a negative, disparaging light on virtually every District change and improvement initiative.”
“Any further instances of insubordination and/or undermining district directives, including intimidation of staff who support District initiatives, will result in suspension … [and] reassignment,” Adamowski wrote. “… This letter of reprimand and warning is being placed in your personnel file.”
NASA went on to protest that the resultant grievance was heard by a three-member committee, not the full Board.
“There is no provision in the collective bargaining agreement permitting the Board to designate a segment of itself (not even a quorum) to hear a grievance or to issue a decision on behalf of the full Board,” NASA attorneys John Gesmonde and Meghan Murphy state in their complaint.
“The arbitrator recognized, and then bewilderingly dismissed, the fact that a committee of only three of the nine Board of Education members heard the grievance,” they wrote. “… The arbitrator reasoned that there was no evidence put forth that, in designating one-third of itself to hear a grievance, the Board was in violation of its bylaws.”
“Further troubling and prejudicial, and which the arbitrator acknowledged as such, was that two of the three Board members who were put on the three-member committee that heard the grievance had exchanged emails prior to the Board level grievance hearing indicating bias against Dr. Moore,” they wrote. “…Dr. Moore was not afforded due process in this matter because the defendants failed to exercise fundamental fairness and reasonableness as above set forth.”
“It also should not be overlooked that those Board members and the Superintendent decided not to exercise a different option (an option which they considered in that infamous email exchange, attached hereto as Exhibit F) – the last clear chance, if you will – to avoid everything by simply directing Dr. Moore to cancel the meeting altogether or to make arrangements for the parental questions to be heard and answered in a Board of Education forum,” they wrote. “Instead, they decided, without informing Dr. Moore, to send two Central Office administrators to observe her and answer parental questions if asked, and further decided not to tell her that, by her going forward, she was being insubordinate.”
Attorneys Peter Murphy and Melika Forbes of Shipman & Goodwin responded for the Board.
“The facts of this case are essentially undisputed: Dr. Lynne Moore (‘Dr. Moore’) engaged in insubordinate conduct when she discussed middle school redesign at a March 28, 2016 meeting with parents, although instructed not to do so previously,” they wrote, going on to make legal arguments regarding the court’s discretion to vacate an arbitrators award, stating, “Our Supreme Court cautioned that ‘[i]n the absence of a showing of a violation of the statute, the courts should not interfere in the arbitral decision.’”
“The Arbitrator found that ‘[t]here is nothing in [the] record to support’” NASA’s contention that ‘Board of Education” referred to in its contract refers to the entire Board,” they wrote, with no evidence submitted to show a past practice of the entire Board deciding a grievance.”
The arbitrator “afforded Dr. Moore a clean slate in arbitration” by using the Board committee’s decision as simply procedural compliance and giving Moore “an opportunity to present her grievance at arbitration in effect in a de novo hearing,” they wrote.
NASA’s attorneys replied that the arbitrator “ignored his obligation to ensure Dr. Moore’s right to the full grievance process, including procedural fairness, prior to arbitration, and instead dispensed with it.”
“The arbitrator stated that the arbitration hearing before him would be a ‘fresh start’ (but for whom?), seemingly in avoidance of getting to ‘No’ to the question of whether or not the grievant was afforded procedural and substantive due process,” they wrote.
The arbitrator’s award ordered that Adamowski re-issue his April 20, 2016 letter of reprimand to be consistent with the arbitrator’s findings.
“Dr. Adamowski is free to use wording of his choosing so long as it follows the above [findings] and contains no extraneous verbiage referencing, implicitly or explicitly, facts outside of the March 28, 2016 insubordination,” the arbitrator wrote.
Adamowski’s revised letter refers to incidents “occurring as far back as 8 years ago, none of which directly (or indirectly) could be associated with what occurred at the March 28, 2016 meeting,” Gesmonde and Murphy wrote.
Adamowksi also retained the word “warning,” and, “In fact, the superintendent went one step farther and added the word ‘final’ before ‘warning,’” they wrote.
According to the court documents, the letter was revised thusly (with new passages in bold):
Dear Dr. Moore:
I am writing as follow-up to our meeting of March 29, 2016, to summarize and respond to your most recent incident of insubordination
and lack of cooperation in carrying out District’s instructional improvement initiatives.
You scheduled a parent meeting on March 28, 2016, the flyer for which advertised an information session on middle school redesign. On March 24, 2016 you were personally advised by your supervisor, Frank Costanzo, not to hold a discussion of middle school redesign since the Middle School Redesign Committee (of which you are a member) had not met yet or developed any plans. The Committee has been charged with holding information sessions for parents at each middle school in the fall once decisions have been reached on which schools would pilot various programs and/or practices. After agreeing to follow Mr. Costanzo’s directive, you held the meeting anyway.
According to Mr. Costanzo and Dr. Conner, at this meeting you placed a negative, disparaging light on virtually every District change and improvement initiative: Middle School Redesign, the School Governance Council Policy under consideration by the Board of Education, the School Intervention Process as presented to the Board in a Workshop Session, Student Based Budgeting as well as aspects of the Draft Strategic Operating Plan. There was no information presented by you on how West Rocks would improve its “Focus School” status in the CSDE Next Generation Accountability Report. By your words and conduct, you discussed Middle School Redesign at that meeting in contravention of the clear directive you received from Dr. Costanzo, and in so doing, you engaged in insubordination. It was reported to me that parents left this meeting tense and confused.
This incident follows a disturbing pattern of behavior documented in prior letters of reprimand to you by former Superintendents Manuel Rivera and Salvatore Corda, and former Assistant Superintendent Anthony Daddona.
I am advising you that you are not to engage in disregard of instructions given to you by your supervisor, Mr. Costanzo. You may appeal his instructions to me if you are unclear or in disagreement. Beyond that, you are expected to follow all instructions and directives.
Moreover, you are not to engage in activities and actions that undermine the District’s efforts to bring about instructional improvements and improved outcomes for students .
Relative to your professional practice as the leader of West Rocks Middle School, you are also directed regarding the following:
You are to refrain from sending electronic messages received from Mr. Costanzo, Dr. Conner and/or myself to other individuals for whom they are not intended.
Given your school’s status as a Focus School you are required to attend the Turnaround Principal Program offered by LEAD Connecticut this summer. Mr.Costanzo will provide you with details.
You are to participate in a mediation session with your Supervisor, Mr. Costanzo, to establish norms for a professional and mutually supportive working relationship. I will provide you with information on selecting a mediator.
Any further instances of insubordination
and/or undermining district objectives, including intimidation of staff who support District initiatives, will result in suspension from your duties. Continued lack of acceptable professional practice in your current assignment shall result in your reassignment from the position of Principal of West Rocks Middle School pending Mr. Costanzo’s recommendation and evaluation of your performance.
This letter of reprimand and final warning is being placed in your personnel file. Please contact me if you have any questions regarding expectations and norms for the discharge of your duties.
“The award failed to provide any recourse – and the arbitrator failed to retain jurisdiction – in the event that the superintendent’s revised letter did not comply with the requirements of the arbitrator’s award,” Gesmonde and Murphy wrote. “…It has been held that if an award requires more than a ministerial act by the parties to implement it, or if it leaves a specific remedy to the judgment of one of the parties, the award is indefinite and should be vacated in its entirety.”
A hearing is scheduled for Dec. 11.