NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Democrats on Monday elected a replacement for departed Board of Education member Yvel Crevecoeur, stirring racial concerns.
Although Julie Corbett has professional education credentials, as did Crevecoeur, her election by District A members created an all-white Board of Education.
“I think this is a sad day for Norwalk. Sad. All-white BoE. Sad. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. This is a diverse community. What is diverse by having an all-white BoE?” Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams asked.
“Your point is well taken. I am equally concerned about what you just expressed. I think all of us in this room are,” Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho said in response, urging Democrats to mobilize so this doesn’t happen in two years, with the next municipal election.
Crevecoeur, who was born in Haiti, resigned recently, citing health reasons. He holds a Ph.D. in Special Education from UConn; Corbett holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA)from the University of Delaware and is president and founder of Corbett Education Consulting LLC, specializing in school and district education reform and turnaround strategies with clients throughout the country.
The Board had three black members a month ago, but Crevecoeur left, Sherelle Harris did not run for reelection and Shirley Mosby was not endorsed by the DTC for reelection. Mosby ran as a Working Families Party candidate and fell far short of other candidates at the polls.
“You’re telling me that they could not find a minority to take a Yvel’s place?” Penn-Williams asked. “Very, very sad. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
Corbett was the only candidate nominated by District A. Common Council member Eloisa Melendez nominated Corbett, and District A Chairman Broderick Sawyer seconded the nomination, through a proxy.
Camacho formally asked if there were other candidates; none were brought forward.
Penn-Williams said she had asked what the DTC feels qualifies a candidate for the Board of Education.
“I haven’t found the right answer yet,” she said. “What is a qualified person? Your skin color qualifies you? This is really, really sad. Sad. And I love being a Democrat. I don’t want you people in here I think I’m racist because I am not but fair is fair. And I am not saying black person should’ve had it, maybe Hispanic. But a minority should’ve gotten it and it’s a shame, it is really a shame everybody should go home and look at themselves…. What qualifies an all-white board to tell my grandchildren how they should learn?”
Her comments received biracial applause from a minority of DTC members.
Camacho said qualifications are complicated.
“The fact of the matter is we need people to step forward, we need people of color,” Camacho said. “We need people, Latinos and African Americans, to step forward who are willing to serve and who are willing to do the hard work that it takes to be a constructive member of the Board of Education, of the City Council, of the governance of the city.”
Democrats have a duty to fan out across the city and find people, so that in two years there’s a crop of people of color ready to run for the Board of Education, he said.
“If we are committed to it, we will see it happen,” Camacho said. “So, I agree with you and I agree with the sentiments but it has been difficult, it is has been a challenge to find people willing to step up to serve on any of the Commissions and Boards, and for that matter the Common Council. It is a lot of work, there is a lot of time involved, but it’s a mistake to take away from this that we are not committed as a party to achieving the very thing that you discussed because that is important.”
Mike Mushak tied the problem to the charter revision that failed a year ago.
One of the questions involved more pay for Council members, so that people who need a babysitter could serve, but minority Democrats told people not to vote for it, he said.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B) said.
“I know what I heard,” Mushak said. “(Council member Travis Simms) was telling people to vote no on charter reform.”
“Is that wrong?” Simms asked.
Camacho shut that down. “I would hate for all of this to take away from Ms. Corbett who has been newly elected to the ‘Board of Ed,’” he said.
Corbett agreed after the meeting that Board diversity an issue. She consults nationally and if she came in and saw an all-white Board of Education in a city with the diversity of Norwalk, she’d have concerns and questions, she said.
“That said, I think it was far beyond me and this seat,” Corbett said, referring to Crevecoeur’s resignation just a month ago and the timing of needing a replacement.
“The Board may not be the most racially or ethnically diverse but there is diversity within the Board members,” Corbett said. “So, I think, one, we need to recognize that that the Board does have some diversity but I also think we need to recognize that this is a bigger issue than just the Board of Education as well. This is a city-wide issue in representation and community engagement. So need to work as a party and across party lines to figure out what barriers are to getting anyone involved in politics and serving the community … We need to think about 2019 now. We need to start thinking years in advance, not three weeks before an election.”
Melendez introduced the nominee as Julie Corbett Chavez; Corbett is Corbett Chavez on a personal Facebook page but is Corbett on her professional website.