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Norwalk BoE defends Costanzo

Norwalk Public Schools Chief of School Operations Frank Costanzo. (File photo)

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalkers are reacting to the news that the New Haven Board of Education spent $150,000 on a legal settlement involving Frank Costanzo, now Norwalk Public Schools Chief of School Operations.

The New Haven Register on Friday published a story offering that dollar figure, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, and quoting New Haven Board of Education President Darnell Goldson as saying, “I am never comfortable when the Board of Education has to pay money from kids’ education to pay for lawsuits as a result of wrongdoing by employees or others of the New Haven Public Schools.”

“They are saying he was sexually harassing,” Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams said Friday. “That doesn’t look good. He should not be employed by the Norwalk Public Schools.”

The Norwalk Board of Education “first heard of the lawsuit when it was filed in 2017 (well after we had hired Mr. Costanzo in 2015),” BoE Chairman Mike Barbis wrote Friday, later releasing a statement lauding Costanzo’s performance for Norwalk Public Schools.

Goldson declined to comment to NancyOnNorwalk. NHPS Chief Operating Officer William Clark did not immediately respond to a Monday afternoon email from NancyOnNorwalk, requesting the settlement documents.

“The settlement agreement expressly states that there is no admission of any wrongdoing,” Attorney Jeff Bagnell, representing Costanzo, wrote to NoN on Monday. “The parties also expressly agreed that neither would disparage the other.   No jury ever heard the full facts of the case, though I would have preferred that.   I would caution against any further, post-settlement attempts by third parties to disparage my client.  It is time for everyone to move on.”

Costanzo was accused of sexually harassing a New Haven Public Schools employee while he was an administrator there.  Costanzo came to work in Norwalk in September 2015; the incidents described in court papers are alleged to have happened in 2014.  Plaintiff Chanel Renee Rice filed the suit in March 2017.

Penn-Williams has been decrying Costanzo’s presence in Norwalk Public Schools for months, in September asking Board members, “What are we teaching and modeling for our children?”

Connecticut Association of School Administrators (CASA) Chairman Tony Ditrio has also blasted Costanzo, pointing out in multiple conversations with NancyOnNorwalk that Rice, in court documents, quotes Costanzo as saying he couldn’t remember what happened at a Christmas party because he had been inebriated.

Barbis on Friday wrote:

“I have not heard directly from any parents or community members about concerns regarding this settlement in New Haven although I am aware that there are social media postings about it.

“There was no finding or admission of any improper activity in the case (this was a settlement with no admission of the allegations).

“Of course, ‎this lawsuit had nothing to do with the Norwalk Board of Education and the settlement was exclusively with the New Haven BOE. We had nothing to do with it.

“Mr. Costanzo’s record in Norwalk has been exemplary and there have been no allegations against him here.”

 

 

The story was posted on the Facebook page Norwalk Parents for Education.

“This is disgusting,” one woman wrote. “How can he have a position at this level with these allegations against him? Anyone in an upper management position should be held to much higher standards. Why does he have a job with children?”

“I’m not sure why this would be news to anyone. This has been known for years. Norwalk willingly and knowingly hired him knowing this lawsuit and the allegations surrounding him,” another wrote.

“Please, education officials are subjected to some extremely difficult situations with students, parents and peers,” a man wrote. “If I have learned anything about public schools, politics and moneyed families have ridiculous influence over public school districts with limited funds to defend themselves legally. In some cases, wealthy families with special needs children hold entire school districts hostage with legal actions. Don’t assume a good educational professional is tainted based on a quick and inexpensive settlement to aggressive and potentially frivolous lawsuits.”

While Barbis said the Board of Education didn’t know about Costanzo’s New Haven problems when he was hired, Ditrio has said Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski did.

Ditrio, in a Monday email to NancyOnNorwalk, wrote:

“I was part of the interview committee for Chief of School operations when Frank interviewed. Dr. Adamowski made many statements that indicated he was very familiar with Frank and his work in New Haven.  I would find it hard to believe that he did not know about something that was an open story in New Haven.  Did he deny knowing about Frank before he hired him?  In my opinion knowing about this would actually make him more attractive to Adamowski.  Frank was in desperate need of a new position and desperate people will do whatever they are told to keep their job.”

 

He added, “It is also true that he definitely knew about it when he renewed his contract and put him in a place to be Super when he leaves.  Sad to think that is what Norwalk has become.”

Adamowski, in a statement, said:

“Dr. Costanzo was not ‘desperate’ for another job.  He was recruited by me along with several other outstanding administrators that I had worked with, knew about, or who were recommended by others I respected.  I became aware of Frank’s work when I was special master of Windham. The Windham High School redesign was based in part on the widely known success of Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School in New Haven, where Frank was the principal. A delegation of Windham staff visited his school on several occasions, and Frank served as a consultant on the design specs for the new humanities academy in Windham. During that time, I became aware that Frank’s school had the highest graduation rate of any New Haven School (93%), and that New Haven Superintendent Garth Harries was also utilizing Frank to coach other principals.

“Ironically, during the interview process in Norwalk, Mr. Ditrio favored Frank. He felt the other strong candidate would be more rigorous in terms of principal evaluation.  Frank was the recommendation of the Interview Committee, and while their advice was advisory, I took it seriously.”

 

Barbis on Monday released a statement from the Board’s Executive Committee:

“While we will not comment on the allegations brought against Dr. Costanzo and the New Haven school district for their handling of allegations, we can comment on the process in Norwalk.

“No one involved in the hiring process knew about Ms. Rice’s allegations regarding Frank Costanzo at the time he was hired in 2015. The only source presented is Tony Ditrio, a former employee who has made numerous unfounded allegations in the past.

“Ms. Rice did not file her case until 2017.  Dr. Costanzo’s record in Norwalk has been exemplary and there have been no allegations against him here.  He has tackled many challenging situations across our district. Staff and parents have reached out to us in an impressive show of support for Dr. Costanzo.

“Examples include his availability 24/7, his thoughtfulness, attention to detail, dedication, balanced approach, and his willingness to provide a tough message when needed.  One administrator said to us, ‘He is a responsible administrator with the district’s well-being at heart’.

“The Executive Committee of the Board of Education would note that Dr. Costanzo has given us much needed guidance in challenging situations where we have had to make difficult decisions balancing the needs of students, parents, teachers, administrators and other staff members.

“This all said, the Norwalk Board of Education takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and will appropriately pursue and address any allegations that take place within our school district.”

 

 

Ditrio retired in 2016 from his post as Kendall Elementary School Principal, a role he took in 1999. He is also former Norwalk Association of School Administrators (NASA) President, and carried on as Vice President after retiring.

Board of Education member Julie Corbett on Facebook addressed the allegation that Costanzo has been “put in place” to be the next superintendent.

“I’m not going to comment about the allegations or the settlement of another district, but I will clarify that a superintendent search is not currently underway,” she wrote on the parents’ page. “There are two senior staffers who are qualified to act as superintendent, if necessary (Dr. Frank Costanzo, COO and Dr. Brenda Myers, CAO). In addition, based on the timing of the end of current Superintendent, Dr. Adamowski’s, contract, the next iteration of the school board (who will include district representatives elected in Nov 2019) will make the hiring decision.”

7 comments

Piberman February 5, 2019 at 10:13 am

BOE’s around the nation invariably deal with litigation from parents, staff, etc. It’ a major source of income to local/state attorneys specializing in State public school law.

Question is does the public benfit from publicizing incomplete information on BOE litigation.

Under the BOE leadership of high profile Corporate Attorney Mike Lyons our City’s BOE hired the State’s premier public school law firm. Those interested can compare the Lyon’s record with previous litigation over many years under different arrangements.

It’s quite favorable. Our BOE remains Norwalk’s “Bright Spot”.

Medard Thomas February 5, 2019 at 10:15 am

Good afternoon fellow Norwalkers:
Because I am an administrator in town, I typically do not comment on postings. However, I am strongly compelled to submit a response that will hopefully end the debate or concern about Dr. Frank Costanzo. I am neither interested nor concerned about his previous district. I am focused on the present and how contributions to our system thus far. Allow me to elucidate on my opening statement. My experiences have been one based on mutual respect. This is a man who will make himself available to me at any time of the day whenever I need advice concerning an operational or instructional issue. Despite his numerous responsibilities, he will visit schools and sit aside a student to ask how they are doing and participate in the learning. Afterwards, he will engage in a dialogue that is intended on improving student learning. Dr. Costanzo will have no issue providing hard messages when necessary. He does so because he is a responsible and capable administrator with the district’s well-being at heart. In addition, his feedback is essential to providing best practices for my students. Not only is he tough and fair, but he is compassionate. His support was on full display last year, when my school community experienced a gut-wrenching tragedy. He was the first person I contacted at 7:00AM, and he helped me process the event. His support was very evident as he spent numerous amounts of time in my building and helped coordinate a crisis team to serve my school community. In addition, he kept on checking up on me because he was sensitive to the fact that as I supported everyone, someone needed to look out for me. The stress I experienced was alleviated due to the steadfast support I received from Dr. Costanzo, the superintendent, and the staff at Central Office, not to mention my wonderful colleagues and their schools.

Everyone has the right to their opinions, however, as I have taught my children, speak with facts, and provide evidence to support your claims. I am speaking from facts I have personally experienced, and I hope my claims resonate with anyone who may be concerned about the present and future. Those are the timelines I am most concerned about.

In closing, I ask that readers will know that I write this testimonial, not because you might think I will personally benefit, but because I know what I am talking about. I submit my personal statement to all who might agree or disagree, with nothing but respect.

Sincerely,
Medard Thomas
Principal, Columbus Magnet School

Mitch Adis February 5, 2019 at 1:37 pm

Mr. Costanzo is an outstanding administrator. Not all settlements are based on guilt or innocence, many are based on economics. Stop with the witch hunts and focus on the future.

Concerned parent February 5, 2019 at 9:02 pm

If we are so concerned about Costanzo and his judgement should we be concerned that he brought in a former teacher from that very school where this took place to be an administrator at Kendall? Maybe he brought people that would back him if this came out. As a parent now this concerns me about what that administrator knew. Just so worried about our kids and who is in charge of them. Just want to know my kids are in a safe school system and this just worries me.

Elisabeth B February 6, 2019 at 7:41 am

First of all, whether or not Mr. Costanzo does a good job is irrelevant if he sexually harassed someone. Clearly you must realize that Mr. Thomas. It’s insulting to any victim of sexual assault to assume otherwise.

Second, by his own account Mr. Costanzo can not recall the events because he was too drunk.

Third, it sure would have been nice if someone from New Haven took it upon themselves to do Norwalk a solid and send an email using their work email warning Norwalk of this. And then Mr. Costanzo could sue New Haven for ruining his job in Norwalk and make money off of it.

Niz February 6, 2019 at 11:27 am

this seems to be a pattern in Norwalk. As the SPED chief had serious legal issues in New Rochelle school system she was previously employed, the feds got involved. And now this. I guess we cant get better. just the fact that there was an accusation is enough to rule him out. oh and he cannot recall cause he was too drunk… word?

MarjorieM February 6, 2019 at 5:58 pm

Isn’t Frank Costanzo the person to whom principals bring complaints of sexual harassment? If this is true, the Board is in serious trouble.

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