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Colarossi, Haynie spar over recent Norwalk Board of Ed history

NORWALK, Conn. – Two moments stood out from Monday’s League of Women Voters of Norwalk Board of Education candidates forum – a “he said, she said,” in that order, of charges stemming from last year’s budget battle, and a startling juxtaposition of a fiery speech from a lawyer followed by a speech from a librarian not accustomed to the limelight of public office.

Ten — count ’em, 10 — candidates lined up in front of a relatively sparse audience in the City Hall community room to make their cases to be voted in as one of four BOE members in the election just two weeks from now. Attorney Steve Colarossi, an incumbent Republican now running on an independent ticket, and incumbent Republican Sue Haynie dominated the event, going at each other tooth and nail with accusations resulting from their four years of tension together on the board and blame to be had over the departure of Superintendent Susan Marks. Colarossi said political decisions had been made in the 2012-2013 budget, at the expense of children, while Haynie replied that Colarossi had voted according to Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion’s wishes.

Everyone got two minutes to speak, then another two minutes for rebuttal. Colarossi’s first passionate speech was followed by political newbie Sherelle Harris, who works to engage and educate children at the South Norwalk Library, who mildly said she likes to collect data and study it. Her calm demeanor mirrored other candidates, but after Colarossi’s trial lawyer-like delivery it was striking.

While Colarossi first spoke of “two teachers involved in illicit relationships with students,” which led him to develop a child abuse reporting policy, his second historical look-back referred to last year’s extreme budget battle.

“When I was first chairman of the finance committee I undertook that line by line analysis, trying to root out that waste, the mismanagement, the misallocation, the misappropriations,” he said. “The system worked. The in 2012 we were overcoming some horrific bookkeeping mistakes, some poor transition from accounting professionals, and there was a deficit in the insurance account.”

The $4 million deficit came on top of a $5.8 million difference between then-Superintendent Susan Mark’s requested budget and the amount of money granted to the BOE with the budget cap set by the Common Council.

“As chairman of the finance committee at that time, I didn’t care what the political consequences were. I wanted to have an immediate review of what happened and find out why it happened,” Colarossi said. “Unfortunately, political influences got in the way of that process. In much the same way that political influences got in the way of the 2012 budget. A lot of tough cuts had to be made. Unfortunately, the wrong cuts were made. We crowded kids into classrooms, we eliminated intervention aides and our youngest and most vulnerable kids took the hit. It was a hit given to them for a political reason. I thought it was wrong, I fought against it and I came up with a revenue-neutral, neutral to the taxpayers, kids-first alternative plan.”

His plan got one vote – his.

“If we can get the politics out of our Board of Education, we can get a school system that our kids, our families and our taxpayers deserve,” Colarossi said.

That would be the reason to “vote Row D for the Board of E,” the Norwalk Community Values party that Colarossi and running mate Andres Roman formed.

Haynie, who, unlike Colarossi, stayed in the Republican party, fired back.

Colarossi Haynie
Board of Education members Sue Haynie, left, and Steve Colarossi, right.

“Mr. Colarossi’s (proposed) budget, with all due respect, could also be called the Mellion-Ditrio budget,” she said, referring to Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion and Norwalk Assistants and Supervisors Association leader Tony Ditrio. “It was so built on a foundation of sand and it was fuzzy math. It took $300,000 out of Medicaid and $2.5 million out of our insurance reserve account to balance it. These $2.8 million in savings that went against the recommendations of Elio Longo, who was by the way our great chief financial officer.”

Then came a common assault on Mellion, followed by damning assertions and a reference to the NFT newsletter, the Vanguard.

“(Mellion) doesn’t vote here. He doesn’t pay taxes here. He has no kids in the schools,” she said. “Mr. Colarossi was instrumental in working with Bruce Mellion to bully Superintendent Marks to quit. Make no mistake, a vote for Mr. Colarossi and his Community Values Party is a vote for Bruce Mellion. Don’t take my word for it though – Mr. Mellion’s monthly Vanguard newspaper was a manifesto and marching orders. Compare the last three years of the Vanguard with the last three years of the Board of Ed minutes and see the votes in common with Mr. Colarossi; the juxtaposition is not pure coincidence.”

Colarossi, meanwhile, wrote a rebuttal, which he shared with NancyOnNorwalk.

“Distortions and playing the blame game are not the hallmarks of a Board of Education candidate looking to forge a non-partisan Board of Education, but rather the sign of a struggling campaign,” he wrote. “First, let’s evaluate the charges – once again, that an honors graduate of Howard who has worked as a guardian ad litem, juvenile public defender, education advocate and high school teacher is incapable of advancing a pro-education budget that is mindful of our community’s needs. Second, the savings I proposed obviously were correct – how else could we have seen a better than $1 million surplus from 2012-2013?”

Comments

24 responses to “Colarossi, Haynie spar over recent Norwalk Board of Ed history”

  1. Norwalk Lifer

    Sue Haynie spent 1.2 minutes attacking Colarossi, the last .41 was spent discuss rapid fire, why she should be re-elected.

    Not impressed

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

  2. Bill Dunne

    Oh, “Norwalk Lifer,” whoever he is, is not impressed. Well I guess that settles it.

  3. EveT

    With regard to the multimillion-dollar insurance shortfall, why aren’t more people demanding, as Colarossi said, “an immediate review of what happened and find out why it happened”?

    The taxpayers of Norwalk still have no concrete answers, right? Are we just supposed to say oh well, and hope it doesn’t happen again?

  4. Piberman

    Attorney Colarassi continues to use the BOE as a “Bully Pulpit” and has poor re-election prospects. The BOE can’t be effective when a member attacks other members frequently and lacks the support of other BOE members. Let’s encourage Mr Colarassi to write OpEds telling the BOE how to “properly” do its business. And the NFT to stop criticizing the BOE. Hopefully the NFT will not have “sympathizers” real or imagined on the new BOE.

  5. bsmith

    Eve T Blum Shapiro audit of shortfall did just that, public meetings on it last spring.

  6. Hobbes the Calvinist

    Mr. Berman must be color blind. He’s obviously missed all the GREEN Andres Roman and Steve Colarossi signs around Norwalk. Seems to me that they do have deep support for the election.

  7. LongTimeDem

    Ummm…. I think the reference to “honors graduate of Howard” should read “Harvard” instead, as we have been reminded over and over and over. 🙂

    As they said in the old days – You can always tell a Harvard man. You just can’t tell him much.

  8. Norwalk Lifer

    Dear Mr. Dunne:

    Why don’t you elaborate on Ms. Haynie’s platform? she certainly did not. Mr. Colarossi did, he made it clear from his first salutation what the issues were and what he was focused on.

    Please elaborate on her position, better yet, a power point presentation might suit the situation

    Regards
    Norwalk Lifer

  9. Independent Voter

    Big whoop, lawn signs. Online, 100 signs costs $300 and change. Deep pockets indeed.

  10. piberman

    Every voter should read the NFT’s Vanguard monthly in which it the union president castigates Ms. Haynie and other BOE members for having the temerity to take the NFT to arbitration. No wonder the NFT chief is pulling out all the stops (see the Sept. Vanguard) to gain Democrat control of the BOE and City finances. The NFT president sees Norwalk as one of the nations’ wealthiest communities (Arbitratiion brief). So he aims for the union to control the BOE as it formerly did. With Democrats controlling the BOE the NFT controls City finances, taxes and spending. Voters pick up the taxes with declining property values. And the realtors laugh at the moon as we all put up “for sale” signs. It’s the Governor’s “Hartford solution” – union support before the election, boost taxes and spending afterwards. Glory be.

    Without a capable BOE and diligent members like Sue Haynie we might as well give the BOE over to the NFT. They are really focused – its all about salaries, more the better.
    True “public servants”.

    The support of the NFT president ought to be the mark of shame. His long standing hostility to the citizens of Norwalk is without precedent in CT. No other community would tolerate such hostility to its BOE, members and Supts.

  11. Joe Espo

    Thank You, Piberman. Yours should be the manifesto for all Norwalk voters to ponder in avoidance of succumbing to the deceptive saccharine rhetoric of a tax-hiking “Mellionite”- a union trojan horse such as Mr. Colarossi appears to be.

  12. There’s a small circle of revisionist historians who seem to be convinced that if they simply repeat (and repeat and repeat) the standard lie that I am the union Manchurian Candidate (or “Trogan horse” or “stooge” or “water carrier”) then eventually enough people will believe that fabrication instead of my record of insisting on accountability for everyone involved in our children’s educations.

    It’s understandable that they wouldn’t want to examine my record. After all, why would they want to find that I personally drafted and shepherded through the Policy Committee (which I chair) a number of comprehensive policies that are holding all staff (regardless of the unions to which they belong) more accountable.

    1. The child abuse and reporting policy I wrote gave the superintendent greater authority to immediately suspend employees suspected of abuse and required employees who were not “mandated” reporters to report suspicions of abuse to school officials. In fact, relying upon the authority of this policy, I moved to terminate a tenured teacher (a measure which the Board approved).

    2. Working for over one year with the students from the Center Youth Leadership, I drafted the policy that identified adult bullying behavior and provided (finally) a formal process to help students who feel bullied by a teacher or staff member to have those charges investigated and to be protected from that egregious conduct.

    3. The revised social media policy I drafted placed limits on how staff (including teachers) can use social media to communicate with individual students and required that parents be notified of any social media use in any classroom.

    My record is hardly a record of anyone who kowtows to a particular union or group of employees. My record does reflect that, as a committee chairperson, I encourage comment and participation from all who attend my meetings. And, because I perform all of the drafting duties, I am willing to entertain multiple sessions of tweaking policies to create effective and enforceable policies that serve the best interests of our students and school district.

    No one has yet (whether in diatribes on this site, the other blogs or at public forums where I have no opportunity for public rebuttal) provided a single example of a vote I took that was not in the best interests of our children, families or taxpayers. That’s because none exist. Yet for years I have heard the same lie, made the same challenge, and been deafened by the silence of the critics who have no facts to support their animosity.

  13. Kid Cupcake

    Steve, don’t forget your crusade to ban pastries from the classroom. We can all sleep well at night knowing that your green lawn signs aren’t for a dreaded bake sale.
    .
    And look at the bright side of your campaign. Except for the 300 or so people who are going to vote for you, most other people think Colarossi is a landscaping company now with these signs. You could make some $ here doing leaves.

  14. Piberman

    The real issue with Mr Colarrosi serving on the BOE is that he attacks BOE members and carries on his discussions in the media rather than doing so within the BOE. That behavior is unacceptable. No BOE can properly function with members going “public” whenever it suits them. Why Mr Colarossi behaves this way is puzzling. BOE members are elected to serve on a Board, not as public advocates for education. And accept majority decisions made by the Board.

  15. Brennah McFadden

    NorwalkLifer said it all- where is Ms. Haynie with support for her platform? Does she have any facts on her side? Does she have a website for us to look at?
    Mr. Berman thinks that Board of Education members shouldn’t be advocates. I think he’s wrong.

  16. Suzanne

    piberman, your slip, I mean, bias is showing. It would be more constructive to address Mr. Colarossi’s entry here than to constantly make unsubstantiated claims.

    You can reference the Vanguard all you want but, frankly, I have never seen it nor read it. Why not a link to the incriminating EVIDENCE?

    It is to the taxpayers advantage that Mr. Colarossi makes the BOE’s business public, if it is not through normal process. Education soaks up a lot of our tax dollars and I think we have a right to know what the BOE is doing with it. That you state that a Board member is not a public advocate for education, then what are they? I would hope each and every one is balancing the needs of students with the dollars they have to spend, period.

    You, Mr. Dunne, and Mr. Espo are good at castigating without substantiating. Get on board with the facts that matter. Otherwise, there is not a speck of a word you write on this thread that I can take seriously.

  17. Don’t Panic

    @Suzanne,

    NON has got this covered. See past article with links to Vanguard issues.

    https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/07/norwalk-leaders-targeted-in-teachers-union-newsletters/

  18. Suzanne

    Thank you, once again, Don’t Panic, for the information. Wow! A bunch of petty people fighting with each other over everything but how best to educate children – the Board, the unions, the administrators. Given what I have just read, I categorically disagree with Mr. Berman’s assessment of Board members as not servants to the public and public education but to themselves. Certainly the editions of the Vanguard summarized in the NON link bears this out. It would be pitiful if it weren’t so important. As it is, it seems like anyone who has been serving thus far in such high profile ways, and Sue Haynie has been right there with Colarossi making BOE business public, should take a time out, go observe a few teachers actually teaching in real classrooms with students and remember why they are on the Board to begin with. Too much public service for you, piberman? Well, too bad. That is exactly what it is all about.

  19. Piberman

    Dear friends:

    The issue is not being an “advocate” but what constitutes appropriate behavior when serving on an elected or appointed City board. The BOE is elected to oversee the NPSS. Best results are reached when members deliberate within public BOE meetings. Not going public with critical comments against other BOE members by commenting in the press. That’s just “raw politics”. None of the surrounding towns or nearby cities have BOE member “sounding off” as occurs in Norwalk. BOE members who can’t abide and accept majority BOE decisions do not serve the citizenry. No Board can properly function when any member can go public and criticize other members. Mr Colarossi has persisted in fighting his battles with other BOE members and by so doing greatly dismissed his reelection prospects.

    To the best of my knowledge, Ms Haynie has not responded publicly either to Mr Colarrosi’s frequent criticism. Nor to the outrageously hostile comments in the NFT monthly Vanguard. No other teachers union in CT regularly offers such vitriol as appears in the NFT Vanguard. All citizens should read it and then wonder how any candidate could possibly claim we don’t “respect” our teachers who sharply disparage our BOE and Supts. The candidate had it backwards – our teachers don’t respect our City and that’s why their union is pulling out all the stops to make sure a Democrats again control the BOE and City finances. Read the Vanguard. It’s all there in black and white.

    And then ask why NON is the first and only media in Norwalk to discuss the Vanguard. Making the Vanguard available is an important public service.

    Finally I urge every reader to attend a BOE meeting and appreciate its well functioning compared to the Common Council. The revitalization of the BOE and appointment of an outstanding Supt is Norwalk’s finest achievement in decades. It’s a fine demonstration of how leadership really matters. Anyone who has carefully followed the BOE in recent years and followed in detail the Arbitration hearings fully understands the extraordinarily positive contribution by Sue Haynie. Without her presence we would not be celebrating the extra ordinary achievements of the revitalized BOE. Her knowledge, dedication and purpose are without parallel. And she suffers hostile comments by NFT union officials and a fellow BOE member with uncommon dignity. Go attend a meeting and see for yourself. A fine role model contributing on the BOE to the best of her impressive abilities, not in the public media. That’s why the NFT for years and years has moved heaven and earth to remove her from the BOE. Doing the job with grace and competence in Norwalk earns the wrath of the NFT. What better endorsement ?

  20. marjoriem

    Haynie spins so much she must be very dizzy. Steve is educated and honest. If the only complaint against Steve is that the Vanguard wants to remove Haynie, all I can say is, ‘That’s no argument against Steve.’ In this case, the Union is 100% correct. Remove Haynie!

  21. Suzanne

    “None of the surrounding towns or nearby cities have BOE member “sounding off” as occurs in Norwalk.” To my knowledge, none of the surrounding towns have senior administrators for their town government constantly making excuses for their inability to manage their department (DPW), pushing tables around and yelling in the face of contract negotiations (Head of HR), forgiveness of “loans” at a massive scale to favored public institutions (Aquarium, Oak Hills), forgiveness to developers for inaction over many, many years (Spinnaker), a Mayor who yells, dismisses and regularly treats public speakers with derision (see any public counsel meeting, pick one), fighting among appointed candidates to various commissions where fisticuffs ensue (DTC), fighting among commissions where whole coalitions of a particular party get up and leave when they don’t like what they hear (Zoning). Exactly how is the BOE different than the rest? They are just along for the ride that is City governance in Norwalk. All of these people who are supposed to be advocating for the public, our students, our elderly (the recent eminent domain case in which the various departments had little to no knowledge), etc., etc., show much more interest in fighting with each other than being of service. AND, that is what it is all about. The BOE and its members should not be airing their dirty laundry? Well, join the club. This is just business as usual in Norwalk.

  22. Piberman

    Suzanne

    Why not celebrate the achievements of our revitalized BOE and suggest other City boards and commissions follow their example ? Those who claim we need to “respect” our teachers are pandering to the most hostile teacher’s union in CT wholly committed to restoring a Democrat controlled BOE that gave them the highest salaries of any City in CT along with revolving Supts. The NFT is smarting from the Arbitration proceedings. With a Democrat BOE they guarantee never to be subject to Arbitration again. Is that in our city’s best interests ? It’s easy to reverse the BOE’s recent accomplishments. Just vote to bring the NFT back to having a “seat” at the BOE as they had in 1997 to 2009. And give them “respect” while they endlessly criticize the BOE – their supervisory authority ? That would make Norwalk a true laughing stock – giving control to City employees who demean those we’ve elected to oversee our school system.

  23. Suzanne

    Honestly, Mr. Berman, I just don’t think the BOE has the corner taken on civility, transparency and service to the City of Norwalk. Every commission, elected or no, needs to clean up its act and commit to improvements in behavior and process. I know the BOE is better but, from what I read of the Vanguard, it is no less sniping, divisive or political than the rest.

  24. marjoriem

    Mr. Berman, unions do fight for members’ rights. No surprise there. But to bash teachers because they belong to a union that happens to be led by a highly intelligent man who appears to be fully prepared to take on any of the clowns who come up against him? Try thinking outside your very small box. Why is there a hatred for the NFT? Because its leader is brilliant? Because no one seems to be able to come as prepared as he is to any type of confrontation? This is not about handing over the bank if Democrats win an election. This is about fear of the union leadership. The Republicans can’t take on the genius either! Why don’t you try to stop bashing all teachers. It’s not a fair argument.

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