Don’t give in to unions; keep superintendent searh confidential

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To the Editor:

It has been reported that Bruce Mellion, head of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, thinks the superintendent candidates should be vetted publicly and that parents should have a say in the process.  With all due respect, his advocacy for parents should be met with a solid dose of skepticism.

Mr. Mellion isn’t a Norwalk parent or taxpayer, he doesn’t even teach in Norwalk. He is an employee of a multi-million dollar private corporation funded by a dues-paying membership. All of his member communications are done via private emails so as to not be subject to FOIA. For the NFT, the less transparency the better.

With calls for inclusion, Mr. Mellion and others are hoping that those leaders and BOE members who received union endorsements will press the case for “transparency.” Why? Because transparency gives the unions spin control over the superintendent candidates. Mr. Mellion is just doing his job, however. As Albert Shanker, the founder of the American Federation of Teachers stated, “When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.”

In any case, Mr. Mellion does his own private vetting during superintendent searches. Right after our vote to hire Dr. Marks, he stood up and told the Board that, according to his union contacts in Maryland, Marks was a great choice. Sixty days later, when Dr. Marks recommended that the BOE fire a menacing tenured teacher, something that hadn’t happened in Norwalk for 40 years, all but one Board member agreed with her.  $250,000 and two years later, the Board prevailed but not before Marks became public enemy No. 1 to Mr. Mellion’s NFT and the others in this district who fight change.

Marks left and an insider was hired as interim. We heard no calls for a public vetting, and no calls for transparency from Mr. Mellion, any other unions or from the status quo. Mellion didn’t even attend most BOE meetings that year; he didn’t need to.

During the search for Dr. Rivera, Mr. Mellion again did his own reconnaissance.

Getting back to transparency, a superintendent search that doesn’t provide confidentiality will seriously reduce Norwalk’s chances of attracting a vibrant and quality pool of candidates. It will seriously reduce Norwalk’s chances of getting another top-notch superintendent. We all know that, including the NFT.

A search process that is redundant and subjected to random and deliberate delays, as witnessed under our last interim period, wastes student’s time. We all know that too.

But let’s give credit where credit is due. Those who have fought change have done a fabulous job. Norwalk Public Schools’ reputation as a district able to keep top talent is in tatters. We are damaged goods. Hire a search firm who comes in with eyes wide open. Keep the search confidential. Don’t waste time. For the sake of our students and this city, do not make this any harder than it already is.

Sue Haynie


16 responses to “Don’t give in to unions; keep superintendent searh confidential”

  1. John Hamlin

    The teachers union has one goal — maintain the status quo at all costs. They don’t represent students, parents, taxpayers, or the city. If we could eliminate the teachers union we could have a chance to improve public education in this country. We need state legislators to eliminate or limit the power of teachers unions, but our politicians have a corrupt bargain with the unions that results in less effective schools and damage to our children. All for the sake of reelecting the same ineffective politicians. It’s really a shame. Even if we can’t change the system, let’s not kid ourselves about the damage it does.

  2. LWitherspoon

    The visionary Steve Jobs had some strong words for President Obama about teacher unions:

    Jobs also said teachers’ unions “crippled” the education system in the United States. Among his requests to Obama were an 11-month school schedule, school days that last until 6 p.m. and a merit-based system for employing and firing teachers.

    Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/steve-jobs-told-president-obama-regulations-and-teachers-unions-were-killing-america-2011-10#ixzz3MAL4ug5e

  3. Farhan Memon

    I appreciate the need for confidentiality but I do believe that the final candidate needs to appear publicly and meet with the stakeholders (Boards, Parent groups, teachers) before he is made an offer by Norwalk.

    Teachers unions do have there place. The fact that Mr. Mellion and Nowalk leaders have made it an us vs them scenario should not deter us from seeking their input. After all they are the ones that will actually be executing the strategy that the superintendent lays out.

  4. anon

    Witherspoon & Hamlin spot on.

    @Memon spot off, the strategy that the superintendent lays out is for the benefit of students.

  5. Don’t Panic

    Yeah, well. Jobs had a financial stake in selling as many iPads to schools as possible. Not to mention, reaping the benefits of public education while providing very little training as an employer, and while exploiting Chinese labor at FoxConn and dodging US corporate taxes. Let’s leave education to the people with education degrees and parents of the children, shall we?

  6. Piberman

    Long time residents remember when teacher union members actually lived in the City and didn’t depend on their unions to influence the BOE or City politics. Times change. Those criticizing the unions for influencingBOE decisions were strangely quiet a year ago when the teacher unions called for Democratic rule throughout the City. After all with 5th highest teacher pay in CT Norwalk’s teachers have good reason to prefer disfunctional Democratic Party run BOE’s. Their pocketbooks.

  7. Kathleen Montgomery

    Well said, Sue Haynie.

  8. John Hamlin


    Your comment “Let’s leave education to the people with education degrees and parents of the children, shall we?” And how has that worked out for us? Not very well. But you want to cling to the status quo. I would prefer to see a different way — a certain percentage of the parents and the way they raise (or neglect or abandon) their kids are half the problem and the teacher’s unions are the other half.

  9. MarjorieM

    We are back to Union bashing, thanks to Sue Haynie. Rivera worked very well with Bruce Melion. In fact, Melion was not happy to see Rivera leave. Can’t have it both ways, Apples. Rivera was great, but Melion was not? Rivera listened to Melion. Therefore Melion must be great too,

  10. Sue Haynie

    MarjorieM, not union bashing, truth telling. Unlike 99% of the adults in the school system, students and parents, and community members do not have a Union advocating for them, they do not have due process rights to protect them. Having a Superintendent and Board of Education who put students first is essential.

    As an example, I do not believe it is coincidental that, as mentioned in my editorial, the lone Board member who voted against the firing of the tenured teacher in October 2010 was endorsed by the Unions and proved to be a trusted advocate for them.

    The terminated tenured teacher had due process rights; his students and parents did not. Bruce Mellion, doing his job as NFT President, didn’t believe the teacher should have been fired. Here is the Termination Hearing Majority Report. Read and decide for yourself.


    This is one of the reasons why the PTO Council’s idea of tracking Board of Education votes is so timely. Unions already track votes; it is essential that parents and community stay equally informed. Unlike Unions, the PTOC is unfunded and run by parent volunteers; they could use some help. An ombudsman such as Darien hired after their special education meltdown would be ideal. An ombudsman is an independent public advocate who can investigate and address complaints from the public. It would help even the playing field for students, parents and community.

  11. Sue Haynie

    For those who are interested, here is some information about districts with ombudsmen.

    That they are an independent and confidential source for resolving problems and complaints, that they are available to students, parents and the community at large, and that they most often report directly to the Superintendent are all positives.





  12. sofaman

    Shameless union bashing.

    So, the point that it is unfair that parents and students don’t have a union to represent them passes for intelligent commentary?

    Firing a poor performer is needed. No doubt. But to argue that an entire entity is rotten because of isolated bad behavior. . . well then clearly the entire BOE should be disbanded based on exactly the same standard.

    Finger pointing is easy. What is difficult is the profession of being a teacher. It’s shameful how little support they get, and how often their cost is treated like charity. “The 5th highest teacher salary in the state”? Oh my the sky is falling. Open your eyes, the town’s educational system has big problems, and its not the teachers, their union, or their salaries.

  13. Sue Haynie

    Sofaman, If the truth is shameful, that is no fault of mine. Public schools exist because of students and their parents but yet, far too often, they have the weakest voices, the least protections and the most to lose when things go wrong. That is unsustainable.

    We both agree, as you say, that the firing of the ‘poor performer is needed. No doubt.’ However, my point was not so much about the firing of a tenured educator who clearly didn’t belong in front of a classroom, but rather the undue influence the NFT, NASA and other union heads have on the health of a Superintendency and school system that exists, first and foremost, for children. Student and family friendly change is viewed as a threat. The Unions have used their allies on the Board of Education to take down change-agent Superintendents two times now in the last 4 year. That is also unsustainable.

  14. GRknight

    sofaman : They want to run things the old way.

    Unions don’t let them become Emperors of Norwalk .

    Parents don’t even know two schools have been privatized.

    P.S Be very careful, they are mean.

  15. Sue Haynie

    G. R. Knight, who is the ‘they’ to which you refer?

    Like many in Norwalk, I am just a mom and a parent volunteer.

  16. Joanna Cooper

    It is common knowledge unions work hard to block accountability, new initiatives and whatever is not good for the union. They have far too much political influence and sadly it is not used to help kids. You will never get rid of them and keeping them from meddling in BoE politics is a pipe dream. They control politics in education & not just in Norwalk.
    See link:

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