By Peter I Berman
To the Editor:
NORWALK, Conn. – The president of Norwalk’s Federation of Teachers (NFT) — our largest municipal union — has issued a clarion call for members to elect Democrats across the board for mayor, Common Council and BOE (September issue of their monthly newsletter Vanguard). The president, Bruce Mellion, claims our public schools have been underfunded by $26.5 million from 2006-2007 to 2013-2014. The message is clear — a Democrat administration in Norwalk would be expected to dramatically raise school funding and taxes to fund such ambition. The effects of such a Democratic spending plan upon Norwalk’s residential housing values — stagnant for three years amidst a national boom – would be catastrophic. A Democratic victory envisioned by the NFT president would firmly empower union control over city finances. As has happened in the Democrat-controlled legislature in Hartford.
Prior to this latest broadside, Mellion, in the monthly Vanguard, has focused his attention on vilifying BOE member Sue Haynie, chair of the Personnel and Negotiations Committee, demanding she should not be re-elected. Mellion holds Ms. Haynie mostly responsible for their sharp setback at the hands of the Arbitration Panel that awarded the BOE a one-year salary freeze. The panel cited that Norwalk’s public school teachers are the highest paid of any city in the state and fifth-highest paid in the state overall (based on 2010-11 figures). And that our higher property taxes compared to other communities had severely depressed our property values. The NFT, in its brief, claimed Norwalk was one of the county’s richest communities – despite the uncontested fact that our median household incomes rank just 19th in the state. Reportedly, the NFT is the most hostile teacher’s union in the state and the one most actively engaged in local politics.
Previous NFT Vanguard Bulletins severely criticized former BOE Chairman Chiaramonte and Superintendent Marks in harsh terms that reportedly have no parallel anywhere in Connecticut. The NFT representing our public school teachers endeavors to restore the glory years (1997 to 2009) when Democrats controlled the BOE. Those were the years when “golden contracts” elevated NFT salaries well beyond the affordability of Norwalk taxpayers and gave the NFT de facto control of the school system with its revolving Superintendents.
Still smarting from its recent Arbitration defeat, the NFT president has now pulled out all the stops to put Democrats back in control of the BOE and put Democrats back in power in Norwalk. Voters who follow the NFT head’s lead and routinely press the Democratic lever should fully understand what a Democrat-controlled BOE would bring — a complete reversal of the extraordinary progress made by the BOE in recent years. Our proudest civic achievement in recent decades — a revitalized BOE able to hire one of the nation’s pre-eminent superintendents, would be reversed. Remember that two of the four Democrat BOE members voted against hiring of our new superintendent — the best hire we’ve had in modern city history (all the Republicans supported him). A Democratic BOE would give the NFT the city’s checkbook. And a Democrat-controlled BOE might well chose as leaders those very members who didn’t support hiring Dr. Rivera, with all the negative implications.
The head of Norwalk’s hostile teachers union is working strenuously to regain Democrat control of not only the BOE but also city government. Should that happen, there would be no doubt that once again the BOE would be under de facto union control. The NFT president has thrown down the gauntlet. It’s up to Norwalk voters to understand fully the staggering implications of a Democrat-controlled BOE up cozy with the NFT. All the positive gains from our revitalized BOE in recent years — a proud achievement for our City — would be reversed with the NFT triumphant and in control.
Peter I Berman