NORWALK, Conn. – Complaints about lack of diversity and needed help for minority and disadvantaged children continue from one of Norwalk’s most vocal citizens.
John Mosby’s latest speech to the Board of Education touched on the separation between the city and the board, the lack of black and Hispanic teachers and the recent West Norwalk Mayor’s Night Out, where another Norwalk resident criticized the lack of diversity in city employees.
Mosby began by citing state legislation that says a Board of Education is an agent of the state and not of the town in maintenance and management of public schools and in matters not involving strictly budgetary concerns.
“I went through this charter. It’s a big charter. … It states that the Board of Education is separate and the city doesn’t have anything to do with the Board of Ed. I want you all to read it,” Mosby said Tuesday.
He said Briggs High School does not get the money it needs and that “everything is done in the back room.”
“Everybody knows me in Norwalk. I was over to Fox Run – you ought to see the white people praising me. But they don’t put it in the paper. They say Mr. Mosby is right.” Norwalk is supposed to be diverse, he said.
There are more than 700 employees of Norwalk Public Schools and there are only 22 black teachers, and “twenty-something” Hispanic teachers, he said.
That does not look like diversity in the school system, he said. “… Our black kids, and black boys, are being treated wrong. The poor whites are being treated wrong. I’m speaking up for all the children. We got some autistic kids. Whites come to me, Mr. Mosby, they need help. Mr. (Jeffry Spahr) spoke one day about how you treated his kid. You all went and did something for him. But when we speak you don’t do nothing. It is a double standard in our school system.”
The comment about Fox Run referred to the Mayor’s Night Out, where Mosby made similar comments.
“I’m not talking just for the black kids, I’m talking for the Hispanic kids, I’m talking for the autistic kids,” he said. “They come to the Board of Education. The white and blacks say ‘our children are bleeding. Please help us.’ And nobody’s doing anything about it. Every time I’m talking about it I’m being called a troublemaker. Somebody got to do something for these kids because they’re getting in trouble, they’re costing their parents a lot of money. These kids have problems. I told the superintendent, please, let’s do something. They won’t let us sit on no committees. … ‘No, we don’t want Mr. Mosby here, he causes too much trouble.’ That’s not right. I’m here to help the people.”
Mayor Harry Rilling told Mosby to come and see him, they would figure out what board or committee he could be on.
Regina Krummel later stood up to speak, urging people to listen to Mosby.
“I don’t think we can just say he’s annoying or he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” she said. “I think what Mr. Mosby is telling us is of such primary concern. … I think it’s finally time that we listen to people like this. They are our fellow citizens in Norwalk and the school system needs tremendous improvement in the primary years from 3 to 5.”
She referred to the need to close the achievement gap.
“This is a crime in America and it is a crime in Norwalk,” she said. “I know I sound a little dramatic but I think you know I am speaking from the heart. This is a primary thing you can do, Mr. Mayor.”
“Nobody that I know of told Mr. Mosby that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Rilling replied. “I think he’s got his heart in the right place. … I never told him that.”
Rilling said he had been in Brookside Elementary School that morning and been very impressed by team teaching approach there. The governor has promised more Pre-K seats and “we’re striving toward universal Pre-K,” he said. He had been to the Naramake Elementary’s School’s “absolutely amazing” Family Resource Center, he said.
“There are programs,” he said. “Certainly we need to take a cradle-to-career approach with our people. I have stated before as I will state right now, I am committed to early childhood intervention programs and looking to see whatever we can do. Dr. Rivera is very, very committed and he has a history of achievement. I am sure he is working very diligently towards helping all children. We fully funded the Board of Education. Whatever they asked for we put in it and we hope that it stands.”
Farhan Memon also stood up to speak, pointing out that all of the department heads sitting at the table next to Rilling were white men. “Your leadership team doesn’t any women on it, at least those that are present today,” he said. “The other thing that struck me is it doesn’t seem to have any African-Americans.”
“I’ve only been in office three months,” Rilling said. “Unless anybody is willing to step down right now we can’t fill those positions. But we are committed to diversity in boards, commissions, leadership team.”
He pointed out that Norwalk Public Library Director Chris Bradley, a woman, was there.
Mosby’s comments about the Board of Education being separate from the city seemed to be a continuation of his recent complaints about Corporation Counsel Mario Coppola representing the BOE in a Freedom of Information Commission hearing.
Chairman Mike Lyons refuted the complaint by providing a 1975 Connecticut Supreme Court decision that states, “It is basic that a town board of education is an agent of the state when carrying out the educational interests of the state. … However, the members of a board of education are still officers of the town. … They are also empowered by General Statutes § 10-220 to “perform all acts required of them by the town.”
That decision is attached below (Cheney case).
“When we deal with PURELY educational matters (e.g., choice of curriculum), we act as state agency completely independent of the city,” Lyons wrote in an email. “But when we act in many areas the same as a non-educational entity does (HR decisions, budgets, building maintenance, IT, etc., etc.), we are treated as a city agency. It is in precisely in those areas (e.g., CHRO and FOI complaints, some kinds of litigation) that we use the Corporation Counsel’s office. When in the ‘educational’ realm (teacher contract negotiations, litigation with teachers where tenure rights and the like are involved, etc.) we can and do use outside counsel with specialized knowledge in these areas.
“Everybody does this. Only in Norwalk — and only with a handful of people — is there controversy over this.”