NEON losing School Readiness program; teachers unpaid since Dec. 6

A toy sits in a sandbox recently at the Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) facility in Nathaniel Ely School.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now (NEON) will lose its contract to run Norwalk’s School Readiness program, NEON Board of Directors Chairman Mike Berkoff confirmed Thursday night.

“They’re pulling it out of NEON at the end of January,” Berkoff said, referring to the Norwalk Early Childhood Council.

The loss of the program comes as nearly two dozen School Readiness teachers await their next paycheck. A New Year’s Eve email sent to NancyOnNorwalk by a School Readiness teacher who requested her name not be used charged that, despite the Rev. Tommie Jackson’s statements the all NEON employees would be “made whole” – brought up to date with their pay – by Dec. 23, about 20 teachers continue to work although they have not been paid since Dec. 6.

Berkoff confirmed that by phone Thursday night and said the money to pay those employees has not yet come in from state and federal funding sources. He said he expects the money to arrive next week.

“We have continued to work each and every day to provide care for the children and families only to be neglected in the end,” the teacher wrote. “We can no longer live this way. How can NEON continue to run a program like this and not pay their employees? Isn’t that against the law?” she continued. “We are not volunteers, we are employees who have the right to get paid when it’s owed to us. We believe that we are now in a horrible situation and worse than the previous month.”

She said Jackson, who became NEON’s acting president and CEO when Chiquita Stephenson was removed in early November, has yet to address the remaining staff, and said, “There are many teachers whose lives are in jeopardy due to the handling of administration and finance department in NEON. We need help to stop this madness.”

With the impending removal of the program from NEON control, that help may be on the way.

The Norwalk Early Childhood Council (NECC) manages the Norwalk School Readiness grant, oversees Norwalk School Readiness programs and the implementation of initiatives related to the goals of the Norwalk 2007-2010 Early Childhood Action Plan (early care and education, child health and parent information), according to the online Norwalk Resource Directory.

Berkoff said Thursday night that NEON is in discussions “right now” with its attorneys regarding potential bankruptcy. He said an announcement will come as soon as a decision is made.



47 responses to “NEON losing School Readiness program; teachers unpaid since Dec. 6”

  1. Lifelong Teacher

    Thanks to Joseph Mann, Chiquita Stephenson, and Wilson-Phineas who ran this program into the ground. Let’s pray that NHA does a better job.

  2. questions

    Lifelong teacher how is it going to be bettrt if they have the same issues. Husband and wife running housing, they are not taking care of housing complexes they have now and they were not able to feed the kids this summer in their summer camp. Explainto me how when they have hardly no staff.

  3. Confused

    Can someone help me understand. Is School Readiness state or fed funded? Or both?? Just wondering if they are trying to get Head Start money to pay school readiness. They say they still are awaiting Head Start monies owed to them, for serves already rendered. Sounds like someone maybe still trying to mismanagement monies, I hope I’m wrong. Head Start staff still hasn’t been made whole. I wish the state and feds could find a way to make NEON staff whole without NEON touching the monies. Like a mediator. Is that possible??????

  4. Lexi

    Questions,unfortunately, you are correct. This husband and wife duo are not taking care of the complexes — remember hurricane Sandy and the summer program was a disaster! Many wonder what expertise does the housing authority have to administer an education program like Head Start. At the same time, my hope is for the program to run effectively and efficiently for the benefit of the little children and their families

  5. questions

    Its funny that the blame would go to Joe, Pat and Chiquita instead of Bob Burgess, Curtis Law, Bob Duff, Dick Moccia, Lindsay Curtis, Bruce Morris, Jim Himes, Tommie Jackson and a few others that held private meetings to position themselves for jobs, consultant agreements payments and votes only to forget about the teachers and families that NEON serves. These so called community leaders think that in 2014 the community is going to allow our lives and our children’s lives and future’s to be played with your sadly mistaken. This is what chiquita fought for and thats why they wanted her out. But its all coming out. Housing authority is in a worse financial position than neon but you would not know because the husband and wife leaders keep it quiet in other words, they Lie. I feel for the families who are already subject to the failure of the housing authority and now their childrens education will be further subjected to failure.

    My mom always said dont throw Rocks when you live in a Glass house. Lets see what else is going to shatter in Norwalk because it just wont be NEON. That’s what yall get for playing with Rocks.

  6. Lifelong Teacher

    Thank you for that information. We are in deep trouble.

  7. questions

    We need to pray and push for whats is right.

  8. Teacher

    Chiquita Stevenson fought for getting a mansion in Wilton as to for filling up her bank account as her family’s. People who knows nothing about early childhood should not be in charge of managing this programs. Go to school first!!

  9. questions

    She is not in charge remember Teacher, its Jackson now. And he has degrees so now what. He still didnt pay his staff for a month. And its crazy how he is getting 128,000 a year and he lost 3 programs since he been there. And one of them was as simple is to show up and he didnt. So let’s focus on whats going on now. Whats done in the dark it is coming to the light. Watch and see

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ questions

      Just to make it clear from our reporting, the Rev. Jackson is not getting paid yet. He will only get paid after all other staff is paid and the money becomes available for executive salaries.

  10. Confused

    So much being said about Chiquita knowing things that aren’t right. Then tell us please what it is. Stop barking Chiquita and bite. Clear your name. Alot of us trusted you. If it ain’t so, just remain quiet. God will pull the covers back on all those doing wrong in this season. PEOPLE WILL NOT CONTINUE TO HURT GOD’S CHILDREN!!!!!

  11. Confused

    @MARK CHAPMAN Then he will never be paid. Because so many are still needing to be made whole.

  12. hersheyteach101

    @question well said, why don’t people question those people as well? It is sad that they are losing this program, and they still have not paid us our vacation pay out yet either. every time I call they give you the run around and no one seems to know nothing or can answer my question about our pay. As for

    @Teacher you really should do your research before pointing fingers!

    @Confused school readiness is ran from the state and I’m not sure why they claim they are waiting for funds that is a complete different funders from Head Start.

    Mike Berkoff has no clue about this program he is just following Jacksons lead like a little lost puppy with no clue. as for Jackson he goes around intimidating his staff and pushes his title around to get what he wants around Neon! the truth is the Truth spoken from first hand experience!

  13. RU4REAL

    The community college should have been chosen to take over. This was a mistake and again when the poop hits the fan the children will end up shortchanged. It is true the housing authority cant get it right, these folks have been in charge for a helluva long time. Residents of the complexes should have been asked what they thought, anonymously, because the NHA has a history of retaliating against tenants that speak up.

  14. Confused

    @ Hershey….Mike continues to lie. NO CHIQUITA….and they still lying.Who’s to blame now. I smell a rat….no RATS!!!!! I THINK WE SHOULD ALL COME TOGETHER AND DEMAND THE TRUTH.

  15. questions

    Mark he may not be getting paid right now, but he will get paid retro active. Thats just like he dont want this position, he just here to get the staff paid and he is gone. But when is it going to get better. He is a Godsent but what has he done.

  16. Confused

    I know School Readiness was state just tired of people lying to us. WE ARE NOT STUPID!!!!!!

  17. Lexi

    RU4Real, NCC didn’t want it. If they were awarded the grant, as a state agency, they would have been compelled to pay the Headstart staff at a higher rate. However, in order to gain leverage and credibility, nha needed to have the community college on the grant application. In effect, nha was awarded the contract by default because no other organization(s) applied for it.

  18. maradam

    i’m hoping that these comments were not left by teachers at NEON…because the grammar and spelling is horrific….

  19. questions

    But i thought it was NHA, NCC and Stepping stones came together to get the grant. This whole thing is a mess, and it will get uncover. The scary part is where is Jim Hines, Bruce Morris, Bob Duff and more they are gone. They escape and left the goat.

  20. PJ

    Asked before and didnt get a responce, from anyone, so will try it again. If NEON does go into bankruptcy, which appears ineveitable at this point, who pays the staff’s arrears?

  21. Lexi

    Maradam, please enlighten me as to what is wrong with my grammar.

  22. questions

    Pj thats a good question. I dont know who would or matter fact who will pay their vacation time that they deserve and earned.

  23. If NEON declares bankruptcy and the teachers haven’t been paid, they will not get paid. Their debt will fall under the bankruptcy umbrella. Then the teachers will have to sue for payment (hire attorneys).

  24. disgusted

    Neon went
    To crap .. . you couldn’t keep the good people u had you got rid of them to hire … to take a great program and turn it into a Hot Mess!!!! Sorry for the families and old staff that got thrown under the bus for Chiquita … wrong doings and everyone else who helped ruin neon….. hope CDI makes them better….

    This comment has been edited to conform to our policy.

  25. mom

    The sad truth is this has been going on for decades!!! I went to NEON and I remember getting pushed from classroom to classroom. I remember entering kindergarten lost as ever and needing extra help so I could make it to first grade. I’ve spoken to parents that have had the same struggle to this day!! When I first decided to put my daughter in this school I made it a priority to be involved in her education and we went through a couple of teachers before I decided which teacher was alright for my family. To my surprise nothing was done when I filed a complaint about the other teachers and their wrong doings. We even took it to city hall. I also saw that there were a lot of families that didn’t speak English which resulted in their children not getting the proper education. If you ask me it’s best to just let the school go completely and start all over again with REAL EDUCATORS that care and have the knowledge to do a teachers job and run such a big preschool. We should take this to the state and ask them why have they let this happen for so long.

  26. Amazed

    What will happen to the School Readiness staff and students? Will another agency take over and allow the program to continue uninterrupted?

  27. anon

    Bob Duff always seems ready for a photo op but is missing in action during this phase of the NEON fiasco. There’s an old saying about fair weather friends, here’s an example of fair weather photo ops.

  28. RU4REAL

    Thanks Lexi for the info.

  29. Observer

    Really maradam. With all the content n these comments ur focused on grammar. Smh. What does that say about u?????

  30. Lifelong Teacher

    Well, one thing it DOES say about the whole issue is that many posters here identified as NEON teachers cannot write in proper English. We’re not talking about lengthy expository essays – just a couple of simple sentences.

    It is no wonder that the children who come out of the program have been shortchanged and language deprived – and several years behind.

  31. Just Wondering

    If NEON is considering bankruptcy then why on earth did they reopen knowing their possible circumstances.

  32. bamboozeled

    @lifelong.. That was rude, disrespectful, and a very disheartening thing to say. Not everyone who works for NEON falls under your prejudices. The situation is very sad for all people involved especially the children. There has to be a school readiness program held in that facility whether it is operated by NEON or not. I just hope that one day the burdens and hardships are lifted off of the children, family and staff. Constant change is not always good and agreed there needs to be some stability and consistency within this organization in addition to trusted leadership. This Agency and it’s programs have been around for years and it is a shame to see the way this has all unfolded. I will say that I used to be a student there myself and I turned out well. It depends on the situation so deeming all teachers incompetent is not a fair statement at all. I am grateful that NON filters this site because I could imagine some of the distasteful things that are being posted by the very same people who claim or portray to have a sense of dignity or class. People should really speak on things they know of and limit the assumptions because assumptions are never good. We all can speculate but unless we were front and center behind doors in those discussions or decision making sessions, one can never be sure. I just pray for a miracle…

  33. Diane C2

    It’s so disturbing to know how many current and former council members sat on the NEON board even as it was obviously mismanaged*. And perhaps more disturbing that long-term board member and former board Chair Greg Burnett was recently appointed to Norwalk Board of Estimate and Taxation by Mayor Rilling and the repub controlled council. What’s up with that?
    *see NoN post of 9/29 https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2013/09/norwalk-pols-among-those-on-former-neon-board/

  34. LWitherspoon

    @Diane C2
    Excellent point. I wonder when we will hear an explanation from Mssrs. Burnett, Hempstead, and others regarding how it was that under their watch NEON got into difficulties that ultimately may lead to bankruptcy. I’m also curious about the new board installed by Pat Phineous – is it true that the City of Norwalk no longer has the power to appoint a substantial portion of the NEON board?
    Also, kudos to Mike Geake for joining the NEON board during such a difficult time for the organization – joining now seems a bit like running into a burning building.

  35. questions

    Isn`t Mike Geake Moccia picked for the board of Neon?

  36. Neoscam

    In a total liquidation (chapter 7) unpaid salaries and other accrued benefits would classify the displaced worker as a creditor to the agency filing for bankruptcy. They would be paid after all secured creditors are paid to the extent that wages are owed. If there is no money left after the secured creditors are paid, they are SOL except pension plans would be covered by the federal government subject to certain limits.
    Secured creditors are typically mortgages or other collateralized loans. But, if the suppliers to this outfit were smart they would have secured some right to title of property. In either case, they get paid first.
    Here is where things could get interesting. If NEON paid out unsecured creditors BEFORE they paid salaries or benefits payable, then they will have BIG TIME problems with the federal labor department. You can’t go bankrupt just to screw your employees and I’m fairly certain if that was done we are talking about potentially jail-able offenses under bankruptcy fraud laws.
    Whatever the outcome of this mess, it should be a clear lesson to people to do whatever you humanly can to become self sufficient. I’m sure no one wants to go their whole life dependent on a meager existence of fraudulently run government programs that enrich a few charlatans who always seem unreachable from the law.
    Their business model seems pretty sound.
    1. Find a mission or cause and pretend you care about it.
    2. Take government money.
    3. Hire your friends and relatives.
    4. The job of your friends and relatives is to lobby for more government money. Claiming of course it is for the cause.
    5. Hire friends and relatives of the friends and relatives you hired.
    6. Demand more and more money.
    7. Spend a fraction on the mission to make it look good.
    8. Goto step 5.

  37. Questions

    But didn’t Mike say they are not looking into bankruptcy until someone else steps in? And Jackson said he was looking into bankruptcy? So who do you believe the CEO or The NEON Board Chair?

    1. Mark Chapman


      It was Mike Berkoff, the board chair, who told us Saturday night that bankruptcy discussions are going on with the lawyers. After Jan. 31, NEON will only have 2 or 3 programs left, he said. The Rev. Jackson does not return our inquiries. They, and others involved with Norwalk, have expressed concern that there are programs in place for those in need.

  38. Publica

    In Chapter 7, a debtor surrenders his or her non-exempt property to a bankruptcy trustee who then liquidates the property and distributes the proceeds to the debtor’s unsecured creditors. In exchange, the debtor is entitled to a discharge of some debt; however, the debtor will not be granted a discharge if he or she is guilty of certain types of inappropriate behaviour (e.g. concealing records relating to financial condition) and certain debts (e.g. spousal and child support, most student loans,[19] some taxes[20]) will not be discharged even though the debtor is generally discharged from his or her debt. Many individuals in financial distress own only exempt property (e.g. clothes, household goods, an older car) and will not have to surrender any property to the trustee. The amount of property that a debtor may exempt varies from state to state. Chapter 7 relief is available only once in any eight-year period. Generally, the rights of secured creditors to their collateral continues even though their debt is discharged. For example, absent some arrangement by a debtor to surrender a car or “reaffirm” a debt, the creditor with a security interest in the debtor’s car may repossess the car even if the debt to the creditor is discharged.

    In Chapter 11, the debtor retains ownership and control of assets and is re-termed a debtor in possession (DIP). The debtor in possession runs the day to day operations of the business while creditors and the debtor work with the Bankruptcy Court in order to negotiate and complete a plan. Upon meeting certain requirements (e.g. fairness among creditors, priority of certain creditors) creditors are permitted to vote on the proposed plan. If a plan is confirmed the debtor will continue to operate and pay its debts under the terms of the confirmed plan. If a specified majority of creditors do not vote to confirm a plan, additional requirements may be imposed by the court in order to confirm the plan. (Above excerpts taken from Wiki)

    It seems that Chapter 11 would’ve been more appropriate and even expedient, if protection was sought much, much earlier, when programs were still operational and receiving funding.

    Hesitancy to seek protection may have been from lack of proper advocacy with an attorney in this specialization. Or concerns about liability, both civil and criminal, could’ve played roles some how in the decision to not seek relief earlier.

    It does look, now, like NEON will evaporate and the services it provided will be reassigned to other current and future ngo entities. Some negotiated settlement for employee arrears one would hope is a possibility.

    Currently with little to no ngo’s with, in place, capability to handle the administration and operation of these vital services some quasi public/ngo’s like NHA are stepping up to the plate.

    Beyond the current focus of what exactly to do with NEON’s challenges there are much larger looming questions. And that begins with addressing how do we structure and finance education. For all.

    We have the brick and motar foundations but we need to completely rethink how we educate and deliver those mandatory services and how we support the infrastructure in place and maximize utilization of the resources already available and significantly underutilized. We have little people, we have teens, we have seniors all living together in the same community in 2014, with 1950’s community infrastructure.

    Certainly we can do better and learn to adapt and use are resources more effectively and for the good of all. Isn’t that what all these efforts are about? Helping each other, learning from each other so we all can progress and live happier, healthier, safer, longer more prosperous lives.

    There are some that say what is happening is part of a master conspiracy plan. Let a community suffocate, than swoop in and develop and make a killing. Although not one to promote conspiracies with out evidence, there is some indication some of that is occurring.

    But a larger responsibility falls on us all. No one can force us to be complacent, remained trapped in a box of small ideas and give us all the shaft, unless, we allow them. Right?

  39. Just Wondering

    @ Mark Chapman what other programs are operated through NEON? And when will the decision be made to finally claim bankruptcy?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Just Wondering

      Mr. Berkoff told us Saturda night that, afte School Readiness goes away, the agenc is down to two, although he later said two or three, and he could not say exactly which programs they were. Energy Assistance is one, although NEON was relieved on handling the money on that one. He said he asked someone to send us the info several days ago when we first asked (before Christmas). We are still waiting.

  40. questions

    I recall Chiquita Stephenson holding a community meeting and she said NEON put all its money in one pot and what she was doing was creating an account that had subaccounts for all programs. She showed a new budget presentation for NEON and she specifically said that school readiness is paid to NEON directly from the city of norwalk on a monthly basis and head start NEON had to submit documents for reimbursement. Her docs were very detailed, so im confused why Mike and Jackson are saying that they are waiting for federal funding. He increased school readiness administration salaries and hired a member from his church to prepare meals. The teachers said they have not been engaged by Jackson we are not suprise. Go back to NEON website and board meetings the public will see what ms stephenson was doing and finding in black and white. These guys are liars and the mayor and governor need to put an end to their mess. I also recall in the community meeting ms stephenson being engaged by a national non profit wanting to merge taking care of debt and enhancing programs, services and jobs for community until these nut jobs came along.

  41. Just Wondering

    Thank You Mark!

  42. Observer

    @lifelong teacher. I may not be a teacher but u do know that teaching starts at home with the parents. And parents are their children’s advocates.If something is not okey with your child’s education it’s ur job as the parent to make sure they get what they need! Moving forward the discussion is about Neon and money management issues, not bashing teachers!!!

  43. Amazed

    Will the Norwalk Housing Authority be conducting interviews for the Federal Head Start and School Readiness Programs prior to the February 01, 2014 transition date or will the current staff stay in place?

  44. Don’t Panic

    Chapter 11 would not have been an option earlier, as the Head Start grant money released was specifically on the condition that they were to be used for current expenses. There was no way to get the past debts under control without other funding.

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