NFT’s frank comments shed light on Norwalk BOE interactions

Bruce Mellion  003-20130430
Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion.

NORWALK, Conn. – Caustic remarks about the former and interim Norwalk school superintendents are among the nuggets of inside information contained in recently obtained Norwalk Federation of Teachers negotiations minutes.

The minutes – basically a transcript – are included in a thick binder full of documents provided in October to attendees of the arbitration proceedings between the NFT and Norwalk Board of Education.

NancyOnNorwalk obtained the binder last week. Most of the minutes contain conversations between Board of Education members and NFT representatives, but in mid July and early August the conversations are only between NFT representatives and mediator Larry Foy.

The documents shed some light on the difficult and often rancorous nature of the relationship between the union and the BOE. NFT President Bruce Mellion goes beyond the opinions he usually offers in public, and there are independent observations from Foy, the man in the middle of the haggling, giving more context recent BOE-NFT dynamics.

Foy begins the Aug. 6 session by saying he had heard there were “big problems” in Norwalk, according to the minutes. NFT Attorney Jimmy Ferguson then responds that Superintendent Susan Marks was “a disaster” – something Mellion says often – and that Interim Superintendent Tony Daddona will do anything to get along and wants the job, even though he says he doesn’t.

BOE Chairman Mike Lyons disputed part of that Monday night.

“I think Tony has done a good job as interim superintendent, and it is not true that he will ‘do anything to get along’ – he has made some tough personnel decisions that were anything but ‘getting along,’” he said in an email.

According to the minutes, Foy asks, “New lawyer, no superintendent. … Who’s calling the shots?” To which Ferguson replies, “(Former BOE Chairman Jack) Chiaramonte and (BOE member Sue) Haynie – they are not our friends.”

Foy asks why Norwalk needs a chief operating officer. “What do superintendents do?” he asks. “Chief philosopher?”

Mellion describes BOE Negotiations and Personnel Committee Chairwoman Sue Haynie as the driving force behind the arbitration. “She’s going to make her mark,” he said. “PTO Council past president. Destroyed it … she destroyed it from within. No one can work with her. … Everyone walked away.”

Haynie disputed that remark.

“It’s incorrect. It was actually very vibrant when I left,” Haynie said.

Ferguson and Mellion are quoted several times in the minutes as being unhappy with BOE requests to change the grievance policy.

On July 25, Ferguson said, “In my 36 years we’ve had six grievances. We settle problems. Until recently, we’ve had good people to work with.”

There is another exchange on the topic on Aug. 1. BOE attorney Thomas Mooney said, “You’ve only had six grievances because the contract is employee oriented … If everything was the way you wanted why would there be grievances? We think it’s tilted your way.”

Ferguson replies: “We don’t. Someone has mismanaged the system and now you come to hardworking employees and say you have too many degrees. You don’t want to pay for rigor. You don’t want to attract and retain highly educated employees. You want to gut the contract and we’re not going to give it to you. I represent the teachers. We work hard for the kids and we’re frankly mortified by the decisions of adults.”

Lyons said the contract is weighted in favor of the union.

“I think Tom is right on the money,” he said in an email. “Either Norwalk’s teachers are an extraordinary exception to the bell curve that holds in all other places when dealing with human beings (with a few ‘greats’ at the top, a few ‘terribles’ at the bottom, and most hovering around average in the middle) – thus we had practically no disputes because everything is virtually perfect – or the ‘perfection’ is illusory, an artifact of a heavily pro-union contract. I lean toward the latter explanation.”

He also put Ferguson’s “good people” comment into perspective.

“I’m sure from Mr. Ferguson’s perspective ‘good people’ are those most friendly to the union’s position,” he said. “My preference is for people more friendly to the well being of the schools and students. Often what’s good for the latter is good for the former, but when there’s a conflict, we should go with the students.”

Two more quotes from the minutes concern the salaries:

From Aug. 6:  “They are waving that ‘Norwalk has the fifth highest average salary in the state’ but that is a BS number,” Ferguson said. “It’s a function of how many teachers there are in the district.”

From Aug. 8: “Just from a BOE point of view, they pay too much money, but this is Fairfield County,” Foy said. “You can’t become Bridgeport. You end up hired in some other town and three or four steps below max and get thousands of dollars more. It won’t help your retention or who you retain over time.”

NFT July 16 2012

NFT July 25 2012

NFT July 25 2012 2

NFT July 25 2012 3

NFT Aug 1 2012

NFT Aug 1 2012 2

NFT Aug. 6 2012

NFT Aug. 6 last page

NFT Aug 8 2012

NFT Aug 8 2012n2

NFT Aug 8 2012n3


9 responses to “NFT’s frank comments shed light on Norwalk BOE interactions”

  1. LWitherspoon

    “Mellion describes BOE Negotiations and Personnel Committee Chairwoman Sue Haynie as the driving force behind the arbitration.”
    That seals it, Haynie has my vote. Ms. Haynie’s courageous effort to take the contract to arbitration won a one-year pay freeze and saved $2.6 million.
    Thanks to Ms. Haynie’s efforts, we didn’t have to decide between raising taxes or cutting services by $2.6 million. To put it in perspective, $2.6 million is serious money, enough to pay the salary of 30+ teachers.

  2. M. Murray

    In the end, you get what you pay for and the best teachers will always migrate toward the best paying districts. Simple economics.

  3. LWitherspoon

    @M. Murray
    I would support paying the best teachers more. But how can we know who the best teachers are when they fight tooth and nail against having their performance evaluated?
    Is it your position that we should pay high salaries and simply hope that this attracts good teachers?
    We are already close to the top in the state of CT as far as pay and benefits are concerned. Is it your position that a one year pay freeze was a bad thing?
    As a taxpayer, I will support whatever candidates fight to make my tax dollars go farther. Simple economics: In Sue Haynie’s absence, we would have had to decide between a $2.6 million tax hike or $2.6 million in service reductions. Can any other candidate demonstrate that level of accomplishment for parents, students, and taxpayers?

  4. MPWard

    I grew up in a union household. My grandfather was the head of the boilermakers union at the American Shipbuilding Co. in Cleveland and Lorain Ohio and my father represented the interests of members of Teamsters locals 808, 1040 and 1150. I spent a lot of time listening to my father and grandfather as they discussed various business strategies. Never once did I hear any callous, caustic or irresponsible remarks concerning management.

    Management and the membership do have a common goal, keep the business profitable for the shareholder and keep the membership happy with a livable wage and responsible fair benefits. In the case of public sectors, the common goal is to stay fiscally responsible for the sake of the taxpayers. Since many of the UFT members are local residents, they enjoy both sides of the coin. There are other ramifications as well. A broken Board of Education (or the perceived hint of it) depresses the tax base for the entire education district. Who wants to send their children into a system that can’t function properly. People move out to other districts. Seasoned effective educators move to systems that will advance their career and not drag it down.

    We talk to our children about bullying and how it is not acceptable. Then we open the paper or log-on to read the latest on the BoE and NFT. This is bullying on the highest level. How as a teacher is Mr. Mellion is supposed to instill ethical moral values upon our children when he regularly engages in bullying in both the public media and the NFT’s newsletter. He is setting a double standard.

    Likewise, our elected Board of Education has not done their job either. There is no excuse for a $4 million deficit. If you did your jobs supervising the upper management, this would have been discovered earlier and, I am sure at a lesser cost. The man responsible for the discovery, former COO Elio Longo was driven to the Westport School System. The search for a new Superintendent is not a game. It should be conducted with openness and transparency. You are playing with MY money not that from a Parker Brother’s board game. Both parties, it seems is more concerned with press time than actually sitting down, finding the common ground and resolving issues to get the job done fairly FOR ALL concerned.

    The situation between the two parties is worse than the Jon Gosselin vs. Kate Gosselin divorce. If this gets any stupider, A&E will have to come in and film a reality show.
    Grow up all of you. Find the common ground and do your jobs.
    You, Mr. Mellion should remember that you are an educator first and a union boss second. Without a school system, you are neither. To the members of the BoE, while you were elected with no pay, you volunteered for, campaigned and were elected to do the best for our children. You signed up for this knowing what is involved. I elected you.

    To the membership of the NFT, if Mr. Mellion’s views are not shared by you, find someone within your ranks who does reflect your passion for teaching and nurturing as your representative.

    To all of you, as the saying goes, “you get more flies with honey

    I spend most of my life in this city. I thankfully have but 1 child left in this system for another year. My wife and I want to remain here. But your fiscal bickering is driving us out. Let me once again brag about our school system.

  5. ““They are waving that ‘Norwalk has the fifth highest average salary in the state’ but that is a BS number,” Ferguson said. “It’s a function of how many teachers there are in the district.”

    If this quote isn’t out of context, then let’s hope there weren’t any Norwalk math teachers on the NFT negotiation team.

  6. piberman

    Since the NFT’s attorney in the arbitration hearings didn’t contest the statement offered by BOE attorney Tom Mooney we have good reason to accept that statement as factually correct. But the NFT’s attorney in his brief did state that Norwalk was one of the wealthiest communities in America and well able to afford raising teacher salaries. When the NFT’s insurance expert was asked if he knew of any other instance in his professional career of ex-spouses of current employees receiving benefits he said Norwalk’s NFT contract was the only instance he knew of. Independent of what one thinks of Bruce Mellions hostility as evident in the monthly Vanguard’s the evidence suggests that Norwalk’s NFT has among the most generous teacher contracts in the state. Given Norwalk’s 17th median income ranking that raises the question of “how come”? Who was out to lunch ? Since the generous contract provisions go back decades the appropriate response is just about all our previous officials – mayors, council members, boe members and bet members.

    What is especially disheartening is that Mr. Mellion’s comments, especially his criticisms of BOE Sue Haynie, Head of the Negotiating Committee that won the 2.6 million grievance against the NFT are oftened mirrored by BOE member Colarossi and reported as “news” by the Hour. And that the Hour refuses to report on the contents of the NFT Vanguard monthlies.

    At day’s end the NFT appears to have at least one sympathetic voice on the BOE, the NFT’s chief gets a ready hearing in the Hour for complaints, the Hour refuses to report on the NFT’s Vanguard, the NFT teachers are amply overpaid relative to the City’s income levels and have a contract among the most generous in the state with provisions found nowhere else. No wonder Norwalk can’t retain its Superintendents. The NFT has the best of all worlds – highest salaries of any city in the state, very generous contract provisions, sympathy among some BOE members, a ready voice in the local newspaper, and the ability to criticize our Superintendents with impunity.

    No city can have a well functioning public school system under these arrangements. As long as Norwalk’s public school teachers support their union chief’s actions our public school system will continue to underperform. At days’ end Mr. Mellion’s behavior speaks tartly about the professional behavior of our public school teachers. After many decades of service as union chief its clear to one and all that Mr. Mellion does speak for our City’s public school teachers.

    Everyone knows that achieving the best outcomes in any public school system requires a well functioning BOE, a competent Supt. supported by the BOE, and mutual respect between the teacher’s union and the BOE and Supt. In Norwalk we see the consequences of a hostile teachers union. That they are paid the 5th highest salaries in the state is a travesty and a consequence of indifferent City officials – both Republican and Democrat.

  7. BSmith

    Attorney Jim Ferguson’s interesting comment in the minutes about ‘there are going to be grievances due to all the layoffs. I’ll be damned if I’ll have my people give up benefits to save jobs.’ Gotta give it to him for honesty, but it’s surely not about the kids.

  8. M. Murray

    Wait til the board hires a superintendent from New Jersey that no one has ever heard of. Then the investigations begin and the skeletons come out after the BOE has already given him a contract and it will be too late to do anything about it. This could get very messy. At least an open process would allow people to dig up the facts prior to hiring someone from out of state.

  9. M. Murray

    You also have to remember that teachers have a lot more mobility than they did 20-30 years ago. Good teachers are marketable and can move to different districts and have more options. If you are a good marketable teacher, especially if you are in one of the subject areas like science, you have your choice of school districts. If you are a sought after employee, will you choose to work in a higher paying district or lower one? If the pay is close, will you choose to work in a district that has student discipline issues or one that has fewer? One where the parents have spent time educating their children at home, or one where the school is a babysitter for children? A less desirable school district needs to make themselves appealing to keep the good teachers who have the ability to move to greener pastures.

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