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.”