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Norwalk BOE legal fund overdrawn again, $73,500 transfer requested

NORWALK, Conn. – A requested transfer of funds to cover Norwalk Board of Education legal expenses was tabled Tuesday night without comment, although previous transfer requests have been met with much debate.

A transfer of $53,500 from the unemployment compensation fund, which members said has been treated as an emergency fund this year, to the superintendent’s legal fees was on the agenda. A transfer of $20,000 from the special education legal fund to the superintendent’s legal fees also was on the agenda.

Former BOE member Shirley Mosby criticized that during the public speaking portion of the meeting.

“I’m concerned with the transferring of funds from special ed and other programs and putting it into a legal fund for the superintendent because here we go again,” she said. “We keep taking from different programs and services, and we keep sticking it into legal.”

Mosby hadn’t signed up to speak but said she was offended when BOE Vice Chairman Artie Kassimis told her father, John Mosby, to keep his remarks to three minutes, although he was the only speaker.

It is the third proposed transfer from the unemployment fund to the legal fund. In April $20,000 was transferred and in March $45,000 was transferred.

Negotiations and Personnel Committee Chairwoman Sue Haynie took sharp criticism for cost overruns at the April meeting. The board voted to give interim Superintendent Tony Daddona sole discretion over legal expenditures for the rest of the fiscal year.

There was no board discussion on the legal fee transfer this time.

Lyons said it was tabled to enable the board to keep matters confidential.

“Some members wanted to see the actual invoices before voting on the transfers,” he said in an email. “Tony (Daddona) and Elio (Longo) pointed out that the invoices include quite a lot of confidential information in them (e.g., references to confidential personnel matters), and should only be discussed in executive session. So we’ll have an executive session on June 18 to review the particulars of the invoices, followed by an open session discussion and vote on the transfers.”

All members voted in favor of tabling the matter except Rosa Murray, who abstained.

Shirley Mosby has announced an intention to run for the board this fall, but said after the meeting that was pending approval at the Democratic convention.

Comments

12 responses to “Norwalk BOE legal fund overdrawn again, $73,500 transfer requested”

  1. Mike Lyons

    A clarification. Contrary to Ms. Mosby’s assertion, no PROGRAM funds have been used to pay attorneys fees. Unused money set aside to pay unemployment compensation payments that never became due, and unused money set aside to pay legal fees set aside for special education disputes where we came in under budget (NOT money allocated to actual special education programs) was transferred to pay legal fees (for union negotiations, litigation, etc.). We did not take funds from any “programs or services” with these transfers.

  2. piberman

    We can only speculate on why legal fee outlays continue to be top news here on Nancy’s and in the Hour when the BOE faced unusual expenses in filing a lengthy and detailed arbitration hearing request. Is it news because hostile NFT union head Bruce Mellion raises the issue at every opportunity as does well known union sympathetic BOE members ? Is there nothing of greater interest about the BOE and the Norwalk public school system than the legal outlays of the BOE ? Has anyone laid out a factual basis for believing the BOE is actually cutting programs or misapplicating BOE funds on legal activities because of malfeasance ? Its time to let this “story” go. Surely there are more important matters to report. Surely the well known complaints of NFT head Bruce Mellion are not automatic news. Time to move on !

  3. Steve Colarossi

    The expenditure of funds in excess of budget appropriations is news because the budget is supposed to be followed. That this legal services account has already been supplemented on three prior occasions suggests that there may be a news story regarding either (1) how this account is managed, (2) if there is sufficient coordination between BoE Negotiations Committee members and the superintendent to control legal costs and (3) if there shouldn’t be a mechanism by which the BoE approves strategies that involve considerable legal expense prior to those bills being incurred and those budget line items being exceeded.

  4. LWitherspoon

    @Steve Colarossi
    We have heard a lot from you about legal fees. I don’t recall any comment from you on the outcome of going to arbitration. Are you pleased with the result?

  5. Bryan Meek

    So, it was ok to wash around $4 million in inter-fund transfers like it was nothing to help cover the cost of the gold plated health benefits packages we overpay for……BUT…..transferring $75k to cover costs associated with saving $2+ million is a big issue? Where is the sense of proportion here?

  6. Steve Colarossi

    I have made some general comments about the arbitration- however, I recused myself from all discussions because my wife is a teacher (and a very skilled and dedicated teacher, I might add).
    The zero percent raise for next year is offset by a better-than 4% increase the year after. That is a fact that those of us with a long-term view of school budgets recognize requires significant planning. The removal of some of the out-dated language in the contract was a positive. I tend to believe that the school year for children should be longer than 180 days and that the school day should be longer (with apologies to my children). As a result, I would have wanted to see those measures proposed in the new contract. Rather than focus so much attention on changing class size numbers in the elementary schools (and I firmly believe that class size is critical to student learning, especially in the early grades), I would have tried to increase the student-load at the high school level as we have many students who are shut out of electives due to those classes quickly reaching teacher capacity.

  7. Hobbes the Calvinist

    Could anyone find a fact in the Bryan Meek posting with a flashlight, compass and map?
    The Board of Ed changed top people in the Finance Dept after the insurance mistakes were spotted.
    The same mistake keeps getting made on legal spending. Shouldn’t the big question be why it’s only Calarossi complaining about this? How many transfers does it take before somebody else figures out that there’s a problem?

  8. Steve Colarossi

    Let’s move beyond insults and answer the honest questions which were asked . . .
    The three causes for the insurance shortfall were addressed as soon as they were discovered; there was no “washing” of accounts. I’ve addressed the three-pronged problem: (1) poor prior fiscal management allowed imprecise insurance estimates to be provided the BoE when we were reviewing the budget (remedied, in part, by the comprehensive insurance beneficiary audit conducted); (2)the amount which the BoE approved for insurance payments that year was not accurately entered and the amount entered was much lower than had been approved (remedied by replacing the “Budget Coordinator” position with a trained CFO; (3) there were references in the City’s financial documents that indicated that the City paid school department retiree OPEB– some us who reviewed the budget relied on those statements (remedied by the close working relationship Elio Longo, as COO, has forged with the city finance department which has clarified other sources of misunderstanding as to costs thought to be borne by the City).

    Regarding the legal fees, the Board has been asked several times this fiscal year to transfer money into that account. I have repeatedly asked for better monitoring so that we could determine if we need a more detailed gatekeeper (as I helped to institute several years ago when administrators were contacting counsel on special education issues causing bills to escalate) or if the issue is that the BoE is not receiving bills on time to make better estimates of current need. Repeated cost over-runs with no change in management is not acceptable. In my part of the private sector, when cost over-runs are discovered, we try to discern the reasons why and assess if they could be prevented in the future. It’s important to pay close attention to the pennies as well as to the dollars.

    I believe that all spending decisions need close scrutiny- and that all budget over-runs deserve close examination to prevent them from occurring again. It’s neither personal nor political- it’s just simply about accountability.

    Finally, the costs of the teachers’ arbitration were paid two transfers ago– the fact that there is a general wage freeze for next year (like many other districts achieved over the past four years) can’t be used as the continual excuse to justify unrelated over-expenditures from the legal services account.

  9. Piberman

    Why does BOE member Colarossi have to press his views in public rather than amidst fellow BOE members in their appointed meetings ? After all he was elected to the BOE and is expected to abide by normal rules of board governance rather than conducting discussions in the press. No other BOE member does business in the press. Why Mr Colarrosi ? Is it part of a re-election campaign to get noticed ?

  10. Steve Colarossi

    Mr. Berman- When I ran, I promised open communications with the public and I have kept that promise. I respect the public, sincerely believe that Norwalk taxpayers deserve to know that their sacrifices are respected and believe that openness and transparency mean that individual members explain their decisions. LWitherspoon asked a question of me and I answered- which is what I’ve been doing for the past four years.

  11. piberman

    Sorry Mr. Colarossi you were elected to serve on the BOE and act appropriately as a member of that body – not engaging in a frequent commentator in the Hour seeking another “news story”. No board, profit or non-profit, can function correctly if its members unable to get a hearing amongst their peers take to the airwaves and media to get their points across to the public. Adherence to proper standards of governance requires that board members do their discussions within the board and adhere to majority decisions, not take their cases out to the public when they can’t get their own way. Clearly if the BOE supported your views there would be no need to take the issues public. The BOE is our most important elected public body and requires respectful members who focus their attention amidst their colleagues.

    I’m not aware of any other BOE in our state where a member frequently takes to the media to communicate their views to the public and criticize other members in public. That does a great disservice to fellow BOE members and to our City. So please make your contributions within the BOE. That’s what your fellow BOE members are doing – practicing conventional governance and respect for their peers.

    Come election time there will be ample opportunity for you to explain your service to the community should you bid again to retain your seat on the BOE. There is a difference between serving quietly and respectfully on the BOE and running for office. So please make your contributions within the BOE. That’s where they’re really needed and what the community requires. Thank you.

  12. Steve Colarossi

    Mr. Berman misses the point that there has to be thorough communication among elected officials and the citizens we represent. Although I sense that the only communications with which he disagrees are those which don’t comport with his own unique views.

    He is rather selective about only criticizing my public communications– he finds no fault with the frequent critiques of his colleagues Mike Barbis posts of Twitter (and which I’ve defended on the Norwalkspeaks blog because I respect that Mike speaks his mind), or on responses which Mike Lyons posts to some of Mr. Berman’s own mischaracterizations of Board of Education activity, or with the selective sharing of confidential emails (which the curriculum post on this site indicates was engaged in by Sue Haynie’s forwarding emails to Lisa Thompson, but no other members of the community).

    Unlike Mr. Berman, I believe that there should a single standard for open and transparent communication between Board of Education members and the public.

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