Norwalk leaders targeted in teacher’s union newsletters

Haynie, Mellion, Marks, NorwalkBOE
From left, Norwalk Board of Education member Sue Haynie, Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion and former Norwalk Superintendent Susan Marks

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s the “most hostile public school union leadership in the state,” according to NancyOnNorwalk reader Peter Berman, who routinely urges members of the public to read the newsletter distributed to members of the Norwalk Federation of Teachers.

Easier said than done. The newsletter is not readily available outside the union membership.

Even so, all it takes is one teacher to pass it along to an outsider, who can pass it along to someone else – and so it is that NancyOnNorwalk has on file 26 copies of the Focus/Vanguard, beginning in June 2010 and ending in April 2013. In them, NFT President Bruce Mellion’s begins complaining about former Superintendent Susan Marks shortly after she began her tenure in Norwalk. Board of Education members Sue Haynie and Jack Chiaramonte, the BOE chairman covering much of the period, also routinely took it on the chin.

Haynie is firing back.

“Mr. Mellion had good things to say to the board right after we hired Dr. Marks,” she said in an email. “At the board meeting when we hired her, and after we had taken the vote, Mellion told the board  that he had spoken to union representatives in Montgomery County, Maryland, and they gave Susan Marks high grades for her collaboration with unions. Clearly, the union leaders in Montgomery County are reasonable and are no longer living in the 1970’s.”

What else did Mellion, regarded by some as a tireless advocate for teachers and by others as a constant thorn in the side who is responsible for creating an “us against” them climate , write in the Focus/Vanguard? Well, of late there has been no mention of the superintendent – interim schools chief Tony Daddona has suffered no insults or criticisms. But, in addition to frequents attacks on Haynie and continuing shots at Marks, current Chairman Mike Lyons gets a minor mention here and there.

A summary:

The news was good in June 2010 – the newsletter carries across the top of its first page a “warm welcome and congratulations, Dr. Susan Marks, superintendent of Norwalk Public Schools, effective 7/1/2010.”

The next newsletter, in October 2010, is not nearly so warm.

“Tenured teacher terminated despite findings of independent panel,” is the headline of that edition.

Mellion was referring to the firing of Ponus Ridge Middle School teacher Oscar Williams, which he said was a “miscarriage of justice.”

“I find it appalling that the Norwalk Board of Education and Central Office Administration, including Dr. Marks, lack respect for due process, the law and fact when it comes to terminating a tenured Norwalk teacher,” Mellion wrote. “… They have no compunction about wasting Norwalk taxpayer’s money, no matter the cost. It appears the board always finds money when it comes to covering its mistakes.”

The next newsletter NancyOnNorwalk has on file is from March 2011, which requests an apology from Chiaramonte for his “personal attacks” and “rude, accusatory manner.” In Apri 2011, Mellion criticizes Marks for modifying the school calendar, shortening the February recess, and making the second day of Rosh Hashana and Veteran’s Day into school days.

In June, Mellion fights back against Chiaramonte’s frequent public requests for the teachers to give back their salary step increases and raises to help deal with a budget crunch.

“Jack, instead of all the nasty outbursts, just think what would have happened if you had really fought for the operating budget for 2011-2012, as you should have but chose not to!” Mellion wrote. “… Jack, do you really not believe that the public will remember all the unseemly notoriety you have brought to yourself, the position you hold, the Board, and the community? Oh, Jack, you are just so wrong!”

Chiaramonte won re-election that year.

Mellion also began campaigning against Haynie in that newsletter.

“Let it be known and remembered that Board of Education member Sue Haynie led the charge to cut elementary school classroom teaching positions as part of the operating budget reconciliation for 2011-12. … After a reduction of elementary classroom teachers was voted on by the BOE, Mrs. Haynie immediately upped the number to 9 to conform with Dr. Marks’ original recommendation.”

In September, Mellion complained that Marks had been given a skimpy performance evaluation. “Every Norwalk teacher is held far more accountable than Dr. Marks, and for that matter, every building administrator,” he said.

In October, Mellion urged staff members who were upset about going to work on Veteran’s Day to take a personal day.

In February 2012, Mellion said he had informed Marks on Feb. 6 that there was a Board of Estimate and Taxation meeting that evening that had several BOE items on the agenda.

“She was completely unaware of the meeting!” he wrote. “Why, I do not know. I strongly suggested that she and/or board members should attend this meeting, but she said she had a prior obligation. I responded that someone ought to be there.”

No BOE members or Central Office Administration members went to the meeting, Mellion said. Teachers and other board employees had done their jobs that day, but their supervisors had not, he wrote.

In March 2012, Mellion wrote that Marks had promised to begin the budgeting process in July 2011 but, “it barely got under way in November! This is the latest the operating budget has ever commenced in my memory.”

He also criticized BOE members for a lack of support in the budgeting process, citing their “poor” attendance at BET meetings.

In April, he criticized efforts to change the school system.

“Dr. Marks and some parents seem to support changes in the Norwalk Public Schools for change’s sake, and they cannot provide valid reasons for the change or what is the real problem in the school system to be solved. This is unacceptable.”

He also complains again about the late start to budgeting and “abysmal” support from the board. The calendar issue rises anew, as he says “shame on Dr. Marks” regarding staggered entry at the beginning of the next school year.

In May 2012, with a “$10 million crater in the school budget,” Marks and the BOE are criticized for “no sense of urgency.”

“I guess some people just do not get it, and clearly one of them is Dr. Marks!” Mellion wrote.

Marks resigned in July 2012.

In October 2012, with Marks gone, Mellion attacks the severance pay awarded to Marks in a vote that every board member voted for except Steven Colarossi.

He goes on to write, “The majority of the Norwalk Board of Education does not care about you, your family, and certainly not your career as a teacher of their children. What these board members do care about is power, control, and their own petty agendas for what goal no one really knows. Strong statement yes, truth, absolutely!”

He cites Haynie, Chiaramonte and Lyons.

In December 2012 Mellion devotes page space to Chiaramonte and Haynie, with the headlines “Bye, Bye Jack” and “Sue, Your Day is Coming!” The reference to Chiaramonte concerned the end of his two-year run as chairman of the BOE.

Chiaramonte “provided the worst leadership any Norwalk Board of Education chairman has ever provided,” Mellion wrote.

With Marks gone and Chiaramonte’s role reduced, Mellion’s focus on Haynie increased.

With the state instituting new rules for evaluating educators, teachers were urged to remember Haynie’s “push for NPS to be part of the pilot for the teacher/administrator evaluation plan,” and to “remember these facts on Election Day.”

The January 2013 edition of the Vanguard features a “Haynie Watch,” ending with the statement that she should not even be nominated for re-election. The February 2013 edition also has a “Haynie Watch,” as well as a comment that Marks has been “gone six months and not even missed,” as previously reported here.

Marks gets it again in March.

“The result of the reconciliation of the operating budget of last spring for the current school year has had a real and serious impact on Norwalk Public Schools, at the elementary level in particular,” Mellion wrote. “Thank you Dr. Marks. Now that you are back in Maryland, do you really care what you did? I think not.”

In April, there is another “Haynie Watch,” echoing a BOE controversy.

“She has some explaining to do as to why she wasted the board’s and the taxpayers resources on lawyers fees,” Mellion wrote, referring to the board transfer of funds to cover cost overruns of the Negotiations and Personnel Committee, of which Haynie is chairwoman. The funds were used to pay for legal services related to negotiations between the BOE and four unions.

The most current figure for legal fees for 2012-2013 negotiations is $174,480, Haynie said.

“To put it  in perspective, it is not to Mr. Mellion’s advantage to have the BOE be as an aggressive negotiation partner for students and taxpayers as he is for his members,” she said in an email. “So, it is to Mr. Mellion’s advantage to cut or question the BOE funding. This was spin, nothing more.”

Copies of the May and June Focus/Vanguards have not yet been passed along.

In October 2011, four consultants interviewed 139 people for the Common Core State Standards Review, otherwise referred to as the “GE Report.”

One section refers to Marks.

“The superintendent has her critics in the system and has numerous challenges managing the politics; still, the majority of people believe she should be given a chance to lead the reform,” the report states.

One former union member, who would like to be anonymous, said Mellion is intelligent and needs to be nasty because other people are.

Haynie has other thoughts.

Mellion was not happy about the audit that Susan Marks authorized, which found that 25 ex-spouses of employees were getting health insurance through Norwalk Public Schools, she said. In 2011-2012 that coverage cost Norwalk at least $300,000 as there were 25 ex-spouses each with a policy worth a minimum of $12,000, she said.

“Marks made his job hard, and she uncovered things he wanted to keep covered,” she said in an email. “One of the things uncovered was the ex-spousal coverage. The NPS insurance account had not been audited in years, using scarce funding dollars for expenses that never even came close to the classroom and costing taxpayers millions. Ex-spouse language has been on the books since at least 2004. This language is an anomaly. … No one knows how long or how much was unnecessarily spent because neither Anthem nor NPS kept track of it.”’

She had a response to Mellion’s criticism of the lateness of Mark’s beginning of the budgeting process in 2011.

“When Marks was hired in 2010, there was an interim (person) in Finance,” she said in an email. “Craig Drezek was hired as Chief Operating Officer that winter but resigned suddenly in August 2011, necessitating the hiring of yet another interim — add to that a hostile union and no money. I would point to the 2013/14 budget just passed. Elio Longo’s exceptional abilities, assistance from our new Chief Financial Officer, Richard Rudl, and then complimented by the collaboration and expertise of Mike Barbis, BoE Finance Chairman, and Mike Lyons, former member of the BET, highlights what can be accomplished even in very tight times.”

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17 responses to “Norwalk leaders targeted in teacher’s union newsletters”

  1. M. Murray’s

    Ok. So we have had two days of articles attacking the teachers union. Time for Nancy to go back and attack the driving range.

  2. adrienne

    Is this just going to be a union bashing tool ??

  3. Ante Litteram BOE

    If we are repulsed by his tone, does that make Mellion wrong on his facts? Sadly, he doesn’t appreciate that his attacks make sympathetic protagonists out of “victims”.

    Haynie, on the other hand, gets most of her facts wrong. Marks’ first budget was for 2011-2012. That was the year she said it was her “unrecommended budget”. That same year Sue Haynie attacked the superintendent’s budget review panel and the entire BOE because she didn’t like the final approved budget.
    The next budget was for 2012-2013. Marks didn’t have someone from AccountTemps as the interim COO to help her with that budget. She had a former Finance Dept. officer who had worked in Norwalk for many years.

  4. EveT

    I wish the there was a straightforward way to clean up the toxic environment surrounding Norwalk schools. Everyone you talk to seems unable to have a conversation about the schools without spewing hostility — whether the person is a teacher, administrator, BOE member, parent or taxpayer. This is not helpful.

  5. LWitherspoon

    M. Murray’s / adrienee
    Please enlighten me – how exactly does it constitute “union bashing” to publish hostile statements from Mellion’s newsletter and give the parties he attacked an opportunity to respond? Mr. Mellion himself certainly wasn’t going to give his victims any chance to respond. I find it amazing that until very recently, taxpayer funds paid a significant portion of Mr. Mellion’s salary to perform a job that largely consists of taking as much as possible from the taxpayers.
    I am also amazed that Norwalk taxpayers were, until recently, paying for healthcare for 25 ex-spouses. Kudos to Sue Haynie and the BoE for uncovering this and putting an end to it. I would love to know how many of those ex-spouses had health care available at other jobs but participated in the NPS plan instead because the benefits were more generous.

  6. piberman

    Congradulations to Nancy for reporting on these NFT Vanguards that have long gone “unnoticed” by Norwalk’s traditional media. One has to ask why only in Norwalk does the local teachers union month after month publish hostile remarks about Supts and BOE members. And why only in Norwalk are both teacher and administrator unions so actively engaged in local politics. And why our local teachers and school administrators remain silent in the face of these hostile comments on their supervisors.

    Surely the well functioning of our public school system is adversely affected by such ongoing hostility by their union chiefs. Such hostility is not tolerated anywhere else in the state. Why Norwalk ? Long past time for our public school teachers and administrators and their union leaders to respect the BOE elected by the community to supervise the public school school.

    Again, congradulations to Nancy for performing a valuable public service in reporting contents of the NFT’s Vanguard.

  7. Oldtimer

    How does Piberman know so much about unions around the state ? He makes statements about “only in Norwalk” as if he knows what various union locals, including teacher’s, are doing when it is practically impossible to know all that much about other union locals. It is clear he doesn’t like the concept of employee unions, but there is no need to lie when he attacks the Norwalk teacher’s union. Bruce Mellion seems to have a pretty good idea of what he is doing and doesn’t stoop to lying to get his job done. If anything, Mr Berman is only helping Mr Mellion get re-elected when he continually reminds teachers of their enemies and their enemies’ apologists in the administration.

  8. piberman

    dear Old Timer

    None of the other municipal unions in Norwalk print such scathing attacks on their supervisors as does the NFT. As
    to what happens in other Districts its no secret. Ask those litigators involved in BOE/union negotiations. Norwalk is indeed in a class of its own. Its repugnant.

    FYI I managed a large factory holding contracts with the Teamsters and IBEW No. 3 NYC so I’m quite knowledgeable about “unions” and am quite emphathetic about their needs and knowledgeable about their impressive history in the U.S.

    In my experience when union officers and mgmt. meet at the “table” they are respectful and do not resort to printing scathing comments behind the back.

    We hold our City police and fire departments in high regard precisely because they are professionals. It would be intolerable for them to print scathing attacks on the elected or appointed superiors.

    So why do you give Norwalk’s teachers a pass to post scathing attacks on their appointed and elected supervisory bodies ? I’d expect our Norwalk public school teachers frankly to be highly embarrassed about what appears in the Vanguard. Their silence speaks volumes about their professionalism and commitment. Citizens should demand a change.

  9. M. Murray’s

    Lets not forget some of the personal vendettas certain board members have against some staff and administration that go back years. Some since their children were in school and now they use their opportunity on the board to seek perceived reparations.

  10. Ante Litteram BOE

    The provision for the post-divorce insurance benefits has been in the contract for years. It was in the contract that Fred Wilms praised four years ago. Same thing with Mellion’s salary. That was a contract that Jack Chiaramonte voted to approve.
    Piberman needs to explain how a union is “hostile” if it never files a grievances. Seriously.

  11. Oldtimer

    Notice how neatly he shifted from comparing Norwalk teacher’s union to all other union locals in the state to comparing Norwalk teacher’s union to other unions locals in Norwalk ? Now the question arises: how does he claim to know what the other unions may be publishing ? In this internet age, he cannot know unless he is reading other people’s private emails.

  12. marjoriem

    Sue Haynie is a very angry person.. From what I have read, she has a high school degree.

  13. Tim T

    Why should the police union scathing attacks on their supervisors as they get everything they want.

    Can you say $65.00 an hour in unlimited to watch a hole while sitting a city car running with city gas while listing to music and playing on the iPhone?

    Can you say promoting a chief from the ranks with ZERO search for the best candidate?

    Can you say having Zero accountability for preventing or solving crime?

    Can you say officers getting arrested themselves keeping their jobs?

    Does the teachers’ union have these perks?

  14. M. Murray’s

    Here you go Tim ….NORWALK – Police Chief Thomas Kulhawik announced Monday morning that the City of Norwalk has posted the “greatest reduction of violent crime” of the six largest cities in the state.
    Kulhawik said preliminary crime statistics for 2012, which have not yet been published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, show a drop of about 11 percent in the crime index, which tracks violent and property crimes, and preliminary statistics from the first half of 2013 show an additional drop of nine percent. He said 11 illegal weapons have been confiscated so far this year.

  15. Tim T

    Here you go M. Murray (from a 2012 article by Ben Poston of the Journal Sentinel; link to full story below):

    FBI crime-reporting audits are shallow, infrequent

    That lack of scrutiny allows cases of undercounting of crimes, such as in Milwaukee where thousands of violent assaults were not included in the crime rate since 2006, to go unnoticed and gives the public a false sense of the true level of crime, criminal justice experts said

    Silverman noted the FBI acknowledges that crime data is self-reported by police departments, but said it can be misleading to the public because the federal agency collects and releases the data as part of its annual “Crime in the United States” report.

    “Most people assume the data comes with a certain grain of authenticity because they are FBI statistics,” he said. “But in reality they are not really FBI stats, but those of the actual police department.”

    FBI crime data is often cited by police chiefs and elected officials to give residents a measure of safety in their communities. In Milwaukee, Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett have touted four straight years of declining crime.

    But the information receives little outside scrutiny and is susceptible to manipulation by local police departments, Silverman said of the overall system.


  16. M. Murray’s


  17. Daisy

    I used to like Bruce Mellion, but I’ve been thinking lately that he sees his mission as just criticizing anyone and everyone in positions of leadership (except himself of course).
    Makes it hard to take him seriously.

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