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.
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.”