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Norwalk parents’ leader suggests mediation in BoE/NFT dispute

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell addresses the Norwalk Planning Commission in February in City Hall. (File photo)

NORWALK, Conn. — Mediation is needed to resolve the differences between the Norwalk Board of Education and the Norwalk Federation of Teachers, an education activist said Friday.

Time is short and who knows what cuts the state budget will bring, Barbara Meyer Mitchell said, trying to avoid teacher layoffs as the BoE and the NFT engage in a stare down.

“I have not commented publicly on the BOE health care situation yet, as I hoped that the people responsible for the negotiations would be able to achieve results,” Meyer Mitchell said on the Facebook group Norwalk Parents for Education. “However, it has now become apparent that the NFT union and the Board of Education have reached a stalemate. This unfortunate outcome will lead to layoffs to be laid out at the June 8th BOE Finance Committee meeting. That means we have a scant three weeks to find a meaningful resolution to the situation. To that end, I join Mayor Rilling in calling for mediation to help these two entities come back to the table and work together to find an acceptable compromise.”

“I’ve asked both sides to come back to the table in an attempt to work out a solution. I’m hopeful they will,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in an email to NancyOnNorwalk.

The teachers’ union has filed a complaint with the State Board of Labor Relations, accusing the BoE of attempting to intimidate with public statements; Norwalk Public Schools fired back Friday, saying the NFT’s characterization of its proposed health care plan is inaccurate, that the deal the NFT proposed would cost more money than the proposed switch would save.

“This is an extraordinarily complicated situation, with a lot of unspoken agendas involved,” Meyer Mitchell wrote. “A neutral, expert, and diplomatic voice to manage the talks would be invaluable to reaching a compromise.”

“The elephant in the room is that we may be looking at still more cuts, due to budget cuts coming from the state. We must resolve this issue, if we can, before the next hit,” she said.

Unpredictability at the state level continues. On Monday, Gov. Dannel Malloy released a revised recommended budget, which the Connecticut Mirror reports would cut Norwalk’s funding by $1.13 million. On Tuesday, legislative Democrats announced a budget proposal that would legalize marijuana, expand casino gambling, create a paid Family and Medical Leave system, and reduce funding for Connecticut’s clean election system, according to CT News Junkie. Legislative Republicans offered a counter proposal that depends on labor savings, CT News Junkie said.

Norwalk officials have commented that this may not get worked out until October.

“All I can say at this point is that I have my fingers crossed,” Common Council Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said in an email. “Whatever happens in Hartford, we’ll make do one way or the other.”

“After a successful budget season, in which the Norwalk Public Schools received both an historic increase in the operating budget and a huge 5 year commitment to building new schools and repairing existing schools, it is disheartening to have to consider cuts,” Meyer Mitchell wrote on Facebook. “Our city, under Mayor Rilling’s leadership, has made a course change, committing to excellence in education here in Norwalk. We must fight, without finding fault, to keep on that course regardless of the circumstances that arise.”

Her post drew an angry response from Drew Todd.

“Eventually the NFT will have to switch plans but maybe we can give them a reality shot and save the jobs of their members beforehand . And maybe they can actually start acting like adults go back to the table and actually try and. Work this out. But instead, they love to pout and cry and claim they are being picked on. Time for the Exec Board to grow up and welcome to the 21st Century! Let’s see how membership feels when the payroll has to shrink?” Todd wrote.

“Just as a point of fact, the union tried to come back to the table this week, and the board refused to engage,” Meyer Mitchell replied.

A parent asked why.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think they can express that publicly, due to the NFT labor complaint,” Meyer Mitchell said.

“Now that the union has filed this complaint I believe the BOE can no longer publicly comment on the negotiations so we will only have one side of the story moving forward,” Jessica Garnett wrote.

NancyOnNorwalk emailed NPS and BoE leaders and asked if that were true. No one replied.

The Norwalk Federation of Teachers will have a vote in June about the proposed changes to its contract, NFT First Vice President Joe Giandurco said last week.

Meyer Mitchell encouraged anyone who agrees that a mediator is needed to resolve the standoff between the union and the Board of Education to write to leaders.

She said, “The email addresses are: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], and cc Mayor Rilling [email protected] and Dr. Adamowski [email protected].”

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