Norwalk teachers union head backs incumbent legislators, says Watts, Peña were ‘absent’ on school woes in 2012

From left, state Rep. Chris Perone (D-137), Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey (D-88), state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) and state Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) chat after Saturday's endorsement at Norwalk High School.

NORWALK, Conn. — If you’re worried about funding for Norwalk Public Schools, you should stick with the state legislators you have, according to Norwalk Federation of Teachers President Bruce Mellion.

Norwalk’s Democratic incumbents — state Rep. Chris Perone (D-137), state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) and state Sen. Bob Duff (D-25) — bring plenty of money to Norwalk, Mellion said Sunday, in a conversation he said is “tantamount to an endorsement.”

“I am doing it on behalf of the people I represent also,” he said. “… We are saying as the incumbents we believe they should be supported.”

The three veteran legislators are all facing challenges in their quest to be re-elected. Democratic voters who go to Tracey Elementary School Tuesday evening will choose between Perone and Councilman David Watts (D-District A). Simultaneously, Dems voting at Columbus Magnet School will choose between Morris and former council member and community leader Warren Peña. Duff is likely a shoe-in at the District 25 convention, but political newbie Israel Navarro is looking to force a primary on the veteran.

Mellion said that Watts and Peña, who was on the Council at the time, were of no help in 2012 when a $4 million deficit in the Board of Education’s insurance account led to many layoffs and lessened services for Norwalk school children.

“They were not there, they were absent to that,” he said. “They left us hanging and said we couldn’t do anything, or we’ll do it later, and obviously nothing ever happened. Now they are running around saying – and only saying, with no performance behind them – ‘Well, we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that.’ So you have the tale of two different situations. One is proven leadership, bringing money to Norwalk with the delegation. … (the other is) Two men moving their mouths about something, and they haven’t brought a penny to Norwalk at all. They want people to trust them based on some promise, but when they had a chance in the Common Council they were not able to deliver anything whatsoever, then funded the Board of Education, which then resulted, as you well know, with lots of job losses and lots of job reductions that obviously set us back.”

Their “record in the past is not something anyone could be very proud of in terms of education funding and what they did on behalf of the Norwalk Board of Education and the students of Norwalk,” he said.

Watts did not return a Sunday evening email asking for comment. Peña replied late in the day and said he would have a written statement later. Both served as part of the minority Democratic caucus, heavily outnumbered by the Republican caucus.

Perone and Morris were endorsed Saturday by Connecticut Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey (D-88) and House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D-30).

“People don’t come and just lightly endorse you. They’ve got to tell the truth, that’s what it is,” Mellion said.

Watts released a statement in reply to that endorsement.

“Regardless of the election year spin, as a councilman, I can say each year when we piece together a $300 million-plus budget, the return from the state in terms of funding is laughable,” Watts said in an email.

Mellion attacked that.

“In this session of the legislature, between what Chris Perone did, Bruce Morris did, Bob Duff did, we were able to get about $750,000 in Alliance (grant) dollars extra for Norwalk. That’s not just pocket change, that’s real money,” Mellion said. “I think the record needs to reflect that very carefully and very accurately. It went into different pockets, Alliance money et cetera, but the point is that they were able to, as a coalition for Norwalk, and with a Democratic governor, bring that money to Norwalk. That’s real numbers, it’s proven funds, it’s here and it’s going to be here for Norwalk students and it’s really, really good in terms of where we are heading these days.”

Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera has repeatedly said Norwalk does not get its fair share of Educational Cost Sharing (ECS) funding. The legislative contingent is criticized in some quarters because the ECS formula has not been changed to more benefit Norwalk. Mayor Harry Rilling is on the steering committee of the Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, an organization that has filed suit to revamp school funding statewide. That suit is scheduled to go to trial in September.

“I just think as a coalition working with a Democratic administration and a governor they are doing their very best in times that are difficult. Last year we got some (more) money in ECS, wasn’t a lot but it was some, and I think that they have some leadership positions there,” Mellion said.

The three legislators have risen to leadership positions. Morris is deputy majority whip and Perone is chairman of the Commerce Committee. Duff, the assistant Senate president pro tempore, has been mentioned as possible majority leader after the election.

“Bob Duff is certainly a major player; he could be moving into a powerful position. That just doesn’t happen because somebody just shows up at the door. That happens because they are working hard, they’re respected and they are able to get some things done that moves things forward,” Mellion said.

Navarro responded to that comment.

“I do agree with his statement,” he wrote in an email. “Senator Duff done his fair share for the city. But there is still more to be done. This is something that doesn’t shock me. There still a need to improve the ECS funding for our school system so we can prepare our children for their future. Yes, I perfectly understand that Senator Duff is in line for this position, which would be great for our city. That’s something I saw coming from the beginning of this race. And at the end of day, the people will decide for who is the best candidate for the city and Norwalk Federation of Teachers share there opinion on who the best candidate in this race. And I respect their opinion.”

Mellion called back later to add to his comments.

Duff went through Norwalk schools and his mother is a librarian, he said. His children attend Norwalk Public Schools. Perone, who is from Bedford, N.Y, has a son who goes to Jefferson Elementary, Mellion said. Morris, who is from New Haven, is in the school system, his children went through Norwalk schools and his grandchildren are learning  in Norwalk Public Schools now, he said.

“When you look at the cast of characters who are the incumbents – and Larry Cafero, I mean, his three children went to Norwalk Public Schools, and Larry himself, and his father was a principal, I mean all of that – all of that says a lot about the delegation in terms of their involvement,” he said. “That’s a good knowledge base also, because that allows them to know what is really going on from the inside. Then you go to Hartford, you really have some base knowledge of what our needs are. You’re not just talking from theory, you’re talking about some profound experience.”

Peña went to Norwalk Public Schools and is a bachelor with no children. Watts is from New Haven, but has a son at Kendall.

“They’re pretty absent to what goes on in terms of, you know, I think to the reality and totality of what the school system is about,” Mellion said. “Also, I don’t think Watts has a job at all.”


14 responses to “Norwalk teachers union head backs incumbent legislators, says Watts, Peña were ‘absent’ on school woes in 2012”

  1. anonymous

    Bruce Mellion, watching out for Norwalk? He’s a Bridgeport resident with no children who once stated that Norwalk gets its fair share of ECS funding.

  2. YankeeC

    Mellion does not have his facts correct

  3. Lisa Thomson

    Funny, I don’t recall seeing Bruce Mellion at the ECS Formula hearings in Bridgeport a couple of years when the formula committee was making its rounds in our area. The closest the Hartford Committee got to Norwalk was Bridgeport! Mr. Mellion, as I recall was noticeably absent. Funny how politicians beat the drum for ECS funding during election time. Net result – nothing from nobody – in a state that is virtually broke. Sadly, the way Norwalk state legislators move up the food chain in Hartford, is by supporting Hartford issues – not representing the people, taxpayers or children of Norwalk.

  4. John Hamlin

    Mellion is in it for the union, not for Norwalk, not for the kids, and not even for the teachers. An endorsement from him should be the kiss of death.

  5. Loveforthecity

    Mellion should be challenged and thrown out of Norwalk. He has lost touch and may be living in a fantasy universe. Pena and Watts took charge of introducing legislation that forced Moccia to act in 2012. If memory serves me right these two were no where to be found.

  6. Kriss

    This comment has been removed because of our ban on sock puppets.

  7. Piberman

    No evidence Senator Duff or other Norwalk legislators ever put their shoulder to the wheel in changing the ECS formula. Claims to the contrary are without foundations. Why be surprised NFT Chief Mellion supports Democrat legislators. He supported all democrat candidates in Norwalk’s last election. Local Democrats and our overpaid school teachers should be proud that Mellion has once again entered Norwalk politics. No other city in CT has this distinction. Of course all taxpayers should be proud of our Mayor, Council and BOE for taxes imposed to fund the 5th highest paid teachers in CT. It’s Norwalk’s real distinction. True “public servants”.

  8. Bruce Kimmel

    For the record:
    In 2012, both Watts and Pena, in response to the $4 million BOE shortfall, strongly argued that the entire deficit should immediately be covered by transferring money from the city’s fund balance (rainy day fund) to the BOE. This approach was rejected by the Council and the BET for two reasons:
    1. The city was still not totally clear how the deficit materialized and, more importantly, whether it would be recurring. If it was indeed structural and thus recurring, it would have been foolish to immediately pay it down in one maneuver and then have to do it again, and again…
    2. After the Council agreed to partly cover $1.8 million of the deficit with a fund balance draw down, the BET adopted a more prudent two-year scenario that left the fund balance untouched and that enabled the BOE to cover the deficit. This solution was favorably looked upon by the city’s rating agencies; it also enabled the city to use the fund balance in crafting the last two operating budgets.
    Ironically, it seemed at the time that Watts and Pena were on the side of Mellion.

  9. LWitherspoon

    As usual, Councilman Kimmel is right on the facts. I am no fan of Pena and Watts, but it’s true that they sought to score political points during 2012 by advocating that money be taken from the rainy day fund to avoid cuts. Pena and Watts were also involved in waving signs in front of City Hall on the issue. Mellion should explain what more they could have done as members of Common Council who weren’t in the majority caucus.
    In the absence of further explanation from Mr. Mellion, we are left to wonder why he is making disingenuous comments in justification of his support for Duff, Morris, and Perone. Could it be that Mr. Mellion has concluded that Pena and Watts have no chance, and it’s better for the Union to curry favor with the incumbent Democrats? Or does he believe that having Duff and Morris in leadership positions creates the highest likelihood of more money for Norwalk schools, which flows into the pockets of Union members?

  10. Taxpayer Fatigue

    It’s great that the state gives us an extra few hundred thousand each year, but we really should be receiving $20 to $30M more when you compare us to cities like Danbury. Of course the bureaucracy is endorsing the status quo because real change would require a real shift of funding dollars to Norwalk, which would have to come from other towns. That’s why Democrat leaders in the house (Sharkey and Aresimowicz) are supporting Bruce Morris and Chris Perone. Interesting that Mellion is from Bridgeport and doesn’t live in Norwalk – makes sense now.

  11. Bill

    I am glad to see these empty suits challenged. They have done very little for our town. We still get back much less than we give in tax dollars to Hartford, and they seem perfectly content with that. I would vote for Pena but I would never vote for Perone. I guess it is 2 more years of this laughing stock.

  12. Joe Espo

    This comment has been disallowed due to our comment policy.

  13. Joe Espo

    Dear Nancy and Mark: kudos for newly implementing your version of civility within NON’s commentary framework. Now, please practice a modicum of journalistic civility within your editorial framework. Like…hold back a little on republicans, Oak Hills and some of the other liberal hot-button issues. Temper Mike Mushak’s enthusiasm for posting unbridled defamatory rants of War and Peace length. Give an editorial tweak once in a while to the other (your) side. You’ll be lauded instead of reviled… but you also risk withering on the vine of boredom, just like Jackie Lightfield’s blog. Oh, to strike a balance!

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Joe Espo
      If the choice is racist comments, partisan name-calling and vicious rants or boredom, we will opt for boredom. At least we maintain our dignity.

      Please comply with our comment policy.

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