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Debate Grows on Norwalk School Evaluation Process

NORWALK, Conn. — There was no mention of the superintendent’s evaluation on Norwalk’s Board of Education agenda Tuesday. But that did not stop board member Steve Colarossi from objecting that the evaluation, released to the media last week, was not publically voted upon by the board.

Instead, the evaluation of Superintendent Susan Marks was agreed upon by consensus. It was compiled and written by the board’s executive committee — board Chairman Jack Chiaramonte, Vice Chairman Glenn Iannaccone and secretary Jodi Bishop-Pullan — and based on several closed-door board meetings. She passed the review but received some mixed remarks.

“I believe it should have come in front of the board for a vote,” Colarossi said at the end of the meeting. “The public should not have to make a FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request for it.” Colarossi said the evaluation should be available “freely and publicly” and not produced only upon request. This evaluation should also have been a part of the board’s agenda and minutes, he said.

Chiaramonte said the evaluation process was consistent with past ones in the district. “It has always been done this way,” he said in an interview. Chiaramonte called the evaluation a “true collaboration” of all board members. “To vote on it would be redundant,” he said.

Colarossi, a lawyer, questioned the legality of not taking a vote. He said that in his reading of the law, the Freedom of Information Act requires that any action by a public agency can’t be undertaken without a public vote.

After Colarossi’s comments, Sue Haynie said she had a different point of view after reading the state statute about superintendent evaluations. “There is no requirement that it has to be voted on,” she said.

According to Nick Caruso, a senior associate at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education , there are a “huge variety of ways” to evaluate a superintendent. The only thing that is clear, said Caruso, is that by law the board must conduct an evaluation of its superintendent. “It doesn’t specify how.”

When he was a school board member in Connecticut, Caruso said, his board voted on the superintendent’s evaluation. That way, members who did not agree with the evaluation could vote against it, he said.

Colarossi says his complaint is about the evaluation process and not the evaluation itself. “I would have voted for it,” he said. In pressing for a vote, he said he does not mean to be “picayune” but rather wants to “promote openness and transparency.”

“Superintendent Marks took great care to present a lengthy summary of progress toward the standards she established for the evaluation of her work,” Colarossi said in an email. “The public deserves to know that we diligently reviewed her tireless efforts for our children.”

Going forward, Chiaramonte said he would consider changing the process for the next evaluation.  “I’m open to discussion about it next time around, if we all agree.”

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