As I told you last time in these pages, I am a veteran teacher at West Haven High and a lifelong Westie. Nearly two years ago, I sought professional legal counsel after I was threatened with expulsion from my union by WHFT President Kristen Malloy-Scanlon and VP Defense Lynn Bonaldo. Last fall I filed a lawsuit, “VIC HOGFELDT V. WEST HAVEN BOARD OF EDUCATION.” I believe that my constitutional rights have been violated and that my rights under the law continue to be violated.
I believe that every teacher, every school system employee, and every concerned parent and citizen should obtain a copy of this lawsuit and read it carefully. Let it be known from hereon that I filed this suit in order to protect myself and other teachers from unlawful harassment and retaliation at the hands of Superintendent Cavallaro in collaboration with elements of the WHFT leadership. Copies of this Superior Court lawsuit can be obtained from the Education Department office on the first floor of City Hall or by calling Superintendent Cavallaro’s office at 203-937-4310. Copies can also be had from any Board member, any WHFT union steward, or any WHFT officer. All of these folks have a responsibility to provide you with a copy.
It is my judgement and the judgement of most West Haven citizens who follow events in our community that Mr. Cavallaro must be replaced as our schools’ superintendent. He spent a good portion of his young adulthood as a protege and disciple of the late political boss Harold Allen. Indeed, he was often seen about the city riding around with Harold as a passenger in his car. Mr. Cavallaro sent his own children to private schools and no longer lives in our city, having built an expensive home in Guilford.
His tenure as superintendent has been marked by flagrant acts of antagonism and disrespect towards our community and numerous failures. Among these: 1) Nearly singlehandedly, Cavallaro deep-sixed any chance we had of building a new high school by starting a war with the entire city when he attempted to convert our high school, which had been a comprehensive high school since the days of Billy Soderman, into some sort downsized remedial academy with a computer-tech component. Mayor John Picard’s refusal to distance himself from Cavallaro’s policies ended his political career. 2) Using school system administrators to harass and retaliate against department heads and teachers who had the guts to question his policies (see my lawsuit). 3) Vandalizing the G-wing of the high school, ripping out wiring, and spitefully constructing a blue wall to block access to that area of the building, a malicious act of considerable cost to taxpayers. 4) At a time when a great deal of money appears to have gone missing from my union, Mr. Cavallaro secretly initiated and signed a severance deal with a former union officer which cost taxpayers over $100,000. This agreement was signed by several union officers and concealed by Cavallaro from the Board. Likewise, union officers concealed this agreement from the membership, later characterizing it as a “personnel issue.” The Board has a responsibility to investigate this matter.
In most school systems, any one of the above behaviors would be enough to fire the superintendent. In West Haven, Pat Libero’s lame duck school board prematurely renewed Cavallaro’s contract and gave him a raise! The current Board needs to break with the past and muster the courage to act boldly to save our school system.
I think I know part of the secret to Mr. Cavallaro’s longevity. Many old-time Democrats are haunted by the memory of Mayor Sal Guerra from the late 1980’s. During Guerra’s 2nd term, a wage and contract dispute with city teachers led to layoffs and to the end of Guerra’s mayoralty. Once again our city is in grave financial straits and there is tremendous pressure on West Haven’s leaders to control spending. They know that most of our teachers no longer live (or vote) in West Haven.
Mr. Cavallaro is a cagey political hack with command of a budget substantially larger than that of the mayor, and he never has to stand for re-election or deal with an obstreperous city council. With his near total control of the WHFT, Cavallaro offers any mayor the prospect of controlling spending by thwarting teacher wage increases and limiting health care costs.Problem is, Westie teachers have already taken a beating at the bargaining table as far as pay is concerned, with several step and wage freezes under Fusco and Co. over the past ten years.
Getting rid of this superintendent would allow our union to negotiate from a level playing field, not to mention drastically improving staff morale. Westie teachers must go around their corrupt union leadership to lobby the Board to remove him. (Stupidity and cowardice do not equal solidarity and unity.) Then we must take back our union from Malloy-Scanlon, Bonaldo, and the rest.
The toxic partnership of Neil Cavallaro and the Court Street Crew is the cancer in our school system. Take it from one who knows.