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Ponns Cohen: 'My Obligation to Correct the Record'

By Marianna Ponns Cohen

Here we go again!

Mr. Schulte is misrepresenting my positions seemingly by political design. By his own admission, he relies on his “recollection” of statements I am alleged to have made at an RTM meeting in May 2011 regarding an RTM motion to reduce the BOE budget by $1 million for excess administrators. He claims I “advocated for a cut” at this meeting. He further claims that, at a recent BOE forum, I “denied” making such statement. Not so on both counts. 

Here are the facts. At the RTM meeting BOE Chairman Steve Anderson alleged that the BOE had first heard of a proposed $1 million cut to its budget that evening. My short comment was to correct the public record: the BOE had been notified by email about this potential RTM $1 million cut a week before. I stated: "The BOE was aware that this proposal was coming down the pike.”

Given the prior North Mianus funding problems, I thought it was especially important to correct any possible misrepresentations before the RTM. Since I was aware of the misrepresentation, as a public servant charged with protecting the credibility of the institution, it was my obligation to correct the record.

Marianna Ponns Cohen

John Linsenmeyer November 01, 2011 at 12:52 PM
At last! A new picture.
Greg Schulte November 01, 2011 at 03:44 PM
The point I made in the initial letter is only amplified by Ms. Ponns Cohen's response. A few highlights: 1. I am not relying on my recollection, Ms. Ponns Cohen can call it whatever she wants, but to say that she didn't advocate for the $1 million cut at the RTM Meeting May is ridiculous. View the video for yourself after Steve Anderson's opening remarks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbTit7Va8uw I haven't met an RTM member who didn't think she was advocating for the cut. 2. Ms. Ponns Cohen next statement is confusing as she claims not to have advocated for the cut last May but not to have denied advocating for it last month (?). I guess this is what happens to tangled webs, but view the video I have attached from the North Mianus meeting is only 10 seconds long but MPC clearly denies advocating for the cut. (continued)
Greg Schulte November 01, 2011 at 03:45 PM
3. In other versions of this letter Ms. Ponns Cohen has claimed this was not a haphazard cut, she is wrong and she knows it. The RTM could not control what was going to happen if the cut had passed and neither could MPC. She may have had a plan to cut administrators, but the $1 million would have been taken out of the overall BOE budget, not to any individual line items. The cut could have had unintended consequences and was, in my opinion and others (as it was overwhelmingly voted down), irresponsible. 4. Again, MPC can't have it both ways. She didn't know about the North Mianus parking lot at the time (as I am sure she would have mentioned at the meeting) and, therefore, couldn't have been performing this noble act of transparency in the name of the parking lot as she clearly claims in the last paragraph. To anyone even considering voting for Marianna Ponns Cohen, use this as an example of her bewildering first on the BOE and vote for Peter von Braun and Barbara O'Neill so we don't have a second.
Chris Davies November 01, 2011 at 04:20 PM
Mr. Schulte, again?!?
Chris Davies November 01, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Stop harassing Ponns Cohen with your lame accusations. We know you are not going to vote for her. Get a life and some anger management help.
Chris Davies November 01, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Good thing he did not make it to BET folks!!!
Greg Schulte November 01, 2011 at 04:23 PM
Mr. Davies: Facts seem to trouble you.
Chris Davies November 01, 2011 at 04:43 PM
You have no facts -- only fabrications. Which you perpetuate again and again and again and again nauseatingly. The fact that matters is that people did not have confidence in you for the BET. In no small part because you lash out at people. Word gets around.
Greg Schulte November 01, 2011 at 05:10 PM
No need to call each other names. In summary... I asked a question at a BOE PTA forum at my son's school and was not satisfied with the answer I received. I proceeded to write a letter about it which Ms. Ponns Cohen claims I misrepresented the facts. I responded with support that I believe counter Ms. Ponns Cohen's missive and gave Patch readers links (where appropriate) so they can decide what is true and what isn't. P.S.: I didn't receive the BET nomination primarily because Sean Goldrick is an outstanding candidate.
Barbara Heins (Editor) November 01, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Patch appreciates readers' interest and comments and knows that you understand we are providing a forum for comments and discussion directed to the issues that rise above sentiments on a personal level.
Chris Davies November 01, 2011 at 06:44 PM
Mr. Goldrick is an outstanding candidate. Wish he was running for BOE. I will vote for him and encourage my friends to do the same. On that, at least, we agree.
Sandy Waters November 01, 2011 at 09:45 PM
Before accepting this statement from Ms. Ponns Cohen, readers should view the 5-minute tape of her speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PbTit7Va8uw She begins with an accusation -- school board chairman Anderson is a liar -- follows it up with an inaccuracy of her own -- she proposed $750,000 in reductions to the school budget in December 2010 (actually, she proposed reductions exceeding $1.1million). She had no need to speak if she agreed with the Board Chairman, and, in fact, the points she raises ALL justify the spending reduction. I have spoken to a number of people who were there that night, and they ALL believed that she supported the motion to reduce the school budget by $1m. Ms. Ponns Cohen may be a master at manipulating the press, but she falls short when it comes to telling the truth. But don't believe me. Watch the clip yourself and see.
Greg Schulte November 01, 2011 at 10:19 PM
I haven't been on the RTM for very long, but it's very obvious that every speaker is either for or against the issue they are speaking about. Ms. Ponns Cohen was definitely not against cutting $1 million from the BOE Budget. Ms. Ponns Cohen was sitting next to me that night and, after I made a speech against the cut, she took it upon herself trying to convince me why we should make the cut and why certain administrators were expendable. There was no distinction between what she said to the full RTM and what she said to me one-on-one - she was a primary advocate of the cut.
Marianna Ponns Cohen November 01, 2011 at 10:39 PM
Mr. Schulte, this is my last statement on this issue. Yes, people do talk about issues they care about at the RTM. And I spoke about what I care about deeply -- open and honest government. As for your fiction about an alleged conversation between us, no such conversation occurred. Again, more fabrications. VERY interesting and telling that you forgot that "story" when you submitted your letter to the editor to all media outlets.
Greg Schulte November 01, 2011 at 10:52 PM
I didn't include the conversation previously since it isn't part of the public record. I offered it tonight only to put your comments to the full RTM in context. Since you originally didn't remember being at the May RTM meeting at all in your response to my question at the North Mianus PTA Forum, I guess you may have forgotten our discussion (others who seated near us remember). These are my last comments on this subject as well.
Marianna Ponns Cohen November 01, 2011 at 10:56 PM
That is correct, Ms. Waters, I did propose a reduction at the December 2010 BOE meeting -- I believe we need to spend money on "teaching," not "administrating." BUT I did not do so at the May RTM meeting as you have misrepresented in multiple emails you have blanketed throughout the Town. I merely corrected the record of misrepresentations created by the Board chair who said that he had just heard of the proposed RTM reduction. The tape confirms my account of the RTM meeting, not yours. I am very glad you are distributing it. By the way, the BOE leadership not following due processes has happened before. Bob Brady admitted that the BOE "broke the law" in the North Mianus situation. See Greenwich Time -- June 14. So, on Mr. Anderson's watch, the BOE broke the law. And only Mr. Anderson and Ms. Moriarty knew that for two months, and said NOTHING to fellow Board members. That is exactly what is dysfunctional about the BOE.
Greg Schulte November 01, 2011 at 11:12 PM
I didn't bring the conversation up in the letter because it wasn't part of the public record and I only bring it up tonight to put your speech to the full RTM in context. When I asked this question at the North Mianus PTA Forum, you originally claimed you didn't remember being at the May RTM Meeting. I guess you forgot we talked that night as well, but it was noted by others who didn't. I agree this subject has beaten to death and we'll see what happens next Tuesday.
Sandy Waters November 02, 2011 at 12:27 PM
Spin is one step away from self deception. The RTM understood that if you proposed a similar motion in December 2010, you support the one proposed in May 2011. Just for the record, you proposed reductions not only in administrating, but in professional development and summer school as well.
dd November 02, 2011 at 02:03 PM
Ms. Ponns Cohen, I am considering voting for you because I think that you were right to draw attention to the rush to expand IB without nearly enough vetting from the rest of the School Board or input from the community. However, I am concerned that your combative style will make it difficult for other Board members and future Superintendents to work with you to help improve the quality of education for our children. To be effective, you can not be battling your colleagues on every single issue and there is a point at which you must accept the decision of the majority of the Board and move on. Will you commit to that?
Chris Davies November 02, 2011 at 02:06 PM
Ms. Waters, what is the real reason Larry Leverett resigned -- didn't he leave in the middle of his contract -- just like Freund -- when you were Board of Education chairman? Why did you let Leverett sign letter agreeing to have Greenwich students go to the Stamford interdistrict magnet school -- without board approval, when every other school district did? Were you afraid that the community would not want that controversial initiative?
Sandy Waters November 02, 2011 at 02:50 PM
Dr. Leverett, who announced his departure after I left the Board, left for personal reasons. The facts about the Superintendent turnover problem are these: 1. The average tenure of a Superintendent nationwide is 3 years. 2. The pool of qualified candidates, with a track record of improving student performance, is very very small. Educators are newcomers to accountability, as maybe you've noticed. This is not peculiar just to Greenwich. 3. Making the pool even smaller, to have that track record, one must have experience. Experience = age. 4. A $250,000 Superintendent's salary alone will not allow a sitting Superintendent to live in Greenwich or nearby. That's why every Superintendent since Ernie Fleishman (who was hired at 38 in 1977) has been a double dipper -- eg. collecting a pension from one state while taking employment in another. These factors, combined, have given us Superintendents who are retired and not fully committed to a career in Greenwich. Re the interdistrict magnet: I am sure Ms. Ponns Cohen has something she believes is evidence of this. The truth is I did not allow anyone to do any such thing. This is apparently a big issue for you both, but where are the complaining parents and students? Nowhere. During my tenure, the Board did approve an interdistrict magnet opportunity in Norwalk, but there was never a compulsory requirement for any of our students to participate. What is wrong with offering our students more options? I say nothing.
Sandy Waters November 02, 2011 at 03:04 PM
The Board approved the Norwalk programs on August 29, 2002. You can check the record. The votes were 8-0. And there were people on that board just as conservative as Ms. Ponns Cohen is.
Martina Szish November 02, 2011 at 07:01 PM
"A $250,000 Superintendent's salary alone will not allow a sitting Superintendent to live in Greenwich or nearby." Wow - That's is so out of touch as to be offensive.
Marianna Ponns Cohen November 02, 2011 at 10:25 PM
I am not referring to the Norwalk magnet in 2002. The interdistrict magnet agreement to which I am referring was signed by Larry Leverett in June 2004, while you were BOE Chairman, relating to the Stamford Interdistrict Environmental School. It was never authorized by the BOE, as you never brought it to a public meeting. Yet, the State Department of Education guidelines for authorization of participation in interdistrict magnet in fact required (and did require in 2004) Board approval.
Historian November 02, 2011 at 10:53 PM
To quote 'dd' above; I would also like to know that answer to the question put forth; for the record: "However, I am concerned that your combative style will make it difficult for other Board members and future Superintendents to work with you to help improve the quality of education for our children. To be effective, you can not be battling your colleagues on every single issue and there is a point at which you must accept the decision of the majority of the Board and move on. Will you commit to that?"
Marianna Ponns Cohen November 02, 2011 at 11:02 PM
Dear "dd": Thank you for considering me for your vote, and I understand from the comments that have been made by others about my "style" that you would be concerned. It is much easier to "shoot the messenger", than "shoot" a good message, which is why those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo go out of their way to castigate me personally. My priority is, and always will be, working to have excellent schools for all Greenwich students, irrespective of abilities. As a consequence, as my grandmother used to say: "a good scout always finds a different path". So, if to be effective, I have to find a different path, I will absolutely do so, and want to do so. Thank you again for keeping an open mind. Best --
Bernard Schneider November 02, 2011 at 11:44 PM
To those who are concerned about Ms .Ponns Cohen's supposed "combative" style, let us consider the statement of Barry Goldwater, now universally accepted, that: "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" Thus, any criticism of Ms. Ponns Cohen requires a hard look at the actual issues she was fighting so strongly about, and the nature of Mr. Anderson's leadership and decision making (with Dr. Freund) as head of the school board. I believe Ms. Ponns Cohen has been proven correct, for example, on whether the IB would be good for Greenwich, by the release of the teacher survey, which effectively killed the IB. So I'd be hesitant to detract from this outcome, for which all students in Greenwich will benefit, based on style points.
Historian November 02, 2011 at 11:53 PM
So, you are saying that you will continue to be combative even if results in an effective board? How does that help children? Seems like winning the battles is more important than helping the district improve. You say your priority is excellent schools but your actions don't support your words. Seems your either wish to be a dictator telling others what to do or a shrew criticizing others and advancing nothing. The question is out there; can you explain how you will work with others and be part of an effective Board? The longer you choose or can't answer the more evident it becomes that you simply dont know or refuse to be a member of an effective Board.
Chris Davies November 03, 2011 at 12:30 AM
Dear "dd". I think you have your answer as to what Ms.Ponns Cohen has been dealing with. Look at the "combativeness" of this writer. Mr. Bodson, a fellow Board member of Ms. Ponns Cohen, actually tried to form a PAC to target her. Who does that? Not that he does not have a eihht to do so, but it explains how nasty her fellow board members have been to her . I have attended the Board meetibgs. The lies and innuendos about Ms. Ponns Cohen are legion.
Bernard Schneider November 03, 2011 at 01:02 PM
A suggestion. As the election for school board approaches there is a mountain of sludge moving towards the electorate--namely identical opinions from everyone associated with the status quo--the "usual suspects." They say the same thing to the voters: "The system is working, your leaders' stranglehold on the process through political party control of the nominees is a good idea, take your medicine and like it." Since all the letters are essentially identical, why not save time and effort, and a great deal of newspaper space, by combining everybody--political operatives, past Board members, PTA officials, BET officials , and members of the Connecticut legislature--into a single letter. That's all that it is anyway, one voice from the political establishment.

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