Cotto Seeks Second Term On Ed Board

Christopher Peak PhotoJamell Cotto says he’s just getting started on the school board. He’s asking for another four years, while an advocacy group wants to see an educator take his place.

Mayor Toni Harp submitted Cotto’s reappointment to the Board of Alders on Thursday, Nov. 29, in a form letter.

“I am most confident, given Mr. Cotto’s credentials and commitment to our City, that he will serve the citizens of New Haven in a most conscientious and productive manner,” Harp wrote.

The Aldermanic Affairs Committee plans to take up the appointment at a January meeting.

According to the charter, the Board of Alders has 60 days to weigh in. That means that a decision must be made by Feb. 3, 2019. If the board misses the deadline, Cotto’s reappointment will be approved automatically. That happened last year with Tamiko Jackson-McArthur’s nomination.

Cotto, the executive director at the Farnam Neighborhood House and a lifelong Elm City resident, joined the Board of Education in 2017, replacing then-President Daisy Gonzalez after her unexpected death.

Preoccupied with the superintendent search and a budget crisis, Cotto said that he hasn’t had a chance yet to take on his own projects.

“Due to the fact that I had to immediately deal with a $20 million budget deficit, I haven’t had an opportunity to work on some initiatives I would like to see the Board of Education address. I think I should have that time to serve a full term,” he said. “I now have the experience and institutional knowledge to keep this board focused and moving forward during the crucial stage while a new superintendent and management staff are getting acclimated.”

Cotto’s arrival on the school board swung a prolonged and divisive superintendent search, giving Carol Birks a decisive extra vote over her top competitor for the job.

Since then, as the board’s vice-president, Cotto has gone after maintenance and transportation contractors, pushing for all existing agreements to be re-bid. He has questioned the expansion of Central Office, asking about pointed questions about the role of a deputy superintendent and a talent chief.

He voted to close Creed High School, and he put six elementary schools on the chopping block. Darnell Goldson, the board’s president, later apologized for any appearance of aiming school closures at neighborhoods whose alders flat-funded this year’s budget.

Cotto said he’s most proud of how he has managed difficult financial decisions.

“Though any reductions will eventually impact students, we were able to reduce those negative impacts,” he said. “The changes we make will have a long term positive effect on the system and will eventually help to reduce costs and target funding towards classrooms.”

Everyday Citizens Or Educational Experts?

NHPS Advocates, a watchdog group of parents and teachers, has been pushing for future school board appointees to have a background in education, to be free from conflicts of interest and to have some connection to the city’s public schools.

The Board of Alders approved a task force to discuss qualifications, but it isn’t expected to release recommendations soon. The task force has not convened yet; its membership is still being determined.

Cotto said that he doesn’t believe putting educators on the Board of Ed had necessarily improved the schools.

“What the board needs is a balance between educators, parents, students and community leaders who are familiar with the city,” he said. “For 25-plus years, this board was overwhelmingly dominated by educators. To be frank, what has that gotten us? The achievement gap was not reduced, graduation rates plummeted and parents were fleeing from the city.”

Since 2014-15, after New Haven’s transition to a hybrid board with two elected members, New Haven’s performance indicators have been mixed. The graduation rate and test scores have risen; the achievement gap has widened for students with higher needs at all levels in both reading and math. Enrollment is also down slightly

Cotto added that other school boards across Connecticut, nearly all of them elected, also aren’t stocked with experts in pedagogy. They “are populated with everyday citizens who are committed to education, and most of them appear to work well,” he said.

In an email sent to Mayor Harp and President Tyisha Walker-Myers on Tuesday morning, the NHPS Advocates proposed nine alternative candidates for the Board of Ed, including several professors, community organizers, social-service providers, recent graduates and active parents.

[Updated: They are Lauren Anderson, an education professor at Connecticut College; Hillary Bridges, a co-founder of Students for Educational Justice; Chaz Carmon, president of Ice The Beef; Nora Heaphy, a recent Engineering & Science University Magnet School graduate now a sophomore at Yale; Allison Kenney, a sociology professor at Quinnipiac University; Anika Singh Lemar, a law professor at Yale Law School and member of the East Rock Community Magnet School PTO; Amber Moye, a talent policy fellow at the Connecticut State Department of Education who previously taught at Celentano Biotech, Health and Medical Magnet School; Matt Wilcox, the associate director of Quinnipiac’s Health Sciences Library and a father of three kids, including one who graduated from the district’s alternative schools; and Delores Williams, a mother of two Davis Street School students.]

“Based on the information provided to us, all appear to have education expertise, no conflicts of interest, and a demonstrated commitment to public education,” the Advocates wrote. “We hope that you will do so and consider them for upcoming appointments.”

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posted by: Razzie on December 10, 2018  5:54pm

So where’s the list of alternate candidates?!!

posted by: Noteworthy on December 10, 2018  6:01pm

Cotto Notes:

1. Mr. Cotto should be judged on what he has done, not what he hopes to do. Hope is not a job history - or an expertise. If it were, we’d have nothing but geniuses on the BOE. We don’t.

2. Cotto says he had to deal with the $20 million budget deficit - he has only voted to deal with half of it. The other half remains unresolved and is growing. Yes, that’s $8.9 million and growing.

3. His lack of candor or even questioning of contracts is something to be concerned about as is lack of transparency and responsiveness to citizen advocates. They’re comments and questions are thoughtful and reflect a lot of time. To be so dismissive is a problem. An old problem.

4. If you lack an educational background, I’m not sure the BOE needs more than one of those. We have a lot of wannabe experts not sure there’s enough actual experts.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on December 10, 2018  6:17pm

Currently there are three members of the Board of Education who have an association with The Farnam House: Dr. Tamiko Jackson-McArthur, who is president of its board of directors, Jamel Cotto, executive director, and Frank Redente, who is /was a long-time employee.
All of these Farnam associates were appointees of the mayor.
This observation is not meant to denigrate the work of Farnam House, or to attack the reputation, experience and integrity of Dr. Jackson-McArthur, Mr. Cotto or Mr. Redente.
New Haven is a diverse city of over 130,000 inhabitants. How is it that the mayor selected three people for the Board of Education who have an association with one single community organization? Is there such a dearth of individuals willing to serve on this board that the mayor limited her focus on people from one agency?
The BOE should represent diverse groups.
For some time now people in the community have pointed to a conflict of interest with this Farnam caucus. They have frequently voted alike on numerous issues. They have frequently had to abstain from voting on certain matters involving Farnam House because of the obvious conflict of interest. All three have on occasion been absent from board meetings at the same time, possibly due to Farnam business.
Two or three people who work for the same organization with the board of directors technically being the employer of the executive director and a former or present employee simply doesn’t look right to many residents.
If three Yale union representatives, three officials of the NAACP or some Hispanic organization, three people from the same fraternity or sorority, three people from the same neighborhood or three members of New Haven Public School Advocates were appointed to the board, there would be genuine, justifiable concerns. This is no different.
One representative from Farnam House is sufficient for the New Haven BOE. Two should step down, or those two whose terms are about to expire should not be re-appointed.

posted by: Honest in New Haven on December 10, 2018  6:31pm

The problem with the make-up of the current BOE is that they seem more focused on who’s getting which job, or which contract, and how much they are paid instead of being focused on the kids.  I’m curious about his statements about “initiatives” he wants to pursue. Is that the way t works?  You come on the Board and carve out your little area of control/expertise and then presumably proceed to “get involved and fix the problem”? Sounds to me like a license to micromanage and interfere in daily operations, which the BOE has no business in.

Lastly, if it’s true that Cotto is getting BOE contracts for his agency, that alone should disqualify him from being on the Board.

posted by: justice4all on December 10, 2018  7:39pm

Mr. Cotto states that there have been BOE members with education experience for the last 25 years, not true, in fact it has always been the Mayor’s political appointments that had little to no connection to whether they had direct work experience in education.  It is a serious concern to have three board members all connected with Farnam House.

posted by: newhavenishome on December 10, 2018  10:00pm

It’d be a no from me. Exactly what “initiatives” does he have planned. A BOE appointee should NOT be focused on his/her pet projects.
Too many members with ties to Farnam House. Get rid of him. We can do so much better.

posted by: Christopher Peak on December 13, 2018  1:41pm

@Razzie, I’ve updated the story to include the list of alternate candidates.