New Haven clergy: Is school district probe an attempt to silence BOE member? | #Education

NEW HAVEN — The Rev. Boise Kimber, senior pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church, says city residents deserve answers.

Kimber was speaking in reference to a matter involving Board of Education member Darnell Goldson, who has been under investigation by a Waterbury legal firm. The contract for the probe was advanced by district officials without a vote by the school board because its cost is limited to a maximum of $14,000 — below the $20,000 threshold requiring a board vote.

Goldson, who said he is not participating with the investigation per his attorney’s advice, said he does not know who has accused him or of what. Goldson was informed in a letter from the law firm that the investigation is looking into whether his conduct toward district staff constitutes harassment.

Kimber, with a few members of the Greater New Haven Clergy Association, held a press event Wednesday to share their disapproval of the ongoing investigation and to raise questions about why Goldson is being subjected to his second investigation by an outside law firm since joining the board in 2016.

“Is it because they want to shut Mr. Goldson up? Or because Mr. Goldson reads their materials?” Kimber said.

Superintendent of Schools Iline Tracey declined to comment Wednesday. Board of Education President Yesenia Rivera also declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing.

Goldson has questioned many of the decisions made by district staff in 2020, such as criticizing the district continuing to honor its contract with the transportation contractor that operates school buses during a school shutdown and arguing for more money for paraprofessionals than what they negotiated for at the bargaining table.

Pastor John Lewis of Christ Chapel New Testament Church said Goldson is owed due process. The investigation is an attempt to “divide” the city, he said.

“Is this money well spent?” asked the Rev. Steven Cousin of Bethel AME Church. “Could it be character assassination or to remove someone from a board because they’re asking difficult questions?”

Goldson, who did not attend the event, said he agreed with the points made by the clergy.

“This is an obvious attempt to silence my voice,” he said, mentioning his advocacy for paraprofessionals and his opposition to reopening schools for the first marking period without more safety precautions than what the district was able to produce.

Goldson also said he doesn’t believe the investigation was launched appropriately in the first place.

“I don’t know of any employee in any other organization who has the authority to launch an investigation against their boss,” he said. “If it’s an employee against the board, I assume the board would have some authority over how to investigate one of its members.”

Although the investigation did not require a board vote to be initiated, Goldson said he does believe some of his colleagues would have the ability to stop the investigation if they disagreed with its intent.

“Because it’s so mysterious I’ve decided to let my lawyer figure out what the best action is on this at this point,” he said.

Larry Conaway, a member of the board’s finance committee that received the report notifying it of the investigation in July, said he finds the lack of information since then “concerning.”

“We need to put this investigation to rest. It’s unfair to Mr. Goldson, the board and the public, we all need an explanation,” he said.

Kimber said the investigation against Goldson targets “one of our elected officials that represents the Black community.” He said the issue merits clergy involvement because “we are a voice for this city and we are a voice for justice.”

“It affects our people,” Kimber said.

Mayor Justin Elicker, who serves on the school board as part of his mayoral duties, said the investigation is a “New Haven Public Schools-side issue” and not a city initiative.

“Whenever there is a complaint and an investigation, until that investigation takes its course it’s inappropriate to comment on it for the integrity of the investigation,” he said.

In 2018, former Mayor Toni Harp authorized the hiring of an attorney to investigate whether Goldson had created a hostile work environment for former Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks. When the investigation concluded without finding Goldson to have harassed the superintendent, Birks apologized publicly for causing a distraction.

“It didn’t work the first time and it won’t work this time, either,” Goldson said.

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