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Report: New Haven school official claims Birks creates hostile work environment

New Haven Register logo New Haven Register 7/23/2019 By Brian Zahn

NEW HAVEN — Michael Pinto, chief operating officer of New Haven Public Schools, complained to the district’s human resources department about his treatment at the hands of Superintendent of Schools Carol Birks, in documents obtained by the New Haven Independent.

According to the letter addressed to Human Resources Director Lisa Mack, Pinto said he and three other members of the executive team were screamed at individually in phone calls with Birks over a decision about the planned timetable for moving a Head Start program after the air-conditioning in John S. Martinez School was broken. Pinto said he was the only one of the team threatened with disciplinary action via email afterward.

“It is part of a pattern of unprofessional, insulting, mocking and demeaning comments that that (sic) Dr. Birks has taken with me, and indeed with all of her staff,” he wrote.

Initially, Pinto said, central office staff created a plan to include cooling fans in Martinez on July 3, the start date of the program, before moving the program to Christopher Columbus Family Academy, where the air-conditioning was functional, by July 8 after the Independence Day long weekend. Birks wanted to accelerate the move so that the program would be ready to open at Columbus on July 3, he said, but Pinto and other team members said the move was not feasible because teachers would need to move their classroom materials and parents would need to be alerted of the move on short notice.

Pinto said he and four other executives drafted a plan to cancel class on July 3 and to spend the day moving the program, which Birks “immediately rejected.”

In an email to Pinto included in the complaint, Birks wrote that the problem was only solved after she “create(d) a sense of urgency for other members on the Team.”

“This email serves as a warning that if you do not correct your performance and adopt an all kids first stance every day in your approach to your role as Chief Operating Offficer (sic) with New Haven Public Schools you will face disciplinary action,” she wrote.

Pinto cited a May 20 committee meeting at which Birks overrode Pinto and Assistant Superintendent Paul Whyte over the relocation of the city’s alternative school as another example of this pattern of behavior. Pinto and Whyte said a location on Orchard Street would be least disruptive, but when President Darnell Goldson asked for an official recommendation, the pair fell silent before recommending a location on Hallock Avenue that Birks had decided on beforehand, and she allegedly chewed them out after for not advocating for her decision wholeheartedly.

In Pinto’s professional journal entries obtained by the Independent, he wrote contemperaneous accounts of his claims in his letter to Mack. In his notes, he mentioned the “sing song voice” she used to imitate and mock him. At the July 2 meeting where the Head Start relocation was discussed, Pinto wrote in his notes that Birks dressed him down for being firm that he would be with his daughter for her birthday and would provide updates by 6:30 p.m.

“I can’t recall in my professional and work career having been treated this way,” he wrote. “Insulted personally dressed down in private and public/with others in the room. It is demeaning.”

He said that during a routine phone conference with Birks about IT contracts that would be scrutinized by school board members at a committee meeting that his direct reports would be ready to present.

“Don’t get funky with me,” he said she told him, regarding his tone.

When he said he had never been so poorly treated, he said she responded in a sing-song voice: “Poorly treated? You just don’t take direction.”

Pinto declined to talk about the letter when reached Tuesday. Birks did not immediately return a request for comment.


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