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Letter to the Editor: Misguided "Facts" and the Superintendent Search

Board of Education Member Christopher Watts expresses his thoughts on the process of hiring Interim Superintendent Ernest Perlini and the search for a full-time superintendent.

President Obama is a closet Muslim. Former President Bush knew about 9/11 before it happened. The Windsor Board of Education conspired to hire its interim Superintendent in secret.

You know, politics is a heck of a lot more interesting when there is a conspiracy to focus on instead of the real facts at hand.  Let’s be honest, most of the day-to-day business of running a town (or a country) is pretty boring. I dare anyone to sit in on one of my Board of Education Finance Committee Meetings and feel their pulse quicken. But unfortunately, in today’s Internet age, when anyone with a computer now has a platform to have their opinions heard – no matter how uninformed or misguided – what used to be just rumor whispered among a few, becomes “fact” to many. And these misguided “facts” cause harm.

It’s unbelievable what has transpired in the last month since the Windsor Board of Education started negotiating with Dr. Ernest Perlini to take the place of our outgoing superintendent Betty Feser. For those who have been reading the news, they’re aware that Superintendent Feser is leaving us to go to Milford and Windsor must hire a temporary (interim) superintendent to keep the chair warm and help keep the ship on coarse until we can find our next long-term superintendent. (I refuse to use “permanent” since the days of a town having a 30-year superintendent are long past.)

The challenges facing Windsor are many. First, if we want to do the hiring process right for our next long-term superintendent, chances are we will not identify a new superintendent until at least the fall. This fall is our municipal elections.  Knowing that many quality candidates would be leery of applying for a job not knowing who their bosses will be means Windsor should be planning on employing a temporary superintendent probably at least until next year at this time. This situation differs from the typical 3-6 month interim superintendent assignments that are usually out there.

Our second challenge is the fact that many other towns are in the same boat. The number of municipalities in Connecticut currently looking for a superintendent of their own is lengthy.

Third, you just can’t hire anyone. The person has to be certified by the State of Connecticut for the superintendent position. Very few people have this certification, so the pool from which to choose is pretty small.

So let’s add up our issues. We need a very long-term, interim superintendent and we’re competing with many other towns to find a good candidate from a very small pool of qualified individuals.  Anyone who has ever studied business in middle school knows the laws of supply and demand.  Just how many retired, state certified superintendents are out there looking for temporary employment? Add to the fact that Windsor needs one who can commit to serve for at least a full year and you can see that Windsor doesn’t have a lot of luxury to be choosy.

Now some members of our Board of Education and other members of our community have suggested that our Board President, School HR Director and other members of our Board have acted in secret to “anoint” Dr. Perlini to his new position. My colleague, Lucille Brown, has complained that we haven’t “discussed what we want from an interim.” My other colleague, Doreen Richardson, complained that we didn’t have a nationwide search for our interim superintendent, nor placed an ad in local newspapers looking for someone to apply for the job.

Truth be told, Windsor did not have months to debate what we want from our interim superintendent. Fact is, their job is not to initiate new reforms or major changes. They just have to steady the ship while we look for a new leader. Doing a national search would just be wasting taxpayer dollars.  It’s doubtful that anyone not within driving distance from Windsor would be interesting in moving here for a temporary job and it’s highly doubtful that they would even have Connecticut certification! And as for local newspaper ads looking for an interim – it’s just not how interims are hired anywhere, at any town. It’s not where candidates look and shelling out hundreds of dollars for those ads would be another taxpayer waste.

Despite all of these challenges, Windsor has been lucky enough to find Dr. Perlini – a man with over 16 years of experience running Newington’s school system AND someone who has experience handling a reorganization of the town’s elementary school structure – something that Windsor might be facing in the coming year. It wasn’t like we had any other candidates for the job and that our phone was ringing off the hook with applicants.  I am truly shocked that we were able to find someone as qualified and experienced as Dr. Perlini who was interested in the position.

Now, you can argue all you want about whether superintendents deserve to make the type of money that they do or whether retired educators who are collecting state pension should be allowed to go back to work while still collecting that pension. For the record, I can say I used to believe superintendents were overpaid, but after six years on the board I can say I have changed my mind. And with the pension issue, I think the rules need to be fixed to prevent so-called “double dipping,” but that is a state issue, not one a local board can fix.

When the Board starts its search for the next long-term superintendent it should (and will be) a national search. We will have many meetings to discuss the qualities and strengths we need to see in our next superintendent. The search process will be extremely open and you’ll see members of the public and business communities involved in the process. It promises to be protracted and painful, just like it was with Dr. Feser, but it will result in us finding the best fit for Windsor’s future. But on the bright side for you conspiracy theorists – that gives you lots of time to come up with new ideas.

Chris Watts is a Democrat who has served on the Windsor Board of Education for the past six years and is the former Vice-President. He chairs the Board’s Finance Committee.

Skip Cashwell March 21, 2011 at 02:28 PM
There are more compelling issues resulting from several decisions announced by the Windsor Board of Education. There is a proposed increase in the budget of approximately $1.8 million. I oppose this increase on the grounds that the taxpaying citizens of Windsor cannot afford the tax increases required to fund the proposed budget. Thousands of Windsor residents are being "asked to do more with less" by their employers and see their incomes held steady or in many cases reduced. Few workers have received salary increases since the 2008 economic downturn. The Town of Windsor is faced with a projected decrease in revenue this coming year of about $1.85 million. School enrollment is declining. Student performance is poor. The state is now subjecting our district to the mandated Partner program because our schools are below state standards. The efficacy of all-day kindergarden, school closings and disruption of elementary pupils' classmates stability is questionable at this time. The board proposes giving a raise to teachers and hiring more teachers while making cuts in essential science and library offerings. Throwing money at a poorly performing school system neither increases quality nor ratings. Windsor teachers, administrators and other staff must now do more with what they already have. Any increases in expenditures must go for infrastructure, curriculum content and facility improvements.
Skip Cashwell March 21, 2011 at 02:45 PM
Correction to proposed budget increase: $1,435,181; not $1.8 million (see BoE minutes 2/15/2011, item 11-024). I apologize for any misunderstanding.
Malvi Lennon March 21, 2011 at 11:36 PM
My issue with Dr. Perlini’s appointment has to do with compensation and his propensity to supplement his pension with another taxpayer-funded paycheck. To be fair the practice is “legal” even if some question the ethics. This is why I also object to the Board circumventing the 45% rule. As Dr. Perlini is collecting, a full pension there is a rule, which limits his employment as superintendent for another school district to a 45% or part-time status. In order to pay Dr. Perlini in the 183K range the board has to find a way to circumvent the rule. On the other side, the Windsor School District is in a unique situation. According to Schooldigger.com district rating website the Windsor School District ranks 114th of 166 CT districts. In addition, we became a “partner” school with the state in December of 2010, we are in the process of closing down a school, introducing all-day kindergarten and the municipal elections are in November. However, let us get real. A search of salary.com reveals the median school superintendent salary in Hartford, CT $155,450. The low end of the scale is $101,053.00 and the high end is $216,801.00. In spite of our special circumstances, a key word in the Perlini discussion is “temporary”. We are comparing with a temporary position these full time salaries yet in the past board, members have referred to Dr. Perlini as a “temp”. So, is he overpaid? I will let others decide but for the money he is being paid he is a very expensive temporary worker.
Skip Cashwell March 22, 2011 at 09:20 AM
As respects Dr. Perlini's compensation, & acknowledging that our school district would continued to pay Dr. Feser's salary, I do not see any problem. The discussion, which joins pay-for-service as a superintendent with collection of an earned retirement pension, clouds an understanding of the root cause for Windsor school's poor performance. This year's Board of Ed decided to focus on three initiatives, as stated in their minutes and public announcements: 1) Offering full-day Kindergarten; 2) Consolidating from five schools to four schools; 3) Reconfiguring the grade structure to Pre-K to Grade 2, and Grades 3 to 5. Money was spent hiring the South Windsor architectural firm of DRA to provide the design. I believe the Bd of Ed, by not fully utilizing the proven expertise and genuinely student-focused concern demonstrated by Dr. Feser, totally missed the boat. The focus this year could be on improving student interest in and enthusiasm for learning. Contracting with organizations specializing in helping our teachers improve their effectiveness. Looking at new-but-old methodologies that pass the test of time, e.g. offered by The Well-Trained Mind (Classical Education for the Next Generation), to name just one. State mandates could be fulfilled; students inspired; real performance increases accomplished. Politics and personalities, when put before principles, never result in sound solutions. Our Windsor children need a better focus than the initiatives the BoEd delivered.
Skip Cashwell March 22, 2011 at 09:26 AM
The essay written by Howard Jubrey and published in last week's Windsor Journal is at once inspiring and disturbing. I urge all Windsor citizens no, all people in CT to read his words! Mr. Jubrey throws down the gauntlet to challenge the failed programs and policies that keep our people enslaved, owned, controlled by handouts from the state's wallet: your tax dollars. Please, folks, read Mr. Jubrey's words, then act!

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