New superintendent's salary causes controversy
Going into Tuesday's Board of Selectmen meeting, a $3 million cut had already been recommended to the Board of Education (BOE) budget. Another $100,000 cut was added on top of that after First Selectman Ken Flatto heard from informed sources that the new superintendent was being offered a larger salary than the current superintendent, Ann Clark.
In a letter Wednesday to BOE Chairman Sue Brand -- the same day the board appointed Dr. David Title as the new superintendent, to begin July 1 -- Flatto said he was disappointed by what he heard was going to take place, especially since it was indicated to him months ago that the town would save some money when hiring a new superintendent.
Flatto said his $100,000 recommendation was for "psychological purposes."
He said it's unfair to bump up the salary of the superintendent position when teachers have foregone pay increases and when senior town managers have given back portions of planned increases.
"It is unsustainable in potentially burdening the finances of the district, as it did several years ago when school managers sought and received sizeable increases due to the amount the board then gave the superintendent," Flatto said. "It is unacceptable to many residents who will tell you if asked that, especially in this harsh economic climate, we cannot afford such a decision by the board. All these concerns impacted and promoted my budget amendment."
The superintendent wasn't appointed until a little more than 24 hours after the Board of Selectmen meeting, and at the same time Wednesday's Board of Finance meeting was taking place.
Flatto said the added cut was made to "send a message through our role with the budget process," since neither the first selectman or the Board of Selectmen has any direct role regarding the salary of a superintendent of schools.
Finance board members tried to make sense of Flatto's rationale for the additional $100,000 cut to the education budget. Board of Finance Chairman Tom Flynn told the Fairfield Citizen ahead of Wednesday's Board of Finance meeting that he wanted to know what Flatto meant by "psychological purposes."
"We're not psychologists. We're the Board of Finance," he said.
Board of Finance member Robert Bellitto Jr. asked Flatto if the cut was a punitive measure or if there was a legitimate fiscal reason.
Flatto responded by saying there are a number of school officials who seem to lack understanding as far as the current fiscal environment and "how it affects our citizens."
"I believe the mindset has to change," he said.
"Why $100,000?" Bellitto asked.
Flatto said the Board of Selectmen initially discussed a recommended cut of only $50,000, but in the end, raised that figure to $100,000. The Board of Education did not have to reveal to Flatto, prior to the appointment of the new superintendent, how much Dr. David Title (currently the superintendent of schools in Bloomfield) will be paid. However, Flatto heard it would be more than what Clark is currently earning.
Flatto told the Fairfield Citizen: "In my experience, when we've had senior managers on the town side, I've always sought to start the new individual, no matter how strong they are, at a level that's not as high as the incumbent. They have to earn their way to the pay level of someone who's proven their way. I think this is a bad precedent, if it happens."
The contract, signed Thursday, runs three years and will pay Title $250,000 ($225,000 in base, $22,000 in annuity and $13,000 in deferred payments).
Title is the reigning Connecticut Superintendent of the Year. He is also a six-time winner of the CABE Excellence in Education Communications.
His current salary in Bloomfield is $225,019, with an annuity totaling $16,500. Clark's salary -- in a town that has approximately four times as many students as Bloomfield -- is $234,861. She also gets an annuity, which is worth approximately $20,000 a year, according to Paul Hiller, the town's fiscal officer.
Flatto said Fairfield's superintendent salary is on the higher end of such salaries across Fairfield County. Greenwich's superintendent, in the coming school year, will make $230,000. Norwalk's interim superintendent is currently making $103,500. However, if the "interim" were dropped, the salary would be $230,000. Shelton's superintendent, in the 2010-11 school year, will earn $150,000. Wilton's superintendent was earning $208,055 last year, and Stamford's superintendent was making $215,000.
Board of Education Vice Chairman Pam Iacono said she was disappointed that Flatto made an additional cut to the education budget based on rumors.
"At what point did he read the contract for the new superintendent to make those judgments? I don't know why it's $100,000," she said. "That's picked out of thin air for `psychological reasons.'"
Iacono added, "I'm disappointed he felt the need to interfere with the statutory rights of the Board of Education. I don't have a problem with him expressing his opinion, but he deliberately tried to interfere with an ongoing negotiation. That's irresponsible."
"Members of the Board of Education don't call him up and don't send letters to the press while he's in the middle of negotiating side agreements for the fire department," she said.
Both Iacono and Brand said they can't talk about Title's salary until after the contract is signed. Whatever the amount is, Brand said, Title is worth every penny.
Asked what she likes most about Title, Brand replied, "Everything."
"He's dynamic, impressive. He demonstrated to me that he has what it takes to do the work of this district and do it well. He worked in Waterford. He worked in Bloomfield. He grew up in West Hartford. He is also a very accomplished author. He's been invited to speak on behlf of education in Washington, D.C. His accomplishments, his resume, I was so impressed by it."