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New London school board members say superintendent not the right fit

By Julianne Hanckel

Publication: The Day

Published 04/27/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 04/27/2013 06:58 PM

New London - One day after the Board of Education voted 6-1 without explanation to not renew the superintendent's contract, four board members shed some light on their reasons for voting the way they did.

They said infrequent communication, intimidation and lack of respect for elected city officials were some of the reasons why they didn't renew Superintendent Nicholas A. Fischer's contract beyond the 2013-14 school year.

But the chairman of the school board said Friday that it was "not such a big thing" that the board didn't extend the contract without an explanation.

"I don't know why they were shocked to hear nothing," Margaret Curtin said. "We did the same thing last year. I think more explanation would have to come if we were firing him. This is just a matter of maintaining the contract to 2014. It's not such a big thing. We're just not renewing. We're not firing."

Board member Liz Garcia Gonzalez said the board had planned to go into executive session to discuss the contract. The board held the discussion in open session at Fischer's request.

"In public, we have to watch what we say because of legal matters, so I had reservations about doing this in public and I would have preferred to talk in executive session, and then if needed, discuss in public," Garcia Gonzalez said. "I do respect Dr. Fischer. I have nothing negative against him, but the only thing was not receiving information on time. He was open to communication from board members, but at times when we would go to the meetings, we would have to learn some of the things as the public does, so it was getting frustrating."

Fischer's contract expires on June 30, 2014. Next year will be his fifth running the New London school system.

Fischer said on Friday that the board should have provided the public with answers Thursday.

"The reason why there is Freedom of Information and the reason why there are Sunshine laws is to try to prevent governing bodies from making decisions and not letting the public know why they made the decision," he said. "One of the reasons I wanted an open session was because I think it's important for the public to know the thinking behind each board member's decision and vote, and they didn't get it."

When the district's special master, Steven Adamowski - who wasn't at the meeting on Thursday - makes his status report to the State Board of Education in June, he could recommend either that Fischer remain as superintendent or be replaced. He could also recommend a reconstitution of the school board.

The state board has the discretion to choose how to intervene, if at all, after receiving Adamowski's report.

Bill Morse was the only board member who voted against the nonrenewal Thursday, saying after the meeting that he would have liked to extend the contract to 2015.

"My concern has always been student academic achievement. I was with the former administration, and it seemed to me the area that was critical was literacy," Morse said Friday. "When Fischer came on board, he asked each person what their highest priority was, and I said, 'Get the students to read.' He's done that. Our reading and math scores are up, and it's part of changes that have been pushed through the system from the top down."

He said to cut the contract short while the district is transitioning to an all-magnet school district and also working on a positive relationship with the state board is "reckless."

"I'm not voting on behalf of the board, I'm voting on behalf of the students," he said.

Member Jason Catala said the superintendent doesn't always work as a "team player."

"I know he says that he's approachable, but I also find that there are times where he's not the most approachable person," Catala said. "It's great that he has an open-door policy, but there were situations where some people felt intimidated by him. I'm of the team approach, we want someone who will work as a team."

He said a concerning display of lack of respect occurred when Fischer walked out of City Council Chambers last year because a council member was late to the meeting.

"Situations like that, where people are going to be giving us our bottom line dollars and he didn't hold respect for them," Catala said. "He's created what he feels he's created, and it's time for him to move forward and for us to move on with our success."

Board member Barbara Major said the thought of establishing a search committee for the next superintendent has "been in the back of the minds" of board members and that she personally would like the search to be nationwide.

"I would like a national search, not just of superintendents, but someone who's a chief operating officer. You need more business sense with the budget," Major said. "We're trying to do what we think will bring our district forward. We thank him for his service, but we're looking for a little something different. We wish him well."

j.hanckel@theday.com

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