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A Window of Opportunity for Stratford Taxpayers, Students, and Teachers

Year-after-year, Stratford taxpayers bear the burden of costly litigation arising from clearly unethical if not legally questionable administrative decisions and personnel practices. Critical resources will be saved if Stratford’s elected officials cast aside counterproductive partisan politics and outdated cloaks of secrecy, and adopt a proactive and transparent system to rapidly identify and immediately halt legally questionable acts and/or practices and terminate the accountable individuals. Furthermore, merely acting within the law does not automatically establish a level of integrity sufficient to endure close public scrutiny. Countless acts considered reprehensible fall within the protections of law.

Stratford taxpayers have a right to know the annual litigation and settlement costs resulting from deliberate misconduct and/or incompetence on the part of school administrators and other town officials. Town of Stratford policy appears to be never admitting fault no matter what the circumstances. However, litigation of any type is costly and does not just happen. Individuals holding positions of power and public trust knowingly take actions or make decisions that give town employees or residents no option but to initiate litigation.  

Now that the recent elections celebration has past, and education rightfully remains the largest allocation of funds approved by the Stratford Town Council and Mayor Harkins, will 2014 be significantly better than previous years for Stratford students, teachers, and taxpayers?

Board of Education members are to be commended for their willingness to serve on such a critical oversight group. Former Superintendent of Schools Cornish and her minions shrewdly and consistently created the illusion of Board oversight. Failure to notice is another definition of oversight, which has been the predominant role of Stratford Boards of late. Board members are rarely retired professional educators equipped to see past the smoke and mirrors, let alone identify or challenge misrepresentations or omissions made by district administrators.

Few can forget Former Superintendent O’Connell’s plea“C'mon, board -- get a grip!!!” in his August 31, 2011 letter to the Connecticut Post entitled: Troubling times for Stratford schools. Mr. O’Connell also stated that there is one conspicuous principle that the board and Superintendent Irene Cornish do not understand. There is a direct correlation between morale and performance. If teachers feel appreciated and an essential team player, they will respond accordingly in the classroom as they meet the demands of the children. However, a demoralized and distraught staff member who is struck with fear will struggle unnecessarily and lose self-confidence and self-respect.

The board either accepts and condones the demeaning nature of the superintendent's leadership style and its ramifications for teachers and kids or they simply choose to look the other way. In either instance -- shame on them!

The self-serving and morally compromised manner of politicians in Washington and Hartford is unfortunate -- but politics on the local board should not be allowed to undermine our schools. When you marry central office incompetence with an ineffective board, you have the ingredients for wholesale dismantling of the public schools.

Regrettably, Mr. O’Connell’s courage to issue his wake-up call to the Stratford Board of Education and town residents came long after Superintendent Cornish and her cast of characters, which included the current Consultant to the Superintendent, had dismantled the careers of numerous highly competent and devoted Stratford teachers, under the guise of voluntary resignation or retirement. Board members sat silent and rubber-stamped their repeated atrocities. Combined with an equally ineffective and culpably co-opted teacher’s union, the true cost of the Cornish Era was too high to risk its continuance or a repeat.

The residual impact of Superintendent Cornish’s reign of terror continues to this day, due in part to the number of school administrators who ingratiated themselves by becoming cooperating conspirators during her regime, and newly hired or appointed administrators who fear swift retribution should they speak out against the machine.

Superintendent Robinson would be wise to rid her administration of Cornish Era leftovers that have long past normal retirement age or years of service; they are beyond rehabilitation. One conspicuous example is the Consultant to the Superintendent position costing $72,000.00 annually. No previous administration has needed or funded such a position. On August 26, 2013, Joan Libby became Director of Human Resources at an annual starting salary of $90,000.00. Director Libby does not need a manager any more than a superintendent with Dr. Robinson’s credentials and experience needs a consultant.

Dr. Robinson has a duty to eliminate unessential central office administrators starting with this unprecedented consultant position. Members of the Town Council and taxpayers are certain to approve.

Finally, Mayor Harkins was aware of the problems with Superintendent Cornish and the Board, especially after Mr. O'Connell's article that offered so many insights and verifiable facts, yet the mayor chose to remain silent. Perhaps our mayor is unwilling to demonstrate the same degree of courage and extraordinary leadership required to ethically and legally manage our school district, particularly in matters concerning all Stratford students enjoying the opportunity to achieve academic success in the best possible learning environment; a commitment that is inextricably linked to professional respect and fair treatment for all Stratford teachers.

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