School chief will retire in 2012

NAUGATUCK — Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Tindall-Gibson, who has long been blamed, at least partially, by the public, borough officials and even subordinate teachers for the school system’s fiscal crisis, will not seek a renewal in 2012, when his contract with the school board expires.

John Tindall-Gibson, seen here at a November, 2009 board meeting, will not seek a renewal when his contract expires in 2012

John Tindall-Gibson, seen here at a November, 2009 board meeting, will not seek a renewal when his contract expires in 2012

Tindall-Gibson, 62, has overseen Naugatuck’s school system since September 2006 and makes $165,000 a year. The board is expected to accept his retirement at its regular meeting next month, but members declined to comment, given that it is a personnel matter.

Over the course of the last year, the school chief has come under fire from various groups that accused him of being unable or unwilling to competently oversee the school system’s finances.

Mayor Bob Mezzo called for his resignation in November 2009 when he presented a plan to bridge the 2009-10 school system budget. In the same month, the Naugatuck Teacher’s League by a wide margin passed a symbolic vote of no confidence in Tindall-Gibson’s leadership. The borough Board of Mayor and Burgesses approved the same measure, 8-1, on Dec. 1. Pat Scully had opposed the measure, and Hank Kuczenski abstained from the vote.

Tindall-Gibson has maintained that he didn’t cause the problem but rather is a victim of unfortunate circumstances. He has said the borough government doesn’t fund education sufficiently.

The borough has asked all departments for zero-percent increases to their budgets for the coming fiscal year. The school board, after approving drastic measures like closing Salem School, still needs to make up about $1.3 million to reach that goal. Its members discussed the possibility of about $400,000 more in savings Monday but didn’t vote on those measures (read the story here).

Tindall-Gibson delivered a passionate, prepared speech at that meeting, when it appeared the board may need to make further staff reductions to bridge whatever gap remains after all alternative measures are exhausted.

[wpaudio url=”http://www.mycitizensnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/JTG-speech.mp3″ text=”Listen to Tindall-Gibson’s statement from April 12″]

He said cutting any more staff would have a dire impact on the educational program and that the cuts that have already been made—55 certified and six non-certified positions—have hit the heart of Naugatuck schools.

“It’s long been the case that the strength of the Naugatuck Public Schools is its people,” he said. “Although on the surface, people are the most expensive budgetary line, to employ, in reality, they’re the most costly line to reduce. … At each level, impacts on student learning have already been felt. Further reductions would create a decimated school system and create an educational vacuum not easily filled. A district with elementary classes in excess of 25 student in K-2 and 30-plus in grades 3 and 4, very few if any opportunities for small group instruction and support for struggling students … fewer opportunities for social, emotional and intellectual growth.”

Cuts at the high school, he said, will diminish students’ career pathway opportunities and keep NHS graduates from being competitive with their peers from other schools, in the job market.

He said cutting staff further could affect students’ safety:

“Two primary responsibilities of the school system is to maintain safe and orderly schools. … Additional cuts to personnel will further decrease an already-decreased adult-to-student ratio, and our students will be asked to do more with fewer resources. Reduced staff means fewer adults for supervision, thereby potentially compromising the safety and well-being of our students.”

In closing, he noted, “We simply cannot let this happen. This statement is an attempt to capture where we are at this point. We’re already here. To go back to where this started … without question, we have a core of teachers who are committed to Naugatuck and have a great passion for what they do. … But even with everyone working harder, things are in jeopardy.

“I don’t have much more to offer you. I realize we’re not at zero,” he said.

After a long pause, he added, “I don’t know how to get to zero.”