BOE creates HR department, resolves grievances

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NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education has created a human resource department for the borough school system’s roughly 600 employees, part of a restructuring of the business department that went into effect this month.

The changes were made in accordance with an agreement between the school board and the union for noncertified staff, which includes secretarial and paraprofessional employees. The agreement also resolves grievances the union filed earlier this year.

Board members have discussed restructuring the business department since 2009, when a financial crisis left the school system with a shortfall of nearly $2 million. Even after the school board got back in the red, business department employees did not have specific job descriptions and those who performed human resource functions did not have a human resource director to answer to, Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson said.

The board has since hired John Lawlor to oversee human resources for school employees. Lawlor is also the human resources director for municipal employees.

Under the agreement, the school board will hire a new secretary for its central district office at the historic Tuttle building on Church Street. The job descriptions of five members of the noncertified staff union will change, involving promotions for some.

“We’re excited about it,” Tindall-Gibson said. “It’s going to be great here, and we’ve been working on that for a long time.”

Under the new structure of the human resources department, Colleen Grommisch will handle personnel accounting including substitutes and vacation, Lynn Poirer will handle payroll, Debby Bliven will be in charge of hiring and Melissa Massicote will oversee health and other benefits.

Sarah Poynton, a paraprofessional and president of the noncertified staff union, was promoted to an accounting position at the Tuttle building. The union filed a grievance in February to the state Labor Department claiming the school board refused to give Poynton the job although she was “selected as the most successful candidate.” Poynton claimed a non-union employee had been given the job.

A subsequent union grievance claimed the school board had subcontracted union work to Business Manager Wayne McAllister and increased the workload of other union members with accounting responsibilities. According to the grievance, members of the union’s executive board were “cautioned about their employment status because of the union pursuit of this claim.”

The grievances stemmed from the board’s hiring of former purchasing agent Patricia Kowcheris part-time to do the job she had retired from, board Chair David Heller explained.

Heller said he did not know when Kowcheris retired. Her salary last year was more than $43,000.

The board kept Kowcheris working on a part-time, as-needed basis while they figured out what to do with her vacant position and reorganized the business office, Heller said.

Some on the board thought Kowcheris’s position might not need to be full-time in the future or an assistant business manager, who has yet to be hired, could do it.

Heller said that although Poynton was interviewed for the position and was the strongest candidate, they did not make her the offer because the future of the position was in limbo. Poynton formerly worked as a special education paraprofessional at City Hill Middle School, making nearly $16,000 last year.

“We weren’t sure what we were going to do with the business office, so that’s why we held off,” Heller said.

Heller said the board eventually voted to keep the purchasing agent as a full-time position and offer it to Poynton based on recommendations from McAllister and Lawlor.