School board settles with former maintenance chief

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NAUGATUCK — The Board of Education approved a settlement Wednesday with Harris Clark, the school system’s longtime supervisor of maintenance and grounds who was laid off in 2005 during a round of budget cuts.

The settlement entitles Clark to more than $21,000 for accumulated sick leave, as well as $5,000 a year while he is covered under his wife’s medical insurance. If Clark is removed from his wife’s policy, the board will pay the highest level of health insurance available to district administrators for Clark and his wife. The board will also buy a $14,000 life insurance policy for Clark.

“It’s a good settlement, and we’re pleased to have avoided a lawsuit,” Board of Education Chairman David M. Heller said.

Clark sued the board in 2009 claiming breach of contract after the board refused to pay those benefits, which were outlined in the 1991 contract he and then-Superintendent Raymond Dowling signed, according to court documents. The contract is labeled “1991-1992,” leading the board’s attorney, Edward G. Fitzpatrick, to claim it was valid for only one year.

Clark claimed it automatically renewed itself year after year, as was the practice for other district administrators at the time, Heller said.

The contract specified it could be terminated “by mutual consent at any time,” but Clark argued he did not consent when the school board eliminated his position to save $106,000 a year in salary and benefits, according to court documents. He had held the position for 15 years.

Clark was represented by John M. Walsh Jr. of Licari Walsh & Sklaver in New Haven.

The board made a settlement proposal to Clark years ago, but Clark did not accept the terms and filed suit, Heller said.

Clark’s position was cut in a controversial 5-4 school board vote that also passed the budget for the 2005-06 school year. The superintendent at the time, Robert D. Cronin, recommended the board cut the position and spread its duties among other administrators and custodians.