Teachers vote ‘no confidence’ school chief

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NAUGATUCK — Teachers overwhelmingly condemned the performance of embattled Superintendent Dr. John Tindall-Gibson Thursday, while the school board continued to search for ways to make up a projected $2 million budget deficit.

The Naugatuck Teachers’ League voted, 320-8, in a symbolic gesture to show they have no confidence in the 62-year-old school chief, who has been here since September 2006.

“It’s a sad statement on the state of affairs in Naugatuck right now,” said Charley Marenghi, vice president and spokesman for the NTL. “How do you lead a school district where only eight teachers have confidence in you?”

He said the union has debated for several months whether to take the vote, but has held off, hoping Tindall-Gibson and the school board would devise a plan to get the district out of its budget crisis. School officials say their $56 million budget will be at least $2 million in hole by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, and the deficit could reach as high as $3 million.

So far, Tindall-Gibson and the board have not been able to come up with a plan, frustrating teachers who say they are wondering whether they will have jobs in a couple of months.

Tindall-Gibson, who earns approximately $165,000 including salary and fringe benefits this year, not including health insurance, said had no comment about the vote Thursday. He told a reporter, “I’m going to tell you like I always tell you, I’m just staying focused on the work.”

He stated in an e-mail to teachers last month that he and the board take full responsibility for the budget woes. He has proposed what board members refer to as a “doomsday scenario” that shows the destruction $2 million in cuts would have on the school system. It calls for several school programs and classes to be cut, as well as layoffs for 60 of the borough’s 400 teachers and three administrators. After that plan was released by principals to teachers Monday, teachers demanded a vote of no-confidence, Marenghi said.

Mayor Bob Mezzo, who, along with Deputy Mayor Tamath K. Rossi has called for Tindall-Gibson’s resignation, said the vote is indicative of the frustration the community as a whole has in the school system’s leadership.

“I’m sure there is tension between management and labor in any industry, and I’m sure you’d find municipal employees who’d say the same about me,” Mezzo said. “This vote, to me, speaks volumes about some of the inherent problems within the district.”

Board Chairwoman Kathleen L. Donovan said she has no comment about the teachers’ vote.

Students at Naugatuck High School have started a petition to show no confidence in Tindall-Gibson. So far, about 300 students have signed the petition.

Thursday night, the school board discussed some potential cost savings through a new health insurance plan called a health reimbursement account. Such an approach would place a cap on the school district’s health care expenses while guaranteeing specific benefits for employees.

That would cost $2,000 for employees who have to cover only themselves, and $4,000 for a family plan.

The school board would pay 100 percent of the deductible for employees. The board will not have to pay claims until they are incurred.

The board’s health insurance broker, Thomas Kowalchik, said the plan would be just as good, if not better, than what employees currently have.

He said he conservatively estimates it could save the school district 20 percent for each employee. He said he hopes to have figures on how much it would save by today.

Currently, the school system allocates $8.3 million to cover all insurance claims, a figure that could jump to as high as $9.8 million by the end of the school year.

Any changes to the health insurance plan would have to be approved by all employee groups.

Longtime Naugatuck High School teacher Cheryl Campbell said Thursday’s meeting was “another example of the school board’s lack of regard for teachers and education. If they had the ability to go into this kind of health insurance plan that they say will save money, then why wasn’t this done months ago?”