Panel decides not to reinstate former Shelton High principal
SHELTON — A subcommittee of the city’s school board has denied Beth Smith’s claim that the superintendent’s decision to reassign her earlier this year from a job as principal at the high school to supervisor of special education was punitive.
In her appearance before a subcommittee of the school board on Tuesday, Smith made her case in public — a last-minute decision on her part, according to Board of Education Chairman Mark Holden, since these hearings are normally held in executive session.
Smith argued her new post as supervisor of special education carries less authority, less salary, a lower classification under the union’s bargaining agreement, and no supervisory or building responsibilities.
“There is also significant costs in terms of prestige and reputation,” said Smith.
But the three-person panel, made up of Holden and board members Tom Minotti and Anne Gaydos, did not agree and denied Smith’s grievance.
The grievance was filed in July, months after Smith and former Shelton High Assistant Principal John Skerritt were placed on administrative leave in March. At the time, Shelton police were investigating whether school personnel adhered to requirements in state law in their handling of an alleged sexual assault involving two students.
That six-week investigation was closed earlier in May, with no criminal charges filed. The police report on the investigation stated that Shelton police had sought a warrant for the arrest of both administrators for risk of injury to a minor and interfering with police, but State’s Attorney Margaret E. Kelley declined to prosecute.
Smith, who has argued other school officials as well as those in the state Department of Children & Families and Shelton police were “all aware of my actions,” said she became the “main scapegoat in this situation.
“This is not just a simple transfer as has been claimed in the denial of my grievance,” Smith said. “And when viewed in context of the surrounding events, it is most definitely punitive. Since I was not disciplined for my actions in connection with the student incident investigation, this punishment disguised as a reassignment should not be permitted to stand.”
The subcommittee members hearing her arguments this week, however, were not convinced Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet’s decision to move Smith was “punitive.”
“Her claim was that her reassignment was punishment, which we decided it was not,” said Holden. “The superintendent made the move for the good of the district.”
Smith had sought to be returned to her post as high school principal. The union has 10 days from formal receipt of the panel’s decision to file a complaint, on behalf of Smith, to the American Dispute Resolution Center or a mutually agreed upon arbitrator. While the union has announced no decision, Smith’s attorney, Nicole Rothgeb, said “there is a strong likelihood this will be advanced to arbitration.”
Rothgeb said that the union contract prevents a demotion unless there is just cause.
“There was no just cause here,” said Rothgeb. “The demotion was punitive, and a violation of the contract.”
Social media chatter centered on whether Smith would be reinstated as high school principal, with interim principal Kathy Riddle being moved within the district.
Holden said there is “nothing to indicate (Smith) will be back at the high school. I do not know what others might try in the future.”
Holden, Minotti and Gaydos will not be returning to the Board of Education after their present terms, since all three failed to be nominated by the Shelton Republican Town Committee, then lost primary challenges in early September. Holden said the Board of Education cannot make such an appointment, with the board only voting for or against a candidate chosen by the superintendent.
“The union contract states that the superintendent has the authority to reassign individuals for whatever reason if it is in the best interest of the district,” said Holden. “This clearly falls under this.”
Holden said Smith’s salary was not reduced in the move, instead, as per the union contract, it remained at $164,595. If Smith was still principal, though, she would be receiving $169,368.
Smith stated that, with the reassignment, she is not being paid in accordance with the union contract and was denied the raise she was due July 1.
Smith has a background in special education, having served in the past as the department chair for special education. Riddle was named the interim high school principal for the 2019-20 school year. Skerritt was named assistant principal at Shelton Intermediate School.