SHELTON — Beth Smith, the former Shelton High principal who was at the center of controversy over an alleged sex assault of a of a student last school year, has now been chosen to lead the district.

The Republican-controlled Board of Education, in a 5-4 vote along party lines Wednesday, tabbed Smith, current supervisor of special education and pupil services, as the interim school superintendent. Smith will replace Chris Clouet, who announced his resignation earlier this week.

“It’s a great honor to be charged with the position to lead the Shelton public schools,” said Smith, as she received congratulations after the vote.

Democrats opposed the move, instead recommending current assistant superintendent Ken Saranich.

Kate Kutash and Amanda Kilmartin, both Democrats, said elevating Saranich, who they noted had the necessary experience after working alongside Clouet the past few months, would be the least disruptive move for the district during the search for a permanent superintendent.

“We are now on the third leader of the special education program in three years,” Kilmartin said. “Moving Beth into the interim superintendent position would imply a fourth person in three years in that role. I think that is a tremendous disservice to the public.”

Kilmartin said, while she has the utmost respect for Smith and her abilities as an educator, the former high school principal brings the baggage of several well-publicized controversies.

“Because of those things, I would say (Smith) does not make sense as interim superintendent,” Kilmartin added.

Kutash agreed, saying Smith is better used in her present role, where she can bring the district’s pre-K typical peers program back into compliance with state mandates while remaining a steadying presence in the special education department.

Smith will take over officially Feb. 29, and her first order of business is the school budget. The Board of Education has submitted a consensus budget with a 2.98 percent increase from this past fiscal year to the city. The board has not yet formally voted on the budget proposal.

“We need to get the budget finalized,” Smith said.

Smith said she must also learn how long the board sees her in the role.

“If it is a short period of time, my goal is to maintain where we are going and complete the year successfully,” Smith said. “If it is longer than that, I will look at strategic planning with the board to set goals and a vision of where the district is headed.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com