Could budget battles hurt Shelton's school supt. search?

Board of Education (BOE) Chairman Mark Holden is concerned the Shelton school district’s annual budget issues could impact the ability to find the best qualified new superintendent.

“It could be difficult to attract people who are going to be interested in coming to a district where there’s likely to be an unusual challenge at budget time,” Holden said after School Supt. Freeman Burr unexpectedly announced last week he would step down in December.

Burr, in making his announcement, cited the district’s annual budget battles with the city as the main reason he would resign.

“Given the wealth of this town … the budget process should not be this difficult,” Burr said.

Qualified candidates are limited

Holden said he believes there now are nine school districts in Connecticut searching for a new superintendent, including Shelton, with a limited pool of possible candidates.

“Essentially the number of people qualified to be a superintendent, with the correct credentials, is somewhat limited,” he said.

That creates a competitive hiring environment, and Holden said communities where municipal officials are considered to be more supportive financially of school systems therefore have an advantage.

“There are other districts where the education budget is less contentious,” he said.

Per pupil spending

Another potential negative is that Shelton’s per pupil education spending is in the lowest 10% of school districts in Connecticut, according to Holden.

Student achievement results, however, are competitive with most comparable suburbs on a socioeconomic basis.

A positive in recruiting a new superintendent is that Shelton has a “strong” administrative staff and many “talented” teachers, according to Holden.

Holden said the BOE will be looking for a new superintendent with the correct vision and a strong financial background.

The process to hire a new superintendent will begin immediately. The goal is to have someone in place by the late fall so Burr can help with the transition before leaving his job on Dec. 31.

Contract went through 2017

Burr said he wanted to give “ample time” to the BOE to begin the search process for his successor. Burr was first hired for the position in 2009, and his current employment contract goes into 2017.

Holden recommended hiring the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE) to help with the search process, and BOE members have voted to do just that.

CABE is a private, nonprofit organization that advocates for, and provides services to, local school boards.

Burr said he doesn’t expect to sit back and do less during his remaining time on the job, but will continue to be an involved, active leader of the school district.

“I will not be a lame duck” for the next seven months, he said.

The Shelton superintendent oversees a system with an annual budget of about $68 million and about 650 employees, serving approximately 5,000 students.