Superintendent's contract is renewed; Burr gets three more years

The Board of Education (BOE) has extended School Supt. Freeman Burr’s contract for another year, through June 2016.

Like with most superintendents in the state, Burr has a three-year rolling contract that needs to be renewed annually for an additional year.

Burr, who has led the city’s school system since August 2009, said he is pleased to be able to remain in Shelton. “When I was originally hired by the board, I made a minimum of a five-year commitment,” he said. “There is still more to do.”

The BOE vote to renew Burr’s contract was not unanimous. It was 5-3, with the dissenters being John Francino-Quinn, James Orazietti and Kathy Yolish. Member Timothy Walsh was absent.

'He does his job and he cares'

Mark Holden, BOE chairman, said Burr is doing a good job. “Freeman has a plan to improve student achievement and has been working that plan to make it happen,” Holden said. “He does his job and he cares.”

Holden said Burr has formed good relationships with Mayor Mark Lauretti, the Board of Aldermen and school board members like himself.

Francino-Quinn said he wanted the board to wait until the new test scores were released to vote on Burr’s contract, providing a way to help evaluate Burr’s job performance. “But that didn’t happen,” he said.

The release of test scores statewide were delayed by the state this year, but have subsequently been disseminated.

Burr said the split vote will not deter him. “My responsibility is to keep the eye on the prize,” he said.

Pay increase

Burr’s base salary will be $165,000 in year one, $168,795 in year two and $174,000 in year three. This represents a 5.5% total increase over the three years.

He receives an annual annuity that will rise from $10,000 a year to $12,000 a year in year three, and a $725 per month vehicle allowance for his own car. He gets health and dental benefits, with his portion of the premium payments increasing from 15% to 19% over the course of the contract.

He receives 25 vacation days, 18 sick days and three personal days per year.

Holden said Burr’s salary is low when compared to other superintendents in Connecticut, especially in Fairfield County. “Pay-wise, at a gathering of superintendents he won’t be able to brag about his salary,” Holden said.

Before coming to Shelton, Burr worked in Hartford as director of secondary and intervention schools, director of human resources, supervisor of eight elementary schools, and a principal.

The Shelton Public Schools serve about 5,200 students and have about 650 employees, including 385 teachers or other certified staff.

Student achievement

Burr said his focus in Shelton has been on school improvement and student achievement.

He said “walk-through data” is gathered by having principals regularly observe class activities, with the goal being to emphasize effective teaching approaches. The district uses the Connecticut Accountability Learning Initiative to develop data-driven teaching strategies, he said.

Burr said Shelton stresses the importance of ongoing training for teachers. “At the end of the day, the focus is on teaching and learning,” he said.

He said youngsters must understand the relevance of what they are learning to their later success in life. “The importance of the teacher/student relationship can’t be minimized,” Burr said. “When students know the teachers believe in them, the students perform better.”

Another task has been to develop the local curriculum so it lines up with the state’s upcoming common core curriculum requirement.

The district also is preparing for the state’s new standardized tests for students, which will be done exclusively online.

Budget challenges

Burr said the budget always is a challenge, but he thinks school and city leaders worked well together this year to get enough funding “to sustain the progress we’ve made.”

He said part of his role is to enlighten elected officials on the challenges the school system faces, such as state mandates and the impact of new legislation.“We show them we are very prudent and fiscally conservative with our expenditures,” he said.

As for the system’s infrastructure, Burr said progress is being made on addressing fire code violations at Shelton High and, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the district is aggressively working to upgrade security at its facilities.