Shelley Somers Withdraws As Staples Principal Candidate

Central Middle School principal Shelley Somers has bowed out of consideration as Staples High School’s new principal.

In an email to parents, the lone finalist for the position said:

Good morning. After a long day yesterday at Staples High School, I have withdrawn my name for consideration for the principal position. As I talked with the various groups of stakeholders in Westport, I realized how important Central and Greenwich are to me.

I look forward to working to create a safe and challenging environment at Central Middle School that meets the needs of all of our students. I feel certain that in collaboration with you, my leadership team, and my teachers and staff, Central will continue to grow and to thrive.

Shelley Somers met with administrators, staff members, students and community members yesterday at Staples. She has since decided to withdraw from consideration as Staples' next principal.

Shelley Somers at Staples yesterday. She has withdrawn from consideration as Staples’ next principal.

Westport superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon said:

I think this is a tremendous loss to the children, staff and families of Westport. The search committee and I unanimously recommended Shelley Somers because we had great faith that she would continue the great tradition established by John Dodig.

Landon said that the search for a successor to Dodig — who retires in June after 11 years as Staples’ principal — will now focus on an interim appointment.

Landon said that the interim principal would not be someone from inside the Westport school system. “Choosing someone from inside does not allow for a full and open process” when a choice is then made for a permanent principal, he said.

However, he noted, current district administrators and employees are welcome to be part of the search process.

95 responses to “Shelley Somers Withdraws As Staples Principal Candidate

  1. What ???
    More to this story.

  2. After readomg one of the commenters in Dan’s prior report refer to the public meeting as a “lynching,” I would have been surprised if she stayed in the mix.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think the report that she had already been hired prior to the public meeting helped.

  3. Matthew Mandell

    This is a quote from yesterday’s post.
    Jodi ullmann | May 26, 2015 at 10:21 pm | Reply

    All I can say was that I was at the meeting today and it felt like a public lynching not a ‘meet and greet’. It was really embarrassing and incredibly unwelcoming. The focus should have been on her current track record : receiving ‘CT Administrator of the Year’ and not on an event that happened over 20 years ago.
    Maybe that says it all about why she bowed out.

  4. Adrian Bowles

    I attended the meeting yesterday, and I don’t think it was a “lynching” at all. It wasn’t a “meet and greet” – it was a job interview by the parents, who had relevant questions. If she couldn’t handle those questions she never would have made it in Westport. I was impressed with the way she handled the audience, but I was surprised that she was the only candidate they put forward given her experience.

    Personally, I think it’s a slap in the face for Westport administrators that the committee apparently won’t even consider someone from the inside as an interim principal. In universities, it is common to hire junior faculty from outside to get some intellectual diversity. The best schools, however, always give consideration to their own graduates for positions because they know they have been through a rigorous process. What does it say to our own administrators when we tell them sorry, we’ll take a middle school principal from Greenwich, but won’t even consider you? To me it says we are not preparing them for advancement, and for that, someone deserves an F.

  5. Peter Flatow

    “If you search the parks of the world you will never find a monument to a committee.” Sounds like a strange vetting process.

  6. I completely agree with Adrian’s comments about yesterday’s “meet and greet” – I was present for the entire thing and I thought there were only one or two questions that seemed a little off-base and aggressive (about her day care situation and the world language department, both of which reflected poorly on the “askers,” not Mrs. Somers’ responses). I thought the vast majority of people asked reasonable questions in a fairly straightforward way. Westport is certainly a community of thinkers and people who want the very best for their kids – asking reasonable and considered questions was highly appropriate – in my opinion. I am very sorry to see that Mrs. Somers has removed her name from consideration. We are a very tough crowd to please. Now we’ve apparently had two good candidates pass on the job. What is really going on behind the scenes???

  7. Terry Vance

    The “open forum” was a terrible idea, as good as it may have seemed in concept. Having this meeting before board approval sends the signal that the meeting is part of the evaluation process, even though most (if not all) of those in the room are uninformed regarding background checks and Ms. Somers’ responses to questions which might include more information than she wished to give in a public forum. And there are those among us who always carry a rotten tomato and are looking for a target. The B of E should have the confidence to elect a school principal, and AFTERWARDS have a public forum at which the new principal could speak and both she and the board answer questions from the audience. Instead, the B of E brought the worst of the internet to their selection process and lost their first choice.

    • Adrian Bowles

      As the audience was provided with a feedback form that was to be given to the BoE before they made the final decision, I think it was clear that this was intended to be part of the evaluation process. And for the record, Ms Somers was not the first choice – she was the first choice in the second round after the first-first-choice backed out.

      • Susan Schmidt

        …and in the first round, the “second” choice wasn’t offered the job. What does THAT say about the vetting process?

  8. michelle titlebaum

    I could be wrong but have been told by a few that current administrators are not necessarily interested in the principal job! Mr Farnen and others would be terrific.

  9. Attracting the best candidate will be even more difficult as long as the superintendent position is in transition. Most people wouldn’t accept a new job without knowing who their permanent boss will be. The Board needs to hire a superintendent ASAP, and have him/her lead the principal search.

    • Andy Yemma

      This is a very good point and raises the question of why Landon waited months after Dodig announced his retirement to announce his own.

  10. Yep, I agree with the majority opinion here that a hiring process that is conducted — 1) by committee; 2) in public; 3) with more than one unpleasant surprise leaking out — is not the way to go. And no, a prospective new hire should not be subjected to a face-off with a self-selected group of meeting attendees, any one of whom can be expected to cross the line of civiity in an opinionated locale like this.

    Any issues (like the day care one) should be managed by public statements, and opinionated citizens should voice their concern to their elected officials.

    We pay our school superintendents so much to make decisions like this, and support them with a gaggle of executives reporting up underneath. (And by “we” i mean both Westport, where I grew up, and Weston, where I now live; both places have a history of badly managed HR decision-making, adding to our heavenly education costs

    Boards are best at ratifying executive decisions; they’re horrible at making them. Look up the recent history of the HP corporation for evidence.

    • Adrian Bowles

      If you’re comparing our BoE with the BoD for HP, we really are in deep…. The HP BoD may be the worst in Fortune 100 history. If we’re going to make a corporate comparison though, the parents are the shareholders and have every right, and in fact a responsibility, to ask questions. I actually think the system worked quite well here. Nothing that was asked should have been a surprise, and nobody should assume that parents will blindly accept the recommendation of any one individual in matters like this.

      It should also be no surprise that at the same time that meeting was being held, over 1/2 the Junior class was sitting on the floor of the field house after opting out of the SBAC despite open hostility from the administration and no support from the BoE. Apparently it was a surprise to the administration, which is an indication that they have lost touch with the parents and students, too.

  11. To be an educator in the Westport school system is truly a double edge sword…. Not only are you part of a prestigious, successful, and well regarded system, but you are under a microscope and part of a fishbowl that has such magnification it must be brutal to have to answer to so many. I understand the importance they hold, but all I can think is you better have a thick skin to get into this arena.

  12. Bart Shuldman

    I am struggling reading Dr Landon’s comment that this is a ‘tremendous loss to the children staff and families’. From the comments I am reading the meeting was a bit difficult but she had the chance to meet parents that care. While it might have been a somewhat tough environment, just imagine what she would face once she started. While she might have the credentials it appears she did not like the atmosphere. Better to know it now then deal with someone who could not handle concerned parents. I would not classify this as a loss.

    Every candidate has the chance to get to know the town. Our officials need to think how to best handle this when inviting parents into the equation.

    But calling this a loss seems off base. Our officials need to vett each candidate and try our best to find the right match. If a candidate finds the environment not to their liking, then it is a gain for the town.

    Ms Somers appears to have succeeded in Greenwich. She also has the option to accept or not accept a new position. She chose for whatever reason not to move forward. It is her choice and decision. But if the fit is wrong, then we do not lose. Better to know now.

  13. James P. Pippitz

    To the candidate the whole process must have seemed like a joke. The elected BOE and the highly compensated, short time superintendent put one candidate in front of the parents and stated – “you have input in the process.” In reality, the only power the parents had was to be difficult and ornery if they didn’t like the candidate… call it a “veto by complaint.”

    The residents of Westport elect the BOE and pay the Superintendent to make these decisions. The fact that they shied away from this responsibility in a failed/faux attempt to build a consensus demonstrates a troubling lack of leadership by all involved.

    Landon’s leaving, and it doesn’t look like the BOE is up to the job of filling that huge power vacuum. It would appear that Ms. Somers got an up close view of the future, and decided to pass.

  14. Sven Davidson

    Take a look at the picture on WestportNow of the faces of the BoE listening to Ms. Somers. Not exactly “welcoming” or “open-minded” visages. Maybe they had good reasons for looking so negative, but if I’d been the presenter seeing looks like that, I think I might have had second thoughts too.

  15. Bobbie Herman

    I don’t live in Westport any more and my children never attended the Westport schools — however, I spend enough time in Westport to know how some of the residents behave. If what I’ve experienced was an example of what happened Tuesday evening, then I don’t blame Ms. Somers for withdrawing her candidacy. She probably would have been very unhappy, although I doubt if the people in Greenwich are much better behaved.

    • Bart Shuldman

      This needs to stop. Dr Landon’s message is creating the impression that parents caused the candidate to move on. I have spoken to someone who attended and they tell a different story.

      The process worked and we have to accept it. Maybe the candidate on paper was good but the fit wrong. We dodged a major issue with this candidate. One or 2 parent questions are not the issue. And shame on Dr Landon for trying to blame the parents. Does it surprise anyone that is what he is trying to do.

      We dodged a major issue if the candidate accepted and then showed this type of behavior. If she could not handle a question that she did not like, then we dodged a huge issue.

      Dr Landon is not doing this town any favors blaming parents who were concerned enough to attend the meeting-he set up!!

  16. Stephanie Bass

    I have two issues with the current B of E.

    1. Why did they let a self-selected WE’RE HERE TO SEE IF YOU ARE MAKING A GOOD CHOICE BEFORE YOU OFFER THE JOB group publically vet their choice? Who has the power to pick the next Superintendant?

    2. Why did the B of E give Dr. Landon a raise for his last year? To raise his pension benefits? So he would leave? Isn’t one of the key issues our First Selectman has earmarked as critical to our future financial stability getting a fix on benefits for our town employees? Budget cuts, recessions, retirement — nothing seems to get in his way of his salary bumps. If the Board is looking at the big picture and is still so crazy about Dr. Landon, couldn’t they buy him a watch ?

    • Bart Shuldman

      Stephanie. Let me help everyone understand the answer to #2 as you bring up a major issue in Westport

      Jim Marpe has NO say in the BOE budget. You can look at it as if we have 2 separate leaders in Westport. Jim Marpe who has been controlling costs and driving down our liabilities for everything BUT the education department in Westport. He has no control or say. He has no authority.

      Then we have the BOE who control their budget. They make their own decision and control their own budget. And the Selectman are involved in approving. And the BOE budget only gets their approval by the Board of Finance.

      To make matters worse, the Board of Finance has no control of the line items in the BOE budget. They can only approve the total budget.

      Get the point? Get the issue?

      Your concern over Dr Landon’s salary and increases has nothing to do with Jim Marpe (First Selectman). This is totally controlled by the BOE. Who is watching what is going on inside the hen house? You have to ask.

      Hope this helps and opens a dialogue as to why and is this right for Westport.

      • Werner liepolt

        As dr. Landon negotiated separately from any bargaining unit it would be good for the Board of Education to elucidate all the benefits in Dr. Landon’s package including payments into (403(b)s) IRAs, etc. and especially all retirement obligations to which they have committed Westport taxpayers.

  17. Steve Stein

    “I think this is a tremendous loss to the children, staff and families of Westport. The search committee and I unanimously recommended Shelley Somers because we had great faith that she would continue the great tradition established by John Dodig.”

    Sadly the self serving intrepretations and the sniping continue!

    As I read this statement no one is being blamed- it is a statement that the search committee and Dr Landon feel Ms Somers would have been good for our school system based on her work record, the recognition she has had along the way and the search committee’s interview process. Anything beyond that is purely conjecture.

    A search committee is supposed to narrow the field to the best candidates available. To make the process manageable they have to make decisions for all of us. If candidate number one refuses for their own personal reasons- so be it! You then look for candidate number two unless the community decides to not have a Staples High principal because we were turned down by our first choice!!

    As for Ms Somer’s reasons to withdraw- that is also conjecture. Do an exit interview if she will even consider it- her option. I personally would like to know why she reconsidered but truthfully I probably don’t want to hear the reasons.

    I keep saying to myself- Would I want to leave a secure job where I have a 6 year record of accomplishment and the highest professional recognition in the state to go to a job in a town where I am starting to feel that I may turn out to be cannon fodder?

    • Bart Shuldman

      Steve. Unless there is more to Dr Landon’s statement, I could not disagree with you more.

      Where was a thank you to the parents for attending the meeting and being part of the process? While on paper the candidate might have been right, clearly she did not want to come to Westport. I, again state that is not a tremendous loss for Westport. Unless Dr Landon wants to blame someone else for the candidates decision. She came to Westport and decided it was not going to work. Time to move on. We dodged a bullet and we should be thankful. If there is not a fit, then there is no tremendous loss. I am sure we will find another candidate. Too bad Dr Landon made his comments.

      This is what was quoted ‘I think this is a tremendous loss to the children, staff and families of Westport. The search committee and I unanimously recommended Shelley Somers because we had great faith that she would continue the great tradition established by John Dodig.

  18. Celia Offir

    I attended all three parent meetings at Staples.
    Yesterdays meeting was in no way a lynching. Ms. Somers was composed and not rattled by the two uncomfortable questions. She addressed her past head on and that was appreciated by many. That was actually her strength. Everyone I spoke with thought she would be ok. We have a great team already in place.
    However, the second candidate we met in March, Louis Moore, seemed exceptional. The kids thought so too. (Even after he withdrew his application, we were inspired that it was to work at an underprivileged school). Let’s wait and make the right choice.

  19. As long as I’m just throwing out random thoughts…

    I’ll agree with the person above who said it may be challenging to find principal before the town finds a superintendent.

    When Marvyn Jaffe left in 1992 (11 years) he was immediately replaced by Gloria Rakovic (10 years) but her replacement was John Brady, an interim placement brought in from outside as I recall, who did not let the school go to pieces.

    • John Brady was not brought in from the outside. In 2002, after a 6-month search for Gloria’s replacement came up dry, Dr. Brady was appointed as interim principal. He had been in the Westport district for 8 years, serving first as assistant principal for pupil services, then as interim superintendent when Paul Kelleher left, and finally (after Dr. Landon’s appointment) as deputy superintendent. He reluctantly gave up that post to become interim, The next year, 3 candidates were put forth for permanent principal. Dr. Brady was the consensus choice.

      However, a year later (September 2004) he resigned to become superintendent of the Amity school district in Woodbridge. John Dodig — recently retired as principal of Fairfield High School — was hired as interim superintendent, to fill out the year. Once again, a search committee was formed. Dodig had grown to appreciate the school, students, staff, parents and town. He applied for the permanent post, was hired — and the rest is history.

  20. karen howes

    I don’t think it is a wise move to have a parent meeting first…parents can naturally meet the new principle in due time…hope some westport parents didn’t scare her away 🙂

  21. Steve Stein

    Bart- as you’ve said before- we can agree to disagree. You are reading blame into the statement. I am reading more disappointment into it.

    This is not the first or last time in this or any kind of job search that a finalist candidate withdraws. It is not unheard of to have contracted medical residents call the day before they are supposed to start and say they have reconsidered and won’t be coming.

    I think it is a loss that Ms Somers for whatever reason, isn’t coming to Staples but I will agree with you that it is better to have this decision behind us then in front of us.

    Time to move on and continue the search for the perfect candidate for Staples principal!

  22. Stephanie Bass

    Mr. Shuldman:

    I believe you misconstrued my comments. I get the separate budgets and separate power. I in no way blame Jim Marpe for Board of Ed decisions. I think the First Selectman is doing an outstanding job and we are very lucky to have a sophisticated, financially savvy guy in this critical spot.

    I think the Board of Ed should have taken note of the priorities our Selectmen are putting forth and not used part of their budget and THEIR DISCRETIONARY POWER to give Dr.Landon a raise. Again and again.

    And other than your eagerness to correct my comments, apparently no one else cares about the Board giving Landon more $$$$$.

  23. Steve Stein

    Hi Stephanie and Bart-

    It would seem that no matter who controls the purse strings , the people who work for the town and the school system expect a raise once in a while. If the police, firemen, teachers, parks and recreation people deserve raises now and then- why don’t administrators like principals and the superintendent of schools deserve raises.

    If I recall Dr Landon didn’t get much of a raise for the past two years. So the Board of Ed must have felt they owed him something in his last year. 2.6% to be exact- less than 1% per year if spread out over the last three years.

    Let’s go after bigger fish! By my calculations if we could get every town employee to work the last three years for free, the Town of Westport would be completely off the pension hook going forward- if pensions are based on the last three years salary.

    • Adrian Bowles

      According to the Minuteman and Westport Now, Dr Landon did receive a raise when his contract was extended (June 2013). He went from $287,899 – at that point already the highest paid superintendent in CT – to $292,937.

    • Werner liepolt

      Westport teachers’ wages were frozen for two years.

    • Werner liepolt

      The town of Westport is not
      “On the hook” for
      Teachers’ pensions. Each teacher is required to pay six percent of his other annual salary into a pension fund which has so far been mismanaged and underfunded by the state but is not paid for by Westport taxes. Connecticut public school teachers do not collect social security even if they have accumulated social security quarters. Top administors negotiate their packages with their boards of education. So the town is
      “On the hook” for whatever this board has negotiated in addition to the publicized 2.6% raise.

    • Jamie Walsh

      Landon was overpaid period! Hope this mistake is not repeated!

  24. Elizabeth Thibault

    First, it’s unkind speculation to Ms. Somers to assume she had been “scared away” by parents – no one can rationally assume the parents of Greenwich students are any less demanding than the parents here. No executive worth their salt would ever appreciate that being bandied about. Do her the courtesy of allowing her to statement to stand on it’s own; she withdrew her candidacy for her own reasons, she was not the BOE’s first choice, an interim candidate will be found and will allow others to apply or being identified.
    We all know our property values are very closely aligned with the quality of our school system, so even if someone doesn’t have a child in the system, they should want the very best candidate hired for this role. Someone who believes in instilling a love of learning, critical thinking skills, helping students develop by facing their challenges, and appreciating the need to contribute to our society.

  25. Bart Shuldman

    Stephanie. My mistake. And your comments so true. Who is really watching over the BOE and their relationship with Dr Landon? Why is our budget process for the biggest spend in Westport so open to concern? And why did the BOE feel the highest paid Superintendant need a raise when issues such as moving money between budget items happening?

    Your concerns are spot on. My apology for my mistake.

    And now his wonderful note about the candidate.

    • Steve Stein

      Bart- the Board of Ed is elected by the people of the Town of Westport. I think it is Republican leaning as is the Town Government and Mr Marpe. So we are all fiscally responsible.

      I think all the Boards and elected town officials signed off on the Board of Ed budget and someone even complimented them on a tight budget. Please correct me if I am wrong.

      It seems that the sticking point for you is everything about Dr Landon. His raise, his salary, his note about the candidate for Staples principal, his moving funds legally to get Kings Highway school mold problem remediated in time for the opening of school for the kids.

      Who do you propose should be looking over the Board of ED and what qualifications should they have. Educational or just financial? What powers would you give your overseer? Educational or just financial? Is this a full time or time position? And how much should we pay your overseer for overseeing the Board of Ed. Sounds a lot like Dr Seuss to me.

      • The present opacity is more like Kafka than Seuss.

      • Bart Shuldman

        Easy answer. I will put the education department under the First Selectman responsibility and also demand line item veto and review.

        If you want to talk about how the education budget has been abused, just look at one of our last conversations regarding how Dr Landon moved money between accounts to cover his blunder at KHS (including hiring a contractor without bids) even while complaining he did not get all the money he wanted (somehow he found it).

        How can this town truly understands the expenses when we are not allowed to review line items?

        • Andy Yemma

          Except Bar wouldn’t have done this under the previous selectman. Check his posts.

          • Bart Shuldman

            Andy-depends. What I want to see is our finance board having line item review of the BOE budget. We should all want that. If you look at the rest of the town budget is is available both from the town and in the newspaper. The BOF should have responsibility to review the full budget.

            There is no doubt that Gordon Joseloff would not have been interested in getting into the details. But we have a new leadership and the town is clearly more involved and concerned with how our money is spent.

            Jim Marpe is showing us all that fiscal responsibility is not an oxymoron with government leadership. We are getting our town employees onto 401k plans and bending the horrible pension curve. Town residents are more engaged. I have lived here for over 20 years and things are different.

            With the controls now started the BOE budget should follow the work both Jim Marpe and the BOF are doing. The BOF is also clearly more engaged and not just following party politics as what happened just a few years back.

            With the help of 06880, a concerned BOF and new leadership, the town is more aware as to how our money is spent.

          • Bart Shuldman

            I forgot to end with….except when it comes to the education budget. There, residents have no idea how our money is spent.

            • You are living in the wrong state. You should familiarize yourself with the state statutes regarding Boards of Education

              “Local boards of education are not agents of the towns but creatures of the state. 25 CS 305.”

        • Steve Stein

          Bart- What you are proposing is probably why the first selectman is not in charge of the education department in Westport. You have a Republican leaning Board of Ed and Board of Finance overseeing things and you’re not happy. Should we ignore the duly elected Board members who represent us- the citizens who run for office and volunteer their time to do the work- and give all their responsibilities to the First Selectman that fortunately you currently like- but maybe not the last one and maybe not the next one! What do you do if the electorate elect someone as first selectman that you don’t agree with on fiscal policy- change back?

          The State of Connecticut has laws from both Republican and Democratic administrations about a lot of things- is what you are proposing even legal? Can the First Selectman un the school system in a town? Does the Town of Westport want a politically appointed group of cronies supervising our schools with their own agenda or an elected Board of Education with both sides represented at the table- a Board that can be voted out at the next election?

          I like the idea of shared power- The town government yelling at the Board of Ed to get the most for our money and the elected Board of Ed doing what it is elected to do- setting policy, hiring and working with a superintendent of schools, creating budgets and providing the best possible education for our kids.

      • The majority of the Board of Education is Democrat.

        • Steve Stein

          Thank you Michael for that clarification- the Board has changed often enough that it is sometimes hard to keep track of who is who and from which party. But the eye opener is – state. 25 CS 305. I just googled it – overwhelming to say the least! I am sure Mr Marpe would not relish having that responsibility and burden to deal with n addition to running the town!

          Bart – you can put your dream of putting the Board of Ed under Mr Marpe to rest- can’t happen in Connecticut. State. 25 CS 305. even deals with the responsibility of the Board to deal with the air our kids breathe- including mold! You can grouse all you want but that money was going to be spent no matter what to get our kids back into Kings Highway or they were going to be shipped all over Westport!! And then Dr Landon wouldn’t just have had you after him, he would have had all the parents at Kings Highway whose kids were shipped out and the parents who felt their kids were being unfairly crowded by the kids shipped in to their schools.

          • Bart Shuldman

            Steve. Thanks for your remarks and it’s good to have a clear debate on these issues. That is what got the town of Westportnto change a few years ago and get hold of the growing $400 million in debt and liabilities. Talk about helping the seniors, the town residents voiced their displeasure with what was going in and change happened. I congratulate Marpe and Kaner and the full BOF for their hard work getting into the details and putting forward the plans to bend the spend curve. We will leave the town in much better shape.

            By the way-to me-party politics is not my deciding vote. Having a solid leader who will support controlling costs and work to fix OPEB and our pensions will always get my vote. I don’t believe party politics plays at the local level. We get to personally know our leaders and I will vote for whoever believes in fiscal responsibility.

            As for the discussion about the BOE. I appreciate the state mandate. I told you what I would want. If I look at how the state is run, clearly there exists huge issues. So it does not surprise me out cost issues follow the states. The state of CT is in serious trouble. Debt and liabilities exceeding $100 billion and growing. Pensions and OPEB out of control. And no way to pay for it. Taxes will rise, tolls are being proposed and for those that play longshore, get ready to pay tax on your round.

            I am very concerned pensions promised to our teachers might not get paid. Our experience with our schools have been wonderful, led by a great team of teachers and principals. But the state cannot control their costs and pensions and medical benefits could get effected.

            And it flows to the town level. Without a clear debate and review of expenses as we do at the town level we lose control. The states mandate only supports that type of behavior and given how the state is run, is does not surprise me they want it continued down at our level.

            We have a wonderful group of residents who john the different boards in town to help make Westport better. No doubt. BOE, BOF, P&Z (thank you for Barons South vote) all dedicate themselves to the town. I thank them all.

            But I would want to see better oversight and review of the BOE budget.

            • Steve Stein

              Hi Bart- I could not agree with you more on all the issues that need fixing.

              The only difference is the recurrent scapegoating of one person-the superintendent of schools. His mandate should be education of the kids and then everything else in state 25 CS 305..

              A cost overrun for lead and mold remediation and a salary in line with the other superintendents in our area should not create a target. (Everyone was aware of an overrun from what I read just not how big- lead is expensive to get out of a school and there are limited businesses set up to do that work properly.)

              Interesting that we can agree to agree finally on somethings.

            • Your desire to gain control of town expenses is about to be frustrated further, if the majority party in Hartford gets its way. Regional taxes are on the way.


              • Bart Shuldman

                Michael. There is no doubt the residents of Westport face a serious issue with the Governors inability to work with both sides in Hartford to resolve the huge budget deficit. As we know, when state taxes were increased RETROACTIVELY just a few years back, we were promised the problems would be over. At that time the Governor gave away another 11 years of using overtime for pensions while raising taxes on everyone making $50,000 or more–THE MIDDLE CLASS. He told us all be be fine.

                We now find the state in worse shape, running a huge deficit and the liabilities horribly growing. And I am sure everyone will agree our infrustructure is decaying and falling apart, despite one of the highest gas taxes in the U.S.

                So now the Governor and ‘his’ party want to find ways to take more from the people in Fairfield County. While we have done an outstanding job at working to control costs, the Governor needs our money to fund other parts of CT and his government which is out of control.

            • Your comments about teachers’ pensions and medical insurance seem inaccurate.
              Teachers must pay 6% of their salary into the state pension fund. Connecticut teachers do not get social security. There is a cap on teachers’ pensions. I suppose you could say there is a promise involved, but it’s not the promise you imply.
              As for medical insurance, retired teachers get to stay enrolled in their district plan IF THEY PAY 100% of the cost. Few districts in Connecticut offer retired teachers anything in the way of medical coverage.
              This link provides further details.

              • Bart Shuldman

                Warren. What has been promised and what they will get are 2 different things. If the pension obligations become so big, which they are, to the point they can not pay what they were promised, then there can be real issues. Just look at Illinois as to what is happening there.

                I would be happy to post articles but we can agree to disagree if you want. CT is in real trouble and promises made might turn into promises broken.

                • You talk about “promises” when individual teachers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars into a pension fund that is part of a contractual agreement. This is the equivalent of an employer committing to matching funds in a 401 (k) which, incidentally, teachers are not allowed to have.

                  • Bart Shuldman

                    Werner. I 100% agree with you. What I worry about–if the money is not there–if the fund does not have enough money-then how do you pay the teachers their pension?

              • Bart Shuldman

                Werner. Just in case you want some facts:

                Retired Connecticut state employees received the highest annual pensions in the country in 2011, despite contributing less out of their paychecks than the national average. That meant the state’s pension system was the second-most underfunded in the United States, in worse shape than every other state’s except Illinois’.
                Connecticut would have to allocate about $70 million in additional funds each year for 18 years to close the funding gap in the major state employees’ pension system, according to actuarial estimates. And that wouldn’t address the $11 billion gap in the teachers’ retirement system, which would need tens of millions of dollars more every year during that same period.
                To demonstrate the size of the problem: It would cost each man, woman and child in the state $12,157 to close the $44 billion funding gap afflicting the state’s two largest pension systems and its two retiree health benefit programs. Since the mid-1990s, the state rarely has met its required contribution, although it did so in 2013.
                Now, closing the gap means either higher taxes, more borrowing, new sources of revenue or less to spend on education and social services or – more likely – all the above.

                • I have no doubt that the State of Connecticut has failed to live up to its commitment to the teachers of the state who have paid and continue to pay 6% of their after tax income and when retired pay state and federal income tax on their pension. For example the legislature fails every year to fund its share. That failure does not negate the obligation.

                  • Bart Shuldman

                    Werner–the obligation could turn into a failure. When you dont manage your costs and continue to give away benefits that sky rocket as time goes on, you eventually have to deal with the fact that you cannot pay the obligation. I worry for our teachers and principals. The day of reckoning is getting closer and the state budget falls apart. Givernor Malloy is driving more people to move out of the state and business too. I do not see how any senior citizen wants to stay as a resident. The costs are rising, more taxes and no end to the madness.

                    • Would those mismanaged costs include the Superintendent’s raise, in your opinion?

                    • Bart Shuldman

                      Werner. Interesting question. The issue, to me, with how Dr Landon was compensated the last several years is a mirror of what is happening in the state.

                      First, I know there are some who thought Dr Landon deserved the increases, etc. I disagree. If the leader of an organization purposely hides the movement of money then that leader should be held accountable. A raise is for good performance, it should not be a granted exercise.

                      But this is exactly what is happening at the state level but at a much bigger figures. Add the thousands more, and we are now burdened with pensions and liabilities that is choking this state. I just read an article about a government official who is working in 2 different organizations getting long term benefits. It’s disgusting. It is money they are giving that comes from hard working people and also seniors. The oversight is sad. As it appeared to be in Westport as stated above.

                    • Bart Shuldman

                      Werner (or others): If you want to voice your opinion as new taxes are being proposed:

                      If you want to say “No” to new taxes and skyrocketing government spending contact the governor and Democratic leaders NOW – let them know we cannot afford another tax hike.

                      Now is the time to change the conversation.

                      As we enter the final days of the legislative session, the governor is working with Democrats behind closed doors to craft a state budget. Over the past few months, we’ve heard about shocking tax hikes, new burdens on employers, and budget gimmicks that would put the final nail in coffin for CT’s struggling economy.

                      Contact Info
                      The Governor’s Office can be reached at: 800-406-1527
                      The Senate Majority Office can be reached at: 800-842-1420
                      The House Majority Office can be reached at: 800-842-1902

                    • As they say,,if you can’t afford the house, don’t buy the house.

          • While I admire Bart’s efforts to point out the financial chaos and mismanagement that rules in Hartford, he, like most to have posted here, seem to have little or no knowledge of the restrictions placed on local governments as they try to manage the costs of the public schools. I the think the BOE does an admirable job given those restriction.

            In addition, why have so few focused on the results. Our students appear to be well prepared to advance to the next level of education. The high level of preparedness is not an accident. Many, including the students, have worked hard to produce these favorable results.

  26. Kevin Green

    It seems clear that Ms. Somers rejected us. She was the second person to do that. What is it that we are doing or not doing that makes it difficult to attract great candidates?

    • The first candidate also had a very exciting offer to work with Leon Botstein, Bard College president, in developing an entirely new school, with a college component, in Baltimore. I believe it was less a rejection of Westport than an opportunity to be part of a new professional challenge.

    • As I said earlier, a key component of a successful search has to be a superintendent that is presumably here for the long-term; and has the support of the BOE and parents. The parents’ introduction to Shelley Somers would have been very different if the parents trusted our superintendent’s judgment.

    • Jamie Walsh

      Kevin, it seems to me that it comes right down to the lack of quality administrative leadership. Landon is bailing and leaving the ship without a rudder. We should have qualified administrators chomping at the bit to want to come here, but when the superintendent is retiring and no one seems to have his replacement in mind….who then wants to jump headfirst into that murky water. I think you should interview for the job! You would make a tremendous administrator as well as an educator!!!! My vote is for you Dr. Green!

  27. Bart Shuldman

    While some want to blame the parents and Dr Landon says what a ‘loss’ let’s think about the candidate we ‘dodged’.

    As a friend wrote to me….here are the comments the candidate made:

    1) I don’t see myself as a middle school principal. It was never my intent to stay in middle school.

    2) just 24 hours later see then writes..:after a long day at Staples High School… I realized how important CENTRAL and Greenwich are to me.

    So–how should parents at CENTRAL think of their principal? She doesn’t see herself as a middle school principal…then…..yes she does? No she doesn’t then yes she does.

    I continue to believe we dodged a real issue with the candidate and this was not a ‘loss’ for Westport. And thank you parents for attending the meeting and representing our interests. It appears the Superintendent had other ideas.

    • Ms. Somers made the right decision; taking the Westport job would have been a big mistake. Unfortunately, the entire search process will now be colored by the current controversy. Given the nature of the opinions expressed here and elsewhere, who will want to take this job? Why would anyone who is qualified take the risk?

      • Is there actually a controversy outside of this forum? I think the committee will search and in 1-2 years there will be a new excellent principal.

        • The comments on this forum are now part of the public record. Anyone who might be interested in the position, and is competent, would do the research about the town, the parents, the BOE, the students, etc. etc. The opinions expressed here may be varied, but read the whole thread. What is the general tone of the comments? Then read the local press.

          The “committee” can find a new candidate tomorrow, but how qualified will that candidate be? I think the better qualified candidates will think twice before taking the principal job or that of superintendent.

          • Tom Feeley

            Probably right, but I hope you’re wrong.

          • Bart Shuldman

            Michael. No doubt we will find a principal because Westport is a wonderful town committed to education. We have involved parents who care and teachers who are well respected. This is a wonderful role for someone who wants to lead one of the best high schools in the nation.

            Your negativity is quite apparent.

            • Cheap shot…

            • Steve Stein

              Hi Bart- perhaps this should be some light reading for your consideration!\

              Marla Cowden | May 28, 2015 at 9:31 pm

              Wow! We just negated several months of the work of – students, parents, teachers and administrators on the selection committee – in the blink of an eye.
              We accused the BoE of various imagined sins that had nothing to do with the actual process – the BoE didn’t even meet the candidate until the day we all did (the selection committee was doing the work until then).
              As we begin the process again, let’s learn our lessons. 1) Let the process work – all the above volunteers deserve that. 2) Stay on topic – budget, superintendent pay, and the myriad of distractions that went into this need to be left out going forward. 3) Our students deserve a quality principal. Do we really want to keep getting in the way of that goal?

      • Bart Shuldman

        No doubt Ms Somers made the right decision. She was not qualified to lead our high school and it would have become apparent quite quickly.

        As she said…I do not want middles school… oh yes I do.

        • Steve Stein

          Bart- I agree with the first sentence- “No doubt Ms Somers made the right decision.” But then you lost me!

          Please share your qualifications to conclude “she was not qualified” and where you got your crystal ball allowing you to see “it would have become apparent quite quickly”.

          The selection committee thought highly enough to make Ms Somers their sole candidate based on their interviews and review of her credentials. I guess after you’re finished taking your routine pot shots at Dr Landon – you should start taking pot shots at the members of the committee as well!

        • Bobbie Herman

          It sounds like the Peter Principle —

  28. James Milton Smith

    Why don’t we put Elliott Landon to the same public forum scrutiny and brow-beating at his exit interview? I have the first question: “why do you keep trotting out first class Staples principal candidates only to have them trashed at these farcical public forums?” This interview process is a farce and the superintendent should be utterly embarrassed and resign immediately.

  29. Marla Cowden

    Wow! We just negated several months of the work of – students, parents, teachers and administrators on the selection committee – in the blink of an eye.
    We accused the BoE of various imagined sins that had nothing to do with the actual process – the BoE didn’t even meet the candidate until the day we all did (the selection committee was doing the work until then).
    As we begin the process again, let’s learn our lessons. 1) Let the process work – all the above volunteers deserve that. 2) Stay on topic – budget, superintendent pay, and the myriad of distractions that went into this need to be left out going forward. 3) Our students deserve a quality principal. Do we really want to keep getting in the way of that goal?

  30. Ellen Lautenberg

    As a previous PTA president at Bedford Middle School and current executive board member at Staples, I would like to add my perspective to some of the issues raised above:
    – As someone who has sat through the budget process, I can say that the BOE develops its budget in painstaking detail in public and encourages (and receives) input from the community. Anyone who is interested can peruse the budget (most do not want to as it is extensive and very detailed). This year’s BOE budget was universally praised across party lines and passed without any dissenting votes from both the Board of Finance and the RTM. The praise was due to a few things: several new policies the BOE put in place to increase the transparency and accountability of the administration, the BOE addressing long-needed maintenance projects, and to some exciting new programs the BOE is putting in place next year for students. And all of that done with the leanest budget increase in years.

    – As far as allowing the First Selectman to have line-item veto power, I agree with the statement above that we elected the BOE to scrutinize the budget that the Superintendent recommends and to present the leanest budget possible without gutting our educational system. If you review the budgets of the last several years, you will see that the BOE has done just that. In some cases the BOF asked them to cut further, which was very difficult and eliminated some programming that had been part of the system for years, but they had no choice. The BOF and RTM DO have veto power, therefore the First Selectman does not need to have it. In addition, the BOE along with the teachers and administrators are the ones that understand the importance of each line item, not the First Selectman.

    – The BOE has zero partisanship and conducts itself without political rhetoric. They do that because that’s what’s in the best interest of kids and being partisan would not help them attain their goals. They spend many hours debating the best approach for providing excellent education, most of which can be viewed (and commented on) by the public.

    I agree that the administration may want to re-think when during the process parents should meet the candidate but I also agree that if the parent meeting (or any other part of the process) scared off this candidate, then she was not the right person for the job. The fact that we “lost” 2 desirable candidates I think was more bad luck than bad choices. At this point, having an interim principal will allow time to find the best candidates for both the Principal and the Superintendent positions and I have faith that our BOE will do just that.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Ellen–thanks for your insights and comment. It helps to get the first hand knowledge and experience as to what happens with the budget process. I want to thank you and others that volunteer to help with the PTA and BOE. In no way should my comments take away from the hard work the BOE does and that fact that they volunteer their time to make our schools the best they can be. I thank you all!!

      I also agree with you that is the parent meeting or any part of the hiring process ‘scared’ off the candidate, she was not the right person for the job. The process worked.

      As for your comment about the Superintendent recommending the budget–interesting. I guess that is part of his job–again–interesting.

      Ellen–thanks for all you do–and BOE–thanks for all you do. Please do not take my belief that having line item oversight relects away from the hard and dedicated work you do.

      • You can’t have line item oversight other than at the BOE. Did you read the applicable statute? I thought not.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Michael. Thanks for your comment but you miss what my response was all about. Someone asked me what I would like-which is different from what are the rules. I personally would like to see the ability of line item oversight to our education budget. Maybe one day it will happen and to your point the rules changed.

      • Steve Stein

        Hi Bart- sounds like some interested citizens (Michael, Ellen, Werner..) are giving you some needed on the job training into how the BOE works, what and who were on the search committee for the new principal, how state law mandates work, teacher pensions process and how the Superintendent guides and advises the local Westport school system- including observing the state laws, participating in the budget creation and review with the BOE, the hiring of personnel needed who you have so much respect for- and creating an atmosphere for excellence in our school system- the things the BOE hired him to do.

        And my next to final comment (one of my sons has commented to me that I am getting repetitive and he is getting worried about my memory)- You keep coming back to and repeating (should I worry about your memory as well) about the moving of funds for the remediation of mold and the unexpected expensive need to also remediate for lead removal. It seems obvious , at least to me, that from what I read in the Westport News and on that the BOE and probably the BOF were made aware of the unexpected finding of lead in Kings Highway and the expensive urgency to get it out before the start of classes. Do you think that the town government- including Mr Marpe, the BOF and the BOE wouldn’t have been demanding and accepting more than an agreement from Dr Landon that in the future – even in an emergent situation -“he would not do it again ” (and I repeat- even though what he did was perfectly legal and legitimate and in the best interests of all our children!!)

        Lastly- I have worked in two hospitals here in Connecticut that needed remediations for asbestos- it is not a pretty sight. And I became aware- first hand – of the amount of work and time needed to remediate – and the exorbitant expense involved. I can educate you on that one first hand.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Steve. If I am not mistaken, your son wrote a wonderful piece on 06880 about you. And the picture posted is really nice.

          At any time you want to meet and get to know each other I would be glad to do so. You will meet someone who truly enjoys Westport and cares about its future and also the future of the star of CT. I hope to leave it better than how it was given to me.

          And I hope my daughters write something as nice as your son did. You are truly blessed.

          • Steve Stein

            Bart- Thank you for your very kind comments. I am sure your daughters will be equally or more complimentary about their dad!

            steve stein

  31. Linda Stein

    Okay everybody, the party’s over. Let’s call it quits. In a few months , you can start all over when the next candidates come
    up for discussion.

  32. Bart Shuldman

    Things are getting much worse in CT. Here comes the new taxes which we promised would not happen:

    Wall Street Journal
    Worse Than Illinois

    Connecticut Democrats are raising taxes again after promising not to.

    Wall Street Journal Editorial

    The Census Bureau says Connecticut was one of six states that lost population in fiscal 2013-2014, and a Gallup poll in the second half of 2013 found that about half of Nutmeg Staters would migrate if they could.
    Now the Democrats who run the state want to drive the other half out too.

    That’s the best way to explain the frenzy by Governor Dannel Malloy and the legislature to raise taxes again and blow through a state constitutional spending cap. They’ve been negotiating behind closed-doors over the details of a two-year $40 billion budget that could be revealed this weekend, but it’s already clear that Connecticut residents will pay big time.

    Mr. Malloy promised last year during his re-election campaign that he wouldn’t raise taxes, but that’s what he also said in 2010. In 2011 he signed a $2.6 billion tax hike promising that it would eliminate a budget deficit. Having won re-election he’s now back seeking another $650 million in tax hikes.

    But that’s not enough for the legislature, which has floated $1.5 billion in tax increases. Add a state-wide municipal sales tax that some lawmakers want, and the total could hit $2.1 billion over two years.

    One reason Mr. Malloy needs cash is because the state economy isn’t growing. According to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis, the state grew a scant 0.9% in 2013, the last year state data are available. That was tied for tenth worst in the U.S. The state’s average compounded annual growth for the last four years is 0.42%.

    Slow growth means less tax revenue but spending never slows down. Some “40% of the state budget goes to government employee compensation and benefits, including payroll, state pensions, teacher pensions and current and retiree health care,” says Carol Platt Liebau, president of the Hartford-based Yankee Institute. “These items are growing at a rate that exceeds the growth of the economy.”

    The Tax Foundation ranks Connecticut as one of the 10 worst states to do business. The state finished last in Gallup’s Job Creation Index in 2014 and now ties with Rhode Island for the worst job creation in the index since 2008.

    This will only get worse if the state Assembly gets its way. Democrats want to make permanent what has been a temporary surtax of 20% on a company’s annual tax liability, while limiting the use of accumulated tax credits. They also want to apply the 6.35% state sales tax to services, increase the top marginal income tax rate for individuals to 6.99% from 6.7%, and add a new 2% surcharge on capital gains income, which is now taxed as ordinary income.

    In a sign of grasping desperation, the proposal also calls for the Connecticut Lottery to put keno in bars and restaurants. Not too many years ago Connecticut was a tax refuge for New York City workers, but since it imposed an income tax in 1991 the rate has kept climbing, as it always does.

    We’re tempted to say that the Connecticut voters who re-elected Mr. Malloy after he dissembled on taxes the first time are getting what they deserve. But this is what happens when a state, like Illinois and New York, becomes dominated by public unions and gentry liberals.

    They soak the middle class.

  33. This editorial is wrong. In 2010, Malloy did not promise not to raise taxes. We were facing a $3.6 billion deficit left behind by Governor Rell, and Malloy (and every other rational being in the state) knew that taxes had to be part of the solution.

    • Bart Shuldman

      John. And now?

    • Bart Shuldman

      Friends and Neighbors: (John even the Hartford Courant came out against the budget proposal)–read all below

      If you have not been following the current budget crisis in the State of CT, Governor Malloy and the Democratic legislatures are about to pass a new budget that includes major tax increases for just about everyone in the state, including the middle class. It is a horrible deal that does not ‘tackle’ the cost issues within the state but unfortunately raises taxes once again. Despite Governor Malloy’s promise not to raise taxes, he is about to do so.

      A few very large corporations in our state, Travelers, Aetna and GE have now threatened to move their headquarters out of CT. For the first time, these companies have actually publicly stated their intentions if this budget gets approved. With the worse job growth in New England, their action would be devastating to all of us. Just think about the value of your home and how much lower it will go if we lose these large companies.

      You should know this is going on and the impact will be felt by all of us if the new budget proposal is approved. You can do something by calling the telephone numbers below and voicing your opinion. I hope you get involved and stop this budget now:

      Governor’s office: 860-566-4840
      Senate Democrats: 800-842-1420
      House Democrats: 800-842-1902

      Warmest Regards,


      Hartford Courant

      Hartford Courant Editorial: Tax-Heavy Budget Is A Bad Deal For CT

      The General Assembly should reject the budget deal that was reached between Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democratic legislators over the weekend.

      As of Monday afternoon, the two-year, $40 billion deal appeared to dump the state’s financial problems on the private sector’s back while growing state spending and asking nothing from well-compensated state employees. It would raise taxes on corporations, hospitals, the middle class and the rich — four years after the largest tax hike in state history.

      The deal fails to recognize that Connecticut now has the highest joblessness rate in New England and a shrinking population. General Electric, headquartered in Fairfield, issued an extraordinary statement Monday questioning “whether it makes any sense to continue to be located in this state.” Aetna and Travelers made similar noises.

      Lawmakers must come up with a spending plan for the next two fiscal years this week. The state is headed for a $3 billion budget deficit if it continues spending the way it does and if revenues continue falling short of the Capitol’s rosy expectations. But the deal-makers cut little spending over the weekend and instead went for taxes.

      For example, the property tax credit for households would drop from $300 to $200 under the deal — a blow to the middle class. Corporations would see a tripling of taxes on data services and other new taxes that are driving some of the state’s leading employers to threaten to leave.

      There are some good things in the deal, such as funding for transportation infrastructure. But the timing stinks for new taxes. Connecticut has gained back only 78 percent of jobs lost in the recession; the nation has recovered 132 percent of its job losses.

      Meanwhile, there seems no curb on spending. The state gave out raises of up to 12 percent for 200 political appointees in December and recently agreed to 9 percent raises for state troopers over the next three years. Some troopers can still earn more from their state pensions than they do from their salaries.

      In this budget deal, no hard choices were made. No Republicans were allowed in the closed-door discussions.
      State employee unions made it clear not to expect concessions, and they got their wish.

      This budget deal should not pass. ~ Hartford Courant

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