Two days after Superintendent of School Janet Robinson dispatched an e-mail to Newtown’s Board of Education stating the Stratford school board was poised to offer her that district’s top seat, she was offered the position. According to a report from a regional cable news network, Dr Robinson accepted the position following a unanimous vote of the Stratford board.
Shortly after a copy of Dr Robinson’s e-mail was provided to The Bee, Stratford Board of Education Chairman Gavin Forrester confirmed that his board planned to make her the offer. Dr Robinson will presumably begin her new job July 1, although at press time she had not officially notified Newtown officials of her intent to leave her local post.
Dr Robinson’s e-mail, which was sent from California where she was attending a conference, stated:
“The Stratford Board will vote on my selection as superintendent Wednesday and an anonymous tip was sent to the media so the story will be out even before then. I will be flying back tomorrow and leaving this 70 degree weather behind.”
Dr Robinson has not responded to several requests for comment from The Bee in the past week about her impending departure and other issues the newspaper is reporting related to the district and the superintendent.
News 12, which covered the Stratford meeting February 27, reported that Dr Robinson had accepted a job as the head of Stratford’s school district, which she was offered before the tragic December shootings at Sandy Hook School. A source in Stratford who was not authorized to speak officially to the press said Dr Robinson applied for the position ahead of an October 29, 2012, deadline.
On June 19, 2012, the Newtown school board voted not to extend a new contract agreement to Dr Robinson. The superintendent’s contract has been annually reviewed every June since Dr Robinson started in the district in 2008, and each year the three-year contract has been extended by another year.
This year marked the first time in her tenure in Newtown the contract was not extended by one year.
Officials contacted after the news broke of Dr Robinson’s impending departure said that the Newtown district, the local school board and the superintendent are being afforded an opportunity.
“Dr Robinson’s departure allows the board and the superintendent to have a fresh start,” said Newtown school board Chairman Debbie Leidlein. “We want to thank her for her leadership throughout her tenure. Now it’s time for us to start planning our next steps, taking into consideration what is most appropriate for the district.”
First Selectman Pat Llodra, who said she has known Dr Robinson since long before her arrival in Newtown, classified the departing superintendent as “a good educator who deserves a chance to be successful.”
“The community should give her a boost into a position where she can start over, and our Board of Education can start over,” Mrs Llodra said. “It’s a chance for us to rethink our values, who we are, and what our board of ed wants to be.”
At the same time, Mrs Llodra recognized that early on in her tenure, Dr Robinson faced a number of issues that were “stressful and full of conflicts.” The first selectman took issue with the way Dr Robinson’s relationship with the board was being presented in the press, saying that “I don’t believe anyone was ever out to get her,” Mrs Llodra said, adding that issues over her communication style dogged Dr Robinson throughout her time in Newtown. “And when those styles don’t mesh, conflicts arise. Difficulties with communication spin into conflicts.”
Mrs Llodra said when she arrived in Newtown, Dr Robinson was thrust into the middle of controversies regarding the size and scope of a planned high school addition.
“It wasn’t her project, but she was forced to try and shepherd it through the approval process,” Mrs Llodra said. “To her credit, even when she was asked [whether] she had a ‘plan B’ she continued to support the sole plan of the board of education. I respected that, but that may have created the divide.”
Throughout the high school development process, Mrs Llodra said Dr Robinson continued experiencing “problems with execution of the plan,” including a failed referendum that would have authorized significantly higher spending for the project than many members of the community and political leadership felt was justified.
Coincidentally, this week, the Public Building and Site Commission approved its final sign-off on high school construction work, confirming that the building project came in $3 million under the budget that was finally approved.
Mrs Llodra said Dr Robinson faced additional challenges when her district business manager had to take almost a year off because of a health issue. During that time the first selectman said the superintendent was challenged having to work with temporary staffers who were unfamiliar with the way Newtown’s financial and budget processes worked.
“She was always the public face of district projects, but she was put in difficult positions by other factors,” Mrs Llodra said. “It went from one thing to another.”
School Board Chair Debbie Leidlein said that she is looking forward to having discussions with her board and Dr Robinson about when the transition will happen, and how the board will begin addressing the vacancy. Ms Leidlein also said that from the onset of her leadership role with the school board, she acknowledged that Dr Robinson brought many good ideas to the table.
“When I became chairman, I started meeting with her immediately and when events occurred that were challenging for her, I always worked to get along,” Ms Leidlein said. Throughout Ms Leidlein’s tenure as board chair, she admitted that she was presented with expectations by constituents and taxpayers, and that despite the way it may be presented in the public eye, it fell on the school board chair to address concerns when expectations of the community were not being met.
Dr Robinson’s current Newtown contract provides a salary of $174,180, plus $20,500 to be paid to the superintendent so that she may contribute to an elective tax-sheltered annuity of her choice made through a payroll deduction. She also receives $2,255 that she may contribute to the Teachers’ Retirement Board voluntary account.