November 18, 2019

Region 4 School Board releases details of administrator severance

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education Thursday released details of severance packages granted to two departed top administrators at a meeting that also included a passionate defense of Valley Regional High School and the school district from Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy.

The moves come in the wake of an Oct. 29 complaint to the state Department of Education filed against the Region 4 school administration and board of education by Susan Magaziner, an Essex resident. Magaziner asks the department that supervises public schools in Connecticut to investigate alleged “abuse of power” by Levy in the mid-October departure of former high school principal Eric Rice, and an alleged subsequent “violation of civil rights” of students at the high school when students were allegedly prevented from discussing Rice’s departure while at school.

Rice, a Chester resident who was hired as principal over the summer, resigned from the position on Oct. 12 amid reports that he had been given a resign-or-be-fired ultimatum from Levy after less than three weeks on the job. Questions about Rice’s departure led residents to petition for a special district meeting that was held on Oct. 21 where a crowd of nearly 100 residents pressed the Region 4 board and Levy for more details about the situation at the high school, including any severance payment to Rice.

Rice was the second top administrator to leave over the past year, following the departure last May of Diane Dugas from the assistant superintendent job she had held for less than a year. The principal vacancy at the high school that was briefly filled by Rice opened up after Ian Nevaiser, an Essex resident who had been principal at Valley Regional High School since 2008, was named as assistant superintendent. Dugas had been hired as assistant superintendent of June 2009, taking the job that had been held by Ruth Levy before she officially assumed the superintendent position on July 1, 2009.

Levy told about a 20 residents at Thursday’s meeting that Dugas had received a severance payment of $27,642 that was funded out of the 2009-2010 education budget, while Rice had received a severance payment of $62,150 that will be funded from the current budget, plus extended health insurance coverage costing about $15,000. She said the payments to Rice would represent less than one-half of one percent of the current education budget.

Levy said “it would be unfair to talk about the reasons,” either Rice or Dugas had resigned “and I won’t do it.” Levy urged residents to “look at the good things” about the school district. “We have a great district,” she said. “Do we have things to learn, always, there are issues but that does not mean things are terrible.”

The board Thursday agreed to review all district policies and procedures for both hiring and dismissal of professional staff, including the board’s role when an administrator recommends dismissal of a certified staff member.

The board also formally appointed Kristina Martineau, the assistant principal at the high school, to serve as acting principal through the end of the current school year in June 2011. The board had never formally appointed Martineau as acting principal at the Oct. 12 meeting where it accepted a resignation from Rice.

Magaziner, who moved to Essex from New Jersey about four years ago, said Friday she filed the complaint with the state Department of Education after talking with students at the high school who are friends with her children, who do not attend the school. “I have concerns about what kids are being put through,” she said.

Magaziner said she believes the board is not fulfilling its proper role in the hiring or termination process for administrators and other professional certified staff.

School Board Chairwoman Linda Hall Friday declined to comment on Magaziner’s complaint, but confirmed the board had discussed it with district lawyer Ann Littlefield in a closed session held before the end of Thursday’s meeting.

Charles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex, and has covered various Middlesex County towns for two daily newspapers over the past 30 years.  He worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995 and the Hartford Courant from 1997 through last summer, and covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade.  Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.