In the midst of leadership changes across the district, New Haven Public Schools continues to operate with several vacant administrative positions in 2019.

School Superintendent Carol Birks is conducting a search for a new chief operating officer following the departure of William Clark in the beginning of January. In addition, the district is still searching for a new chief financial officer, a position currently being filled by education consulting company The Management Solution, whose contract with the city ends Thursday.

“What do I want to see in the persons who will fill those positions?” Board of Education President Darnell Goldson told the News. “Competence.”

Clark’s resignation came at a time when several other administrators are leaving the district, including Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Leadership Gil Traverso, Director of Choice & Enrollment Sherri Davis-Googe, Lead School Counselor Chaka Felder-McEntire and Lead Teacher Librarian Robin Metaj. In December, the New Haven Independent reported these departures, noting that there is concern among educators and administrators about decreased morale and the loss of important talent in the district.

At the biweekly full Board of Education meeting on Jan. 30, Birks announced that she is conducting final interviews for the CFO and COO positions. Birks is tasked with recommending a replacement for both positions to the full Board for a final vote. The superintendent did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Clark has already started his new job at the same position in Waterbury. Upon his move, Clark is taking a $100,000 payout in his separation agreement — which contained a nondisparagement clause prohibiting Clark and other members of the administration from making “any disparaging or defamatory statements” about his time as COO or the circumstances of his departure, according to the Waterbury Republican-American.

Goldson told the News that he opposed this amount being paid to Clark and did not want to fill the Chief Operating Officer position until the payout is finished in six months.

In New Haven, the COO supervises school construction, safety and security, transportation, food services, facilities, information technology and health services. Clark began working in New Haven Public Schools in 1997, and started as COO 10 years later.

Board member Edward Joyner called Clark’s departure a “devastating loss” for the district but said that the Board would most likely approve the candidate that Birks selects — on the condition that they are vetted properly in the application process for their qualifications and background in education administration.

Jill Kelly ’91 FES ’19, a member of community advocacy group New Haven Public School Advocates and a frequent attendee of Board of Education meetings, said that while she did not always see eye-to-eye with Clark, he did competent work that people in the district often take for granted.

“The most important quality in the next operations officer would be independence: no favors owed, no political connections, no conflicts of interest,” she told the News.

Kelly criticized the district for offering the large buyout to Clark, but does not blame the outgoing administrator for taking it. She pointed out that the funds for the payout could have been used for librarian or guidance counselor salaries. Facing a $20 million budget shortfall in the summer, the district made the decision to lay off 28 educators — including guidance counselors, teachers and librarians — leading to public backlash.

William Clark could not be reached after multiple requests for comment.

The school system’s top financial position has been left unoccupied since 2016, when former Chief Financial Officer Victor de la Paz left to take a position with New Haven–based charter school organization Achievement First. The district hired The Management Solution company to provide the district financial consulting in August 2018. According to Kelly, the company was paid $90,000 for a six-month contract.

The Management Solution has done work with school districts in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wyoming and Vermont — reviewing district budgets and operations to improve financial situations.

Budget deficits and accountability have been a continuous topic of contention in the district. In addition to the summer layoffs, the district voted in the spring to close three schools — Cortland V.R. Creed High School, New Horizons School and New Light School. Since the beginning of the school year, discussions of further school closures and possible furloughs have been a constant at board meetings. Although the current deficit lies at $8.6 million, few strides have been made since September to decrease the deficit.

Carolyn Sacco | carolyn.sacco@yale.edu