John Besche

Ilene Tracey first got involved in New Haven education in 1980 at Dwight Day Care Center. Just shy of four decades later, she is the interim superintendent of schools for New Haven Public Schools.

The New Haven Board of Education met on Monday night to announce the details of Carol Birks’ departure from the role of New Haven Public Schools superintendent, which were formalized Oct. 25 and announced Monday morning. Birks, who was ousted weeks earlier, will receive $175,000 in the settlement and will remain available as a consultant to advise the board until Dec. 31. Per the agreement, the board will not release a year-end evaluation for Birks’ 2018–19 school year. The board also unanimously voted to appoint Tracey as the interim superintendent of New Haven Public Schools.

In an email to the News, Board of Education President Darnell Goldson said that the board would not begin the process to find a permanent superintendent until after the mayoral election, which takes place on Nov. 5.

“We will decide on the characteristics and qualities [of the permanent superintendent] once we establish a search committee and get stakeholder input,” Goldson wrote.

Previously, Tracey served as assistant superintendent under Birks’ administration.

In addressing the Board of Education for the first time as interim superintendent, Tracey reflected on her 36 years working for the district.

“I am proud to say that I am committed to this system,” Tracey said. “I’m also not here revelling in anyone’s demise. I’m not doing that. I work with whoever is in the system because I’m working on behalf of families and students.”

The announcement of Birks’ exit package comes after weeks of deliberations and months of controversy. The Board of Education voted in an Oct. 2 special meeting to terminate Birks’s contract and vest negotiating power in Goldson.

Goldson told the News that the $175,000 figure is equivalent to about seven months’ pay for a superintendent of schools. He added that he looked at past separation agreements to determine the final number, but stressed that the sum came through negotiations.

The Board of Education also voted on Monday to vest in the Goldson the ability to sign the contract confirming Tracey, which is expected to be signed by Nov. 1. Goldson told reporters that Tracey’s salary would not yet be released until her contract is signed.

Goldson praised the appointment of Tracey to the role of interim superintendent.

“I am super happy that we made the decision [to appoint Tracey] now,” Goldson said. “I feel a sigh of relief throughout the entire district, and I am looking forward to working with [Tracey].”

The superintendent is not a member of the Board of Education and is elected by the seven-member board, whose membership includes the mayor, two elected representatives and four people nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the Board of Alders.

Tracey would not confirm if she would run for the permanent superintendent role.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp congratulated and thanked Tracey at the meeting.

“It is an awesome responsibility, and we don’t take your willingness to do this work lightly,” Harp said. “I am eternally grateful.”

The board touched on a variety of topics aside from the superintendent during Monday’s meeting. It was announced during the superintendent’s report that the school district faces a $9.7-million deficit — an increase from the $8.7-million deficit the district faced at this time last year.

Goldson explained that New Haven’s Board of Education is underfunded by both the city and the state.

“Managing the deficit is not our problem,” Goldson said. “It is the city’s problem, and it is the state’s problem. Our problem is to educate your kids.”

Some members of the board were particularly disturbed by a presentation explaining New Haven’s state testing scores. According to tabulated scores that ran from the 2015–16 school year through the 2018–19 school year, the district is below the state average in both math and English language arts for multiple grade levels. According to the presentation delivered by New Haven Public Schools administrator Michele Sherban, New Haven scored on average 77 points lower in math and 70 points lower in English language arts on the SAT, as compared to the Connecticut average.

New Haven Public Schools served 21,552 students in the 2018–2019 school year.

Nick Tabio | nick.tabio@yale.edu