Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer

After a year and a half of service, New Haven Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Phillip Penn will resign from his post to become the CFO of Hartford Public Schools on June 15.

On Tuesday evening, Superintendent Iline Tracey sent an announcement about Penn’s resignation to members of the Board of Education. That same day, the Hartford Board of Education approved Penn’s hire as their school district’s newest CFO. Penn’s two-year tenure was marked by balanced budgets, even after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last summer, Penn announced that the fiscal year 2019-20 budget yielded an $865 surplus instead of a previously projected deficit of $8.3 million. As of March 5, CFO Penn’s fiscal year 2020-21 budget estimates that the district will see a $775,351 surplus for its general fund, the account that pays for district salaries and utility bills, among other essential services. On Wednesday, several district officials expressed gratitude for Penn’s service.

“[Penn] has been helpful to us in closing two deficits, and was very supportive in several different ways,” Tracey wrote in an email to the News. “He will be greatly missed. We wish him great success in his new endeavor.”

Board of Education member Larry Conaway similarly praised Penn for having a “good handle” on the district’s budget. He added that Penn’s tenure has not come without controversy. 

Penn had previously filed a harassment claim against BOE member Darnell Goldson last March. At a meeting that month, Goldson came out against adding funds to a district contract with a predominantly white law firm, suggesting that Penn favored white contractors. Penn took offense at the comments and issued a harassment complaint against Goldson shortly thereafter. Tracey later hired Waterbury-based Tinley, Renehan & Dost on June 10 to investigate the complaint. The law firm’s report was finalized in December and concluded that while Goldson did not harass Penn, he did violate several unrelated board bylaws.

Conaway also questioned if the CFO’s departure is part of a larger issue with NHPS staff leaving for other school districts.

“My question is ‘What is Hartford doing [differently than New Haven]? What is the work environment? Is it a better city structure? Is it a better board of education structure? What the heck is going on?’” Conaway told the News. “It has me concerned as a policymaker and a public leader in the city. It has me worried.”

Conaway pointed out that former Assistant Principal of James Hillhouse High School Digna A. Marte and former Director of College and Career Pathways Dolores Garcia-Blocker are examples of this trend. Marte is now the principal of Bulkeley High School in Hartford and Garcia-Blocker is now the executive director of postsecondary success and alternative programming for Hartford Public Schools.

Conaway encouraged district officials and BOE members to engage in a dialogue about why NHPS officials are leaving the district.

Tracey did not directly respond to Conaway’s concern about district departures when asked via email. She said that Penn “is a highly-skilled worker in great demand.” Tracey would not provide any updates about Penn’s potential successor. 

Former NHPS Chief Operating Officer Michael Pinto resigned in November to take up a position at the city’s Office of the Corporation Counsel.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu