Clash mars hiring of new North Stonington superintendent

North Stonington — The Board of Education voted 6-1 Wednesday to hire a new superintendent, but the meeting ended chaotically when two board members confronted each other in the hallway afterward.

Board Chairman Darren Robert berated board member Robert Testa for calling Peter Nero — the board's choice for superintendent — and telling him about the vote. Robert told Testa that he had overstepped his bounds by making the call and had circumvented not only Robert, the board, and superintendent search committee Chairman Walter Mathwich but also James Connelly, of The New England School Development Council (NESDEC).

The board hired Connelly for $10,000 to conduct the superintendent search. Connelly attended the meeting and witnessed Robert yelling at Testa in the hallway.

Testa said he called Nero, who is currently the superintendent in the Cranston, R.I., school district, to inform him of the vote so Nero could begin the process of notifying the Cranston district and the state of Connecticut of his intention to accept the North Stonington position.

Testa said he told Nero on Monday, when North Stonington board members visited Nero in Cranston, of Wednesday's tentative special meeting date and the possible vote.

Robert said he was going to request a record of Testa's cell phone calls under the Freedom of Information Act to find out how much contact Testa has had with Nero. Testa said Nero gave board members his phone number on Monday during the visit.

Following the confrontation with Testa, Robert asked for a re-vote on the motion to hire Nero, saying the first vote was a "fixed vote." But eventually, and clearly frustrated, Robert turned and left the building.

After Robert left, Testa told Mathwich, "If I messed up, it's on me, it's my fault."

Reached by phone after the meeting, Testa said there was no "bad intent" or "conspiracy" in the phone call. Rather, Testa said he, Mathwich, Chris Hundt and Philip Mendolia decided during Monday's visit that Testa would call Nero after the vote to discuss "next steps."

"(Nero) is still the best decision for the district," Testa said. "Any differences between the chairman (Robert) and myself should not hurt the district."

Mathwich declined comment after the meeting. Robert did not respond Wednesday evening to an email requesting comment.

Prior to the vote, Mathwich and board member Chris Hundt spoke glowingly of Nero. Board members on Monday met with a range of Cranston city and school officials, and "they all came back with the same response in that (Nero) is very dedicated, hardworking and hands-on, but not a micro-manager type," Mathwich said

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