Salem School administration has holes to fill after resignations

Salem - Salem School Superintendent Joseph Onofrio and the Board of Education are starting the school year trying to piece together an administration in flux, having recently accepted the resignations of Principal Suzanne Zahner just weeks after accepting the resignations of Director of Student Achievement Cynthia Ritchie and Board of Education member Margaret Caron.

While Ritchie and Caron have left, Zahner will stay on until Sept. 30.

At a special meeting held Thursday, the Board of Education voted to allow Onofrio to move forward with filling the interim positions of principal and assistant principal to replace Ritchie's and Zahner's roles. The tenures of these positions are still unclear and would depend on the availability of applicants as well as feedback from focus groups, town surveys and a study of the school's administrative structure.

At the meeting, board member Mary Ann Pudimat updated the board on the study, which is being run by the town, saying that it has been delayed while the town continues to interview companies that might conduct the study. Pudimat suggested the board discuss at the September meeting whether it would like to move forward with a town survey in the meantime.

"(We) need to have somebody to get school started," said school board Chairman Stephen Buck on Friday. "There's also the question of what the structure of the school should be in the future, but we still need to do business today."

Until those administrative positions are filled, board members acknowledged that Onofrio and Zahner will have their hands full making sure the school starts smoothly.

"He's going to have so many hats, he's going to need more heads," said school board member Pamela Munro of Onofrio.

As for the board vacancy, Onofrio accepted applications for the position through last Thursday and received two, one from Democrat Phil Teixeira and the other from Republican Roland Trailor.

A discussion of Board of Education applicants was held in public Thursday night, after the motion to move into executive session was defeated by those who argued that it was the public's right to know about applicants to a public position.

The board debated about whether the vacancy left by Caron's departure must be filled by another Democrat. Some argued that the board should move forward by appointing Teixeira, who is supported by the Democratic Town Committee, given that it is a Democratic vacancy.

With Caron's absence, there are three Democrats and five Republicans on the nine-member board. Connecticut minority representation law allows a maximum of six members of the same party to be on a nine-member board. This means a Republican, Democrat or independent may fill the vacancy.

"I feel that the person should be (the one) who is best suited for the board," said Buck, saying he believed Trailor should also be given consideration. Buck said he anticipates seating a new member to the board at the regular meeting in September.

j.hopper@theday.com
Twitter: @JessHoppa

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