Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
School board asks for proof of superintendent’s authority to hire Kleinhans

By Josh Silvia
Journal Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, October 26, 2010 12:42 PM EDT

VERNON — The Board of Education has asked its lawyer to provide a written document saying the school superintendent has the authority to hire the town public works director as its temporary maintenance and custodial services manager.

After a 27-minute executive session Monday, board members unanimously approved the motion.

“I’ll call him tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll have it at the next meeting,” School Superintendent Mary P. Conway said about the board’s lawyer, Fred Dorsey.

Conway has taken heat recently about the hiring of Public Works Director Robert Kleinhans as the school’s temporary maintenance and custodial services manager, raising concerns about double dipping from both town and school coffers.

Kleinhans is employed on a temporary basis for 120 days, the maximum time period allowed under union rules, after which the plan is to hire him for a “permanent trial” of 18 months.

Conway said Dorsey determined she has the right to hire Kleinhans for up to 120 days without input from the Town Council or board members. However, Conway complied Monday with board members’ requests that they see proof of that authority.

The superintendent has said the move is a step toward cost-saving consolidation of services between the town and schools.

Board Chairwoman Anne Fischer has said the full-time hiring of Kleinhans will save the board $70,000 a year. Board Democrats have raised concerns about Kleinhans “serving two masters,” and whether he would be able to perform both roles adequately.

A week ago, Democratic council members also questioned the legality of the procedure used to hire Kleinhans as maintenance director of schools.

When asked for comment Monday, Kleinhans said, “I don’t give quotes,” and refused to comment.

If hired as a full-time manager of schools’ maintenance and custodial services, Kleinhans could receive $30,000, according Fischer. He would make a combined $122,123 annually, which would elevate him to the fourth-highest paid employee in town.

Conway has said Kleinhans, who draws a salary of $92,123 a year as head of public works, will be compensated $10,000 for the four months he is working in the temporary position.

Even if the board decides not to hire Kleinhans when his 120-day trial is up Jan. 5, his compensation from both the town and the school board will be $102,123.

Fischer said at the Sept. 27 board meeting that a separate search committee tasked with replacing retired school maintenance director Richard “Chico” Parrot did not turn up any suitable candidates, leaving the job vacant for almost nine months.

Fischer said Parrot was paid about $70,000 a year, and with benefits and longevity pay, he earned $105,307 during the 2009 fiscal year, putting him at No. 25 on a list of the town’s highest-paid employees.

Parrot since has been hired as the mail clerk for the schools, working in the same department he used to head.

Kleinhans, who several years ago moved from Vernon to the Niantic section of East Lyme, has been at the center of partisan controversy for years, starting with his tenure on the council from 1997-2005. He twice ran unsuccessfully for the 8th House District seat, and lost the mayoral election to Ellen Marmer in 2005.

Kleinhans resigned from the town’s Economic Development Commission when Mayor Jason L. McCoy hired him as public works director in November. However, he filled in as economic development coordinator and recording secretary for the commission this year when Assistant Town Planner Marina Rodriguez was on medical leave.

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