Controversial schools chief will call it quits

By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
May 16, 2008

NORTH BRANFORD — Oft-criticized Superintendent of Schools Robert K. Wolfe stunned the Board of Education Thursday night by telling them he will retire Dec. 31.

Wolfe informed the board of his decision in an executive session just before the meeting.

After the meeting, Wolfe, who has been in his position since 2001, said he had made the decision to retire in the past few days, after decades as an educator.

“I’ve been doing this for 38 years, and a number of the accomplishments which I wanted to be the architect of have either been accomplished or are under way,” Wolfe said, citing the current renovation of North Branford Intermediate School as the most important.

In September, the board approved an extension of Wolfe’s contract through 2010 and a 3.5 percent raise for the 2007-08 school year. He earns more than $130,000 a year.

Wolfe has been at the center of a number of public controversies in his time as superintendent. Most recently, former North Branford High School Principal David Perry accused Wolfe of ordering high school students’ grades to be changed in order to allow them to graduate.

Wolfe denied the charges. An investigation completed by state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in September found several instances where questionable decisions were made to allow students to graduate, but concluded that there was insufficient evidence of “pervasive ongoing improper grade manipulation or grade tampering at North Branford High School.”

In 2006, Mothers Against Drunk Driving criticized Wolfe for overturning two high school football players’ suspensions after the students — one the team’s quarterback — were arrested at a house party, an action that allowed them to play in the school’s homecoming game. Wolfe said he did not believe the players had consumed alcohol, but Deputy Police Chief and Mayor Michael Doody said Wolfe had not spoken to the officers involved.

And earlier that year, the state Freedom of Information Commission held hearings on an extension of Wolfe’s contract in September 2005. Doody and other residents asked that the commission void the contract extension because they said the Board of Education did not give enough notice of the vote.

The commission found that the board had not properly posted the discussion, but declined to make the contract extension null and void.

Most board members backed the superintendent through all the debates. Board Chairwoman Deborah Prunier, who was elected in November, called Thursday night’s announcement “sad.”

“He will be greatly, greatly missed — his knowledge is beyond belief,” Prunier said.

Wolfe said past controversies did not contribute to his decision to leave now.

Prunier said the board will now discuss whether to hire a consultant to help search for a new schools chief.

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