School superintendent denies oil spill prompted resignation from Newington

Dr. William Collins
Dr. William Collins

Ridgefield’s new superintendent has denied allegations that he resigned from his previous job over a 14,000-gallon fuel tank spill in a Newington bus lot.

Dr. William Collins, who was hired in December by the Ridgefield Board of Education, previously held the position of superintendent of schools in Newington. According to a report in the Hartford Courant published in June 2018, Collins resigned from his post after courting controversy over the fuel spill, and for not signing a grant for renovations to the Newington Town Hall.

“That had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Collins told The Press, when asked whether his resignation was connected to either issue.

“I was actually planning to retire, to be honest,” he said. “The Hartford Courant said somehow ... Is it a coincidence? Well, it is.”

Collins resigned in Newington and went into retirement with two years left on a three-year contract. He said he originally planned to work as a consultant, before he was hired by Ridgefield in December 2018.

He officially takes over from interim Superintendent Dr. JeanAnn Paddyfote on Feb. 19.

“The board was aware of it, and certainly wanted to make sure that we understood what the genesis of that article was about and if there could be any concern,” said Board of Education Chairwoman Margaret Stamatis. “We did our own due diligence speaking to Dr. Collins and others … we found that there were facts where perhaps the story itself took things out of context, and was not his fault, as the story would lead one to believe.”

Tank

Collins said the tank, which cost Newington $2.5 million in cleanup after a corroded pipe fitting allowed fuel to seep into the ground over the course of a year, was shared by the schools and other town agencies.

“The town owned the pumps and managed them, the fact that they drew that conclusion was just crazy,” he said.

When fuel levels read lower than they should have, “how would our guys know that it wasn’t the town firetrucks filling up?” Collins added.

“The superintendent is always responsible. So it did happen. I don’t think I would say that anybody was negligent,” he later added.

Grant

Collins similarly dismissed the idea that a fight over a grant for the town hall played a role in his departure.

“That whole town hall debacle ... that was absolutely mind-boggling,” Collins told The Press.

He said the plans that he received from an architect hired to renovate town hall — Newington’s former high school — did not suit the needs of the schools. “They actually cut our space by half,” Collins said. “I said no to them once on the plan,” he added, “they brought back another set of plans with absolutely no detail.”

“The reality was they got something together, sent it over to me, and then signed it,” he added.

Collins and Stamatis said they were both aware the story of Collins’ resignation in Newington could be shared widely on social media.

“This is a very savvy parent population, we knew that would come out, we wanted to make sure the facts come out as well, before just looking at the negative,” said Stamatis.

She reiterated that the board had looked into the matter and were satisfied that there was no concern.

Collins said he planned to enjoy his retirement before he learned Ridgefield was looking for a new superintendent. “I just said I’m going to fade into the sunset.”

He said he was drawn to the district because everything facing the town was something he had to deal with as a superintendent in Newington. He said he hopes to tackle the district’s intervention programs, the accreditation of Ridgefield High School, declining math scores, trouble with aging school facilities — and even transportation.

“I know that’s ironic, but I do have some experience there,” Collins said. “Gotta get students to school on time.”