Plymouth Board Accepts Resignation Of Embattled Superintendent

Plymouth school board expected to make offer to Superintendent Eleanor Cruz to leave

PLYMOUTH — The board of education voted unanimously Thursday night to enter into an agreement that resulted in the resignation of embattled Superintendent Eleanor Cruz.

The resignation of Cruz, who is paid $175,000 a year, is retroactive to Aug. 31. Terms were not disclosed.

Board Chairman Raymond Engle said the agreement will cost the district about $70,000. He declined to elaborate on the breakdown, but said the agreement would be posted on the district's website after a mandatory seven-day waiting period.

Cruz, 63, was suspended with pay Aug. 7 after she was charged by state police with first-degree larceny in connection with the alleged misappropriation of money during her time as superintendent of Hebron schools, a job that she left in December 2012 to go to Plymouth.

Cruz was not at Thursday night's meeting, and did not return a call seeking comment. She resigned through her attorney.

Engle said the Plymouth board members believe that the agreement resolving all matters concerning Cruz's employment is an important step in enabling the district to move forward.

"The board's decisions tonight hopefully provide some closure to the community on this issue," he said.

The board appointed Mark Winzler, who has worked as an interim superintendent in several Connecticut towns, to replace Cruz as of Sept. 15. Winzler, a former human resources director in Windsor schools and principal of E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, retired as superintendent in Bolton in 2009 and since then has been interim superintendent in Columbia, East Hampton, Rocky Hill, Watertown, Berlin and Granby.

"I'm looking forward to providing the leadership and commitment to public education that the students and parents of Plymouth deserve," Winzler said in a statement released Thursday night.

Parent Chris Simo-Kinzer spoke to the board members after the vote, saying that they deserved the criticism they took at a previous meeting for not taking action on Cruz sooner, but also applauded them for Thursday's decision.

"Good on you guys," he said. "Give credit where credit is due."

After Cruz left her job as superintendent in Hebron, that school district conducted a forensic audit and determined that Cruz might have misspent $8,904, according to the warrant for her arrest.

The warrant also detailed some of the items that Cruz allegedly used district funds to purchase, including clothes for her sons, supermarket tabloids, gardening supplies, food, baking supplies and postage to send packages to her children in Maryland and Minnesota.

According to the warrant, Cruz's misuse of district funds came through the use of a board of education credit card with a $50,000 credit limit, as well as other unauthorized expenses, the receipt of a $2,400 travel stipend that she was not entitled to receive, a payment of $2,375 in Hebron funds to a consultant who helped her study education statistics in Plymouth and the use of a district charge account at a Hebron grocery store to buy personal items.

Following Cruz's arrest, more than 100 residents and parents jammed into the Terryville High School cafeteria in Plymouth on Aug. 13, many of them calling for her ouster as superintendent. The school board voted to appoint Engle to conduct a review of her employment. Cruz was placed on paid leave since then and asked not to come to work pending the review.

Those who spoke out at that meeting also expressed dismay at the number of respected long-time administrators, teachers and staff members who had left or announced plans to leave the district since Cruz's arrival.

According to the arrest warrant, Cruz was known as a tyrannical boss whose employees were intimidated by her and did what they were told to do, even when they thought it was wrong, because they feared that they could lose their jobs if they questioned or disobeyed an order.

The Hebron schools' longtime bookkeeper, according to the warrant, said that if she questioned something, Cruz would sometimes yell or say, "I am the superintendent and that is how it is going to be."

The bookkeeper, who worked in the district for more than two decades, told state police that it was difficult to reconcile statements for the district credit card that Cruz carried and the receipts she submitted. It was hard to tell what Cruz bought, the bookkeeper said, and sometimes the tops were cut off the receipts so that she could not tell who the vendor was.

The district's former business manager also told state police that he was against opening a credit card for district expenses, but gave in to Cruz's request because she "would have just gotten it, anyway," according to the warrant. He also told police that he believed he would have lost his job if he didn't go along with her idea for a credit card.

Carol O'Brien, who worked with Cruz as principal at Gilead Hill School in Hebron from 2004 to 2006, said earlier on Thursday that there was a "tyrant" behind Cruz's engaging public personality.

"You didn't disagree or question Ellie," said O'Brien, who now works in the Hartford Public Schools in early-education administration. "It was Ellie's way or the highway."

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