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Governor’s office changes pick for education commissioner, ‘needlessly humiliated’ Bloomfield superintendent

Dr. James Thompson (left) and Dr. Miguel Cardona (right)

HARTFORD – The process to pick Connecticut’s top educator has come with some drama. The job offer for the final candidate for commissioner of the State Department of Education was apparently rescinded and given to someone else.

After Bloomfield Superintendent of Schools Dr. James Thompson was offered the job in writing last week, it was taken back according to the spokesperson for Bloomfield Public Schools. FOX61 obtained the offer letter signed by Governor Ned Lamont’s COO Paul Mounds, but Mounds contends it wasn’t an official offer. “I am pleased to offer you employment with the Connecticut Department of Education in the position of Commissioner,” the letter dated July 8 said. “Governor Lamont values your leadership and looks forward to working with you,” Mounds wrote.

The offer letter set a salary at $192,500.

The state changed course and picked Meriden Assistant Superintendent Dr. Miguel Cardona, according to Thompson’s spokesman Stan Simpson.

“James Thompson is a man of high character and integrity – and one of the most influential voices in New England on strategies to reduce the academic achievement gap,” Bloomfield Schools spokesman Stan Simpson said Tuesday. “That the Governor didn’t have the conviction to stay with his first choice for Education Commissioner is extremely disappointing – and lacks integrity,” Simpson said, “He snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”

Dr. Thompson already had an emerging agenda which included “partnering with community colleges, universities, foundations and corporations to promote readiness for college and meaningful careers,” according to Simpson.

Lamont COO Paul Mounds told FOX61 the “offer letter sent to Thompson was not a typical offer letter, but more like an invitation to continue with negotiations over the position.”

“The letter specified that the governor could not nominate a candidate for commissioner until the State Board of Education recommended a candidate to the governor with a formal vote,” Mounds said. The letter does cite Connecticut General Statute 10-3a, saying “this agreement is valid upon your recommendation for commissioner by Connecticut State Board of Education.”

When asked about the change, Lamont spokesman Rob Blanchard said: “The Governor respects the process by which a commissioner for the State Department of Education is ultimately recommended and appointed.”

“Until a candidate is appointed, it would be premature to comment on the process, Blanchard said. “However, the Governor does have a preferred candidate who he believes will best serve Connecticut and its students and has made that known to the State Board of Education.”

Dr. Miguel Cardona is the assistant superintendent for Meriden Public Schools. Dr. Cardona has taught at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education. He also served as a performance and evaluation specialist and a principal for MPS. Cardona is a co-chair of the Connecticut Legislative Achievement Gap Task Force, which “resulted in legislation and practice that works to support student success,” Cardona told UConn’s Neag school in 2017.

“Miguel has done a terrific job in his over 20 years in his service to the Meriden Public Schools and I know he is ready for the next big challenge,” Meriden Superintendent Dr. Mark Benigni told FOX61 Tuesday. “Miguel has always built good relationships and supported all students learning at high level,” Dr. Benigni said, “he has great passion for public education and Meriden’s loss is certainly the state’s gain.”

Despite losing out to Cardona, Thompson “wishes Mr. Cardona well and is willing to support him in any way needed.”

Tuesday evening Simpson sent another comment to FOX61:

“Dr Thompson was twice offered the job as Education Commissioner by Gov. Lamont. The first time was in January. The second time, after a lengthy and competitive selection process, the offer was put in writing last week. Dr.Thompson accepted. The Governor subsequently reneged. In doing so, the Governor publicly and needlessly humiliated one of Connecticut’s most respected education leaders. This process lacked integrity –  and now it lacks candor. The Governor and his advisors caved in to external pressure. It’s as simple as that.”

Dr. Cardona did not answer his phone Tuesday evening.

Dr. Thompson was named Connecticut’s Superintendent of the Year in 2018. His three-year contract with Bloomfield includes a salary of $143,716 and other benefits.

Dr. Cardona’s salary in 2017 was $165,430 according to a the Meriden Record Journal.

In addition to serving as the spokesperson for Bloomfield Public Schools and Dr. Thompson, Stan Simpson also hosts the Sunday morning talk show “Real People with Stan Simpson,” which is taped at and airs on FOX61.

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