Saturday, November 9, 2013

Southbridge School Committee Attends OML Class - Learns Nothing

Ken O’Brien

The newly constituted leadership of the Southbridge School Committee continues its pattern of setting a poor example for the youth in their charge.

In this installment of the ongoing soap opera “As The District Burns” we examine the lesson provided on paying attention in class.

Specifically we will illustrate how what one supposedly gains by attending a specialized training is useless if you cannot apply it in “real life”.

During the Chairwoman’s Announcements segment of the November 5 Southbridge School Committee meeting the following statements were made:

I have nothing against public officials participating in programs designed to improve their ability to perform their job. In fact, I enthusiastically encourage such efforts. However, I assume that attending such forums will result in the lessons taught in those classes being translated into greater diligence in applying what is taught.

That is why it is a lesson in not making such assumptions to watch what transpired later in the same meeting.

One of the precepts of the Open Meeting Law is that members of a public body cannot meet outside of a posted meeting to discuss business of that body in a number equal to or greater than a quorum. It doesn’t matter whether the members meet collectively or sequentially. Any such meeting is an illegal meeting unless it was properly posted publicly and in a timely manner.

Clearly the letter which was presented at this meeting was not the subject of any posted meeting. Nevertheless it contained a policy decision by the committee to state publicly to the Superintendent, “…the committee would like to retain you for another year.…”

The letter was signed by the six individuals who constituted the entire membership of the school committee at the time. Thus, it clearly constituted a violation of the open meeting law having indicated a discussion of school committee business and a decision about such business by a number exceeding a quorum of the committee.

The irony of comparing these two clips of the same meeting is inescapable. As noted at the outset of this article, they illustrate a clear inability to apply the lessons that should have been learned in attending the Attorney General’s Forum. Let’s hope that any students in the Southbridge school system do not emulate this as an example of what class attendance is supposed to yield in results.

From a practical standpoint, the action taken essentially stalls in its tracks the formation of any Superintendent Search Committee pending response from the Superintendent. Further, should he respond in the affirmative, the need for any such committee is apparently obviated.

It would appear that ample grounds exist for filing an Open Meeting Law complaint with regard to this action.

The form provided by the State for such a complaint includes the question, “What action do you want the public body to take in response to your complaint?”

I would think that the appropriate action would be to nullify the letter and to hold an open meeting on its substance where citizens might voice their opinions. Such opinions should not merely be limited to the letter itself, but also include discussion of the fate of a Superintendent Search Committee. 

In closing, I hope that this example will constitute an object lesson to the regiment that has been attending the MASC/MASS Joint Conference in Hyannis. Pay attention to what you are supposed to be learning in those seminars!


  1. Couldn’t the same be said of the draft document on School Committee Beliefs, Policies and Goals? That document sure as hell didn’t come out of the special meeting recorded by Paul Zotos. (See )

    1. So it would seem. But that doesn’t really have the immediate consequences that the letter to the Superintendent does.

  2. Maybe the lawyer can find something in Roberts Rules that makes this okay

  3. Lets see if anybody bothers to file a complaint. Not only does nobody have the guts to put their name on it, I doubt that it would do any good.

  4. This shouldn’t be allowed to go unchallenged. Putting these committee members on notice will warn them that this kind of conspiratorial behavior will not be tolerated and will reduce the chances that it will happen again. The Open Meeting Law was given teeth in 2012 that it didn’t have before.

    Ellissa Flynn-Poppey and Kelly L. Fry II of the law firm Mintz LevinCohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo PC wrote in August 2012:

    “The Massachusetts Attorney General has finalized a new regulation that will make it easier for the Attorney General to impose monetary penalties against public body members who violate the Open Meeting Law. Specifically, the new regulation broadens the scope of conduct that will be considered evidence of an “intentional violation” of the Law. The final regulation was filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth on August 21, 2012 and will be published in the State Register on September 14, 2012.”

    “Under the new regulation, evidence of an “intentional violation” of the Open Meeting Law shall include a showing that a public body or public body member “(a) acted with specific intent to violate the law; (b) acted with deliberate ignorance of the law’s requirements; or (c) was previously informed by receipt of a decision from a court of competent jurisdiction or advised by the Attorney General … that the conduct violates [the Open Meeting Law].” This new regulation expands the scope of violations that will be considered “intentional,” as the previous regulation did not include provisions for “specific intent” or “deliberate ignorance” on the part of public body members. Under the new regulation, public body members who deliberately ignore their obligations under the Open Meeting Law will be treated as if they had specifically set out to violate the Law.” (

    In this instance the committee members may only get a warning. But future violations increase the likelihood that they will be held personally liable and fined.

    1. As I understand it, if the members were fined they would be personally responsible to pay. The town's insurance would not cover a violation of law.

    2. I think the Lollipop Four girls should be more concerned with the criminal legal action that can be imposed on school committee personally for over spending their annual budget. Just the legal costs, paid administrative leaves, etc., are blowing the budget.

      After the 3.6 million dollars over spent ten years ago by Prencipe, Tarantino and Laliberte each member of that committee received formal notice of this. Not to mention that the Town paid off the debt, but reduced the following year's school budget by over 3 million dollars. This reduction resulted in the dismissal of 60 teachers and staff. This was the real breaking of the school district - massive school choice by families, quality teacher departures, etc.

      It's ironic that the latest downward spiral has one of those individuals again as a key player - MaryEllen Prencipe.

      And Lauren McLaughlin's lofty praise of Prencipe as she slid off the committee last June points to the danger and clueless mindset of McLaughlin.

      The district attorney has best take legal action when the girls blow through the 24.5 million we taxpayers have appropriated.

      And here's my prediction: Superintendent Nembirkow will depart around March, when the $$$ become aware to the Lollipop Four. Of course, the girls will keep it secret until they slide out the back door too. Remember Tarantino and Laliberte? "Slide out the back, JacK!"

    3. It’s funny you should use the term “slide out the back, Jack.” You conveniently overlook that Jack Jovan was part of the committee that incurred the $3 million deficit. Magically he never gets mentioned or blamed rather just excused by political selection. Basically he was for the alternative school that caused the deficit before he was against it. How about stopping living in the past and deal with the now.

    4. This is why Southbridge continues to deteriorate. Too many people continue to litigate a past that can’t be changed rather than deal with a present that will determine the future. Now is the time to lead, follow or get out of the way.

    5. Ken,

      Just a quick note here as my name has been brought up regarding this issue. I have never hidden the fact that I was on the school committee when the deficit occurred. There are several issues that took place during that period of time and one needs to know the history and reasons for it. I do not hide from it and I accepted responsibility in the past for what happened. I cannot control others who do not mention my name or others that were on the committee at that time.

      What I do know is this, I was a newer member on the School Committee and when the topic of the "alternative school'" was brought up, myself and Ms Prencipe constantly asked the then Superintendent and business manager where this was program was in the budget and was repeatedly assured by the administration that "dont worry the money is accounted for" when pressed all that was given to us was "don't worry".

      Well, we listened to the so called "experts" and passed that program and what happened, yes a deficit. We then had to pick up the pieces and move forward. I say all this as we too often believe the so called experts and who is left holding the bag, it is us in the community. So, to the present school committee, do not trust all that is presented to you...

      There is always more to the story, it is unfortunate that people don't get all the facts or ask you "what really happened there" It is also unfortunate that when a committee or even the town council changes, the new elected officials don't take the time to ask questions as to how certain things happened or why we were considering certain actions, had you asked those questions and sought out the "history'" , some of these ongoing issues that are going to result in legal actions and costly legal expenses may be avoided. Now some may question some of our previous actions that led to legal actions, again, you would need the full story behind them, don't assume everything that you read or hear is fact!

    6. Jack:
      Thanks for commenting. It is precisely for the reasons that you cite that I've stopped posting comments bashing you and others as well who are no longer on the committee.

  5. Like I said before, nobody will step up with the guts to file a complaint. In the meantime the lollipop gang is most likely digging up a couple more all day suckers to fill the two vacancies on the committee.


All comments subject to moderation. All commenters must use their own name or a screen name. No comments labelled as "Anonymous" will be published. To use your name or a screen name select "Name/URL" from the drop down menu. Insert you name in the "Name" space and leave the "URL" space blank.