It is fair to assume that publicly elected bodies will act in concert with the law, their policies as well as the will of those who have elected them.
The current School Committee has failed on all counts.
It began almost immediately following the resignation of former Chairman Patricia Woodruff.
The (then) Vice-Chairman invoked a little known clause in Roberts Rules of Order to succeed to the Chairmanship without the election called for at the time in the Committee’s policies. This was done despite the provisions of one of the other policies (specifically policy BEDD) which said, “Robert's Rules of Order, Newly Revised will govern the proceedings of the Committee, except when those rules are in conflict with the Committee's approved policies and regulations.”
Interestingly that policy has also disappeared from the Policy Manual under the reign of the current leadership.
In May the then Superintendent of Schools announced his departure from that position following what many would regard as a meltdown in his budget presentation.. He had moved into that position from his position as interim Superintendent without benefit of any search committee. In similar fashion he was succeeded by the Patricia Gardner, also without benefit of a search committee.
Ms. Gardner had no prior experience as a school Superintendent. Many complained behind the scenes about her intimidating style which was belied publicly by her gentle demeanor and Southern accent.
Her predecessor had departed on a pledge to raise MCAS scores, sweetheart consulting contract firmly in hand. When the results became available in September the Committee made every effort to spin them as a major success in moving in the right direction. The fact was that they amounted to little more than a continuation of the same dismal results, extending Southbridge’s status as a Level IV district.
Subsequently we witnessed a presentation by the DESE with regard to our latest Accelerated Improvement Plan. The presentation was by an entirely new team with no prior experience in the district. To top it off, it was lauded by a representative from Winchendon that had just emerged from Level IV status. Unfortunately, as we have just learned, Winchendon is currently confronted by a $3.8 million budget shortfall.
During the past year Superintendent Gardner has moved around personnel, expanded central office staff and sought additional funds for the school system. In addition there has been the ongoing issues of lawsuits by former personnel (virtually all being decided against the district), expanded costs of unemployment insurance and an exodus of students under the aegis of school choice.
Recently charges have been leveled against the Superintendent regarding attempted intimidation of personnel, threats to destroy documents and belittling of an employee over a chronic medical condition. This has resulted in the appointment of a special investigator mandated to provide a report by December 3rd.
Finally, at the last meeting of this renegade committee, a High School Senior was silenced while attempting to address further questionable conduct by the Superintendent. This was done despite the fact that the policy under which she was squelched was applied outside the confines of a formal School Committee meeting.
Rather than admitting to this mistake, the committee leadership doubled down and restated the policy on its latest agenda. For the record, as well as the edification of the reader, I will restate – the policy in question has no statutory basis. Public Input occurs before the meeting is called to order. Consequently, the policy cannot be applied to comments made during Public Input.
In slightly more than a year the School Committee, under its current leadership, has violated the law, its policies and the public trust on numerous occasions. While I may have differed with prior committees on matters of policy, I have never had to call out reckless lawlessness.
It is incumbent upon any members of the Committee who recognize this conduct to speak out and address it. Otherwise you will be complicit in it by your silence.