Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What Will They Do?

Ken O’Brien

Tonight at 6 p.m. there will be a Committee of the Whole meeting of the Southbridge School Committee.

The agenda for the meeting has only two components of substance on it.

Vote to enter executive session pursuant to:
 1. MGL c. 30A. Section 21 (a) (2), to discuss the Superintendent’s contract.
 2. MGL c. 30A, Section 21(a)(3), to discuss strategy with respect to collective bargaining: all  bargaining units. 

Given recent developments, the first item is of primary concern. While negotiations related to all other bargaining units are not a trivial matter, they don’t have the impact on the immediate future of the district that the first does.

It is interesting to note that the subject of the first item says that it will be conducted under MGL c. 30A. Section 21 (a) (2). That provision of the Open Meeting Law states, “To conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with nonunion personnel or to conduct collective bargaining sessions or contract negotiations with nonunion personnel”.

This is the second time that the committee has met on this topic, the first having been at the School Committee meeting of December 23rd.

Prior to that, the committee met on December 17th with the sole purpose to “Vote to enter executive session pursuant to MGL c. 30A, § 21(a)(1), to receive, consider and act on an Investigative Report pertaining to an employee of the District.” Unlike the current and prior meeting, that section of the Open Meeting Law states,

(1) To discuss the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual. The individual to be discussed in such executive session shall be notified in writing by the public body at least 48 hours prior to the proposed executive session; provided, however, that notification may be waived upon written agreement of the parties. A public body shall hold an open session if the individual involved requests that the session be open. If an executive session is held, such individual shall have the following rights:
i. to be present at such executive session during deliberations which involve that individual;
ii. to have counsel or a representative of his own choosing present and attending for the purpose of advising the individual and not for the purpose of active participation in the executive session;
iii. to speak on his own behalf; and
iv. to cause an independent record to be created of said executive session by audio-recording or transcription, at the individual’s expense.
The rights of an individual set forth in this paragraph are in addition to the rights that he may have from any other source, including, but not limited to, rights under any laws or collective bargaining agreements and the exercise or non-exercise of the individual rights under this section shall not be construed as a waiver of any rights of the individual.

Regrettably, given the total lack of transparency of the current committee, we are reduced to reading tea leaves.

Given that only one meeting was held under MGL c. 30A, § 21(a)(1), it is fair to assume that a decision was reached.

Second is the fact that, at the meeting of December 23rd, the Superintendent of Schools, Patricia Gardner, was absent. In her stead Sheryl Stanton, the district’s Assistant Superintendent for Teaching & Learning, was present.

Third is the nature of the complaint that was originally reported. It doesn’t take a great deal of insight to determine that one of the parties involved was the current Principal of Southbridge Middle/High School, Melissa Earls.

At this point I am going to go out on a limb and speculate.

Confronted with the results of the Flick report the committee was faced with a choice between a Principal who was widely regarded as having fostered a cooperative and successful educational environment and a Superintendent who was recognized as an unqualified bully.

As a consequence they had no choice but to decide to terminate the current Superintendent.

That left them with the need to negotiate an adequate settlement of their existing contract with her, a conundrum with which they are currently confronted.

Assuming that they are able to successfully resolve this problem, the question becomes “What next?”

The first step, as I have noted before, is to appoint a committee of appropriate community stakeholders to begin the search for a new Superintendent. Simultaneously the committee should turn to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees to find an individual to serve as an interim Superintendent while the search for a permanent occupant of that position is conducted.

In the meantime it is incumbent upon the voters of Southbridge to begin to rid themselves of the scourge of the current School Committee members who have visited this never-ending series of disasters upon them. It takes far more than tears, whimpering and voluble good intentions to make a complex system work. It takes a profound awareness of the mechanics, not only of education, but of the corresponding realities of budgeting limited resources and keeping the public informed. 

We can only hope that, assuming I am correct in my speculation, qualified candidates will make themselves available for the next election in June. It becomes even more critical if I am wrong.


  1. When Will NEASC Assess Our High School?January 7, 2015 at 8:12 AM

    News Flash . . . The NEASC accreditation visit to Southbridge has been pushed back another year! Apparently, there has been no attempt to organize and complete the madadtory school self-evaluation. This required pre-visit document was begun in May of 2012. Since the principal who initiated the mandatory internal assessment it has yet to be completed in the subsequent THREE years since that principal left. Six principals later and it is just being revisited as of this week.
    The students, parents, staff and citizens have a right to to have their school assessed by an independent body, NEASC in this case, evaluate our high school. Students applying for college need the NEASC stamp of accreditation on their applications. We just spent 8 years on probation from NEASC, only being removed from this status on August 7, 2012.
    Shame on the McLoughlin/Donovan gang for ignoring this important educational protocol. They have ensured that it will be at least a year and a half before the community receives an independent assessment of our flag ship school's performance.

  2. How Much is Gardner's Buyout Package?January 7, 2015 at 2:20 PM

    So it appears that our fourth superintendent in two years will be getting the "golden parachute" during tonight's executive session will help on Cole Ave. I'm surprised they're not holding this meeting in the boiler room, to hide even further.
    So how much is this costing the taxpayers? You know that we, the taxpayers, will never get the truth about Gardner's buyout.
    No chemistry books, but a big fat parting gift for the six month tenure of the latest administrative failure. How can this be? Doesn't anyone care about out children?
    Hoe can we allow these fools running the school committee to continue to destroy the school system?

  3. I have nothing to say, as I haven't really paid attention, since I send both of my kids to private schools. It has nothing to do with this administration, or any previous ones, but with all of them. Let's be honest with ourselves: for the 15 years I've lived here, nothing has gotten better during that time. I wished, hoped and prayed, but nothing. I would not send my kids to Southbridge Schools, primarily because I prefer a Catholic School education. But I also would not send them to a school with a bad reputation. I want them to learn. I feel badly for the students and the teachers that really do care, though.

  4. Someone call 911 Southbridge school district is crashing and burning

  5. Might the early cancellation of school for Thursday be Ms. Gardner's last official act as Superintendent?

  6. Try again "Last Act" she has been around over a week...The poor Ass't Superintendent has had to deal with district

    1. This "poor Ass't Superintendent" makes a nice six figure pay check. How about you? You making a hundred grand+?
      And she as ill-qualified as Gardner. Ya think its time to find a real super? Na - too much work for the a real search.

  7. To Melly - Get real
    As a matter of Yes


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