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.