A complaint from the Reid School Council resulted in a reprimand for School Committee member Terry Kinnas.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee voted 5-1 Wednesday to reprimand one of their own over complaints by Reid Middle School staff stemming from a hotly contested subcommittee meeting at the school last month.
In the complaint, the Reid School Council's Community Outreach Subcommittee said School Committee member Terry Kinnas behaved inappropriately at the new committee's inaugural meeting, a meeting Kinnas says violated Open Meeting law.
While disputing what they called inaccuracies in Kinnas' complaint against them to the attorney general, Reid Council members, including six staff members and two parents, said their primary objection was to the way in which he presented his concerns at that meeting.
"His body language was aggressive and intimidating," said Salvatore Frieri. "Leaning over the table, talking over the chair, pounding on the table, very red faced ... He made everyone in that room feel very uncomfortable."
In their written complaint, the council members accused Kinnas not only of impropriety at their meeting, but of "obstructing the legitimate working of school councils across the city."
"We would submit that Mr. Kinnas has demonstrated a pattern of filing superfluous open meeting law complaints, which belies an uncertain personal agenda, and that these complaints have limited the ability of duly constituted bodies to perform their legitimate functions," according to the complaint letter.
Kinnas says he has witnessed an estimated 20 Open Meeting Law violations within the school system in less than a year as a School Committee member, but has filed only two complaints against these bodies.
"I followed procedure," said Kinnas, who called the complaint by Reid staff and parent volunteers "frivolous" and said it should be thrown out. He disputes claims by members of the subcommittee who said he was out of order, in that he did not ask for permission to speak at the meeting through the chairman.
Kinnas ascribed what might have been perceived as aggressive body language to back pain issues.
"You may think I'm grumpy, but I'm just in pain," said Kinnas.
"What was done was truly unprofessional and hurtful," said Julia Sabourin, a Reid teacher who heads the outreach subcommittee. "Volunteering in the Pittsfield Public School System is something that right now, on our committee, has turned from a really positive experience to something of fear and harassment."
"We've learned from this. I'd like to see you change your demeanor when you interact with us," added Patricia Rech.
The committee voted 5-1, with Kinnas opposed and Mayor Daniel Bianchi absent, to approve the following motion in response to the dispute:
"The school committee does not condone the actions of Terry Kinnas toward the Reid Middle School council members as documented in the December 12, 2012, public complaint. Additionally, the school committee specifically instructs Terry Kinnas to immediately and in the future behave in an appropriate manner when dealing with all members of the Pittsfield public school community."
Speaking individually, Kinnas' peers on the School Committee expressed varying levels of criticism on his handling of the situation.
"I think this is probably one of the most uncomfortable evenings I've had to spend as a School Committee member," said Katherine Yon, who commended the Reid subcommittee for coming forward with their complaint. "Yes, you are well intentioned, but it's about perception and demeanor ... particularly in this office, we have to be aware of that."
Chairman Alfred E. Barbalunga said he was troubled by the complaing. "I'm tired of these situations ... you have to abide like everybody else with the regular school policies and regulations."
"I want the kids in this community to get the best possible education," said Kinnas, who argued that he acted appropriately in the situation and that Pittsfield school employees should "serve as a model" by complying with all regulations.
School department attorney Russell Dupree said the parties should move forward in a more productive way.
"There's a way to deliver the messages, and in this case looking at the situation — either version of events — I'd say lots of things could have been done better, potentially by both sides," he said.