Updated on Thursday at 7:05 to reflect the fact that only six School Committee members attended the July 13 meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Mount Greylock Regional School Committee on Tuesday said it did not violate the Open Meeting Law in the run-up to the departure of former Superintendent Kimberley Grady.
In a statement through the district counsel, the committee claims that member Al Terranova "misspoke" at a July 13 meeting when he appeared to reveal that the School Committee had previously decided on a course for replacing Grady while she was still under contract.
The three-page letter from Westfield attorney Adam Dupere says the School Committee's discussions in closed-door meetings on June 3, June 17, June 25 and July 1 "were within the stated purpose of the executive session," namely to discuss strategy relative to the district's negotiations with Grady on a contract extension.
That contention is at odds with Terranova's statement in the 13th minute of a meeting available for viewing on the school's YouTube channel.
"I thought at our last meeting, that the decision was we were going to hire an interim superintendent from now until June 30  and then, on July 1 , get a full-time, three-year committed superintendent," Terranova said at the July 13 meeting.
At no point prior to that meeting had the School Committee discussed replacing Grady, let alone a timetable to do so, in an open meeting.
The only meetings Terranova could have been referring to were the four executive sessions held in June and July, the last on July 1. Robert Putnam was hired as interim on July 5 and it was announced Grady was on medical leave; Grady confirmed she had resigned on July 11.
"The School Committee asserts that Al Terranova misspoke when he may have stated that a decision was made by the School Committee with regard to a decision to select a particular short-term superintendent, or a full search process for a permanent superintendent," Dupere wrote. "The Committee acknowledges that in response to the statement by Mr. Terranova, it would have been helpful to observers if the Committee had clarified Mr. Terranova's statement was not accurate, as no such decision or decisions had been made by the Committee."
Leaving aside the fact that Dupere mischaracterizes the events of July 13 with the phrase "may have stated," belief in the School Committee's version of events requires voters to accept several premises:
1. Terranova invented an imaginary conversation among committee members out of whole cloth, right down to stating specific dates.
2. The other six five members of the School Committee present chose to ignore this particular, detailed assertion of an inaccuracy; Regina DiLego was not present at the July 13 meeting.
3. The School Committee conducted four closed-door meetings over the course of a month, consuming 2 1/2 hours of its time to "negotiate with itself," since Chair Christina Conry has confirmed that then-Superintendent Grady was neither invited to nor attended those executive session meetings.
4. The School Committee was derelict in its duty when it failed to engage in an annual evaluation process, as it is required to do by law and as Grady encouraged the committee to pursue on a couple of occasions in public meetings during the spring. On June 18, Grady emailed the School Committee asking members when they would be reviewing evidence she had compiled for the evaluation, saying, "I haven't heard from anyone but would like to have this done." Less than an hour later, School Committee member Steven Miller replied, "the school committee is formally requesting to move [the evaluation] back one month."
The iBerkshires.com editorial staff, with a combined several decades of experience covering municipal government, contends the explanation is much simpler: The School Committee discussed a plan to replace Grady, as Terranova revealed on July 13, and it chose not to undertake an evaluation process because it did not intend to renew Grady's contract.
Dupere's email, which appears to have been generated from the School Committee's deliberation in a July 24 executive session, is problematic for at least two other reasons.
In the second sentence of the reply, Dupere claims, "you allege that School Committee member Al Terranova violated the Open Meeting Law ... ."
While Terranova is a member of the School Committee and, as such, accused of the same violation as the rest of the panel, he was not singled out in the complaint. Likewise, his statement of July 13 was not the alleged violation, as Dupere implies. Rather, Terranova's statement of July 13 was what brought the potential violation to light.
Secondly, Dupere emphasizes the legitimacy of Grady's medical leave, the stated reason for the appointment of an interim superintendent on July 6, and cites "privacy concerns" for not being able to provide more details.
iBerkshires.com never alleged that Grady did not have medical issues. It does contend that those issues coincided with a previously decided path by the School Committee, which already was considering not offering her a contract renewal and may have made that decision before she began her medical leave, some time after her participation in a meeting of the district's Parent Advisory Council on June 24.
The School Committee -- through its lawyer -- made no attempt to substantiate its claims about the June and July executive sessions. It did not, for example, provide contemporaneous notes, minutes or recordings of those sessions, as sought in iBerkshires.com's complaint. If the "negotiation" deliberations were for an employee no longer with the district, iBerkshires believes there would be no reason to keep them private, as revealing them could not affect the district's bargaining position.
In a separate action, on July 13 iBerkshires.com filed a request under the commonwealth's public records act for all notes, minutes and communications related to the executive sessions of June and July as well any recordings, if available.
On Friday, July 24, Putnam replied that that request was denied because the notes and/or minutes from those meetings would include "personnel and medical files or information; also any other materials or data relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
That response from the interim superintendent, on its face, is at odds with the School Committee's claim about the nature of the closed-door meetings.
If, as the School Committee claims, the meetings were solely to conduct "strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations with non-union personnel," it is difficult to see how those strategies would have involved information about "medical files," as the interim superintendent states.
And if, as the district implies in its July 24 response, the executive sessions were related to "other materials or data" involving Grady's job performance, the proper purpose of executive session would have been, "to discuss the professional competence of the Superintendent and complaints or charges." That was the purpose the School Committee utilized in 2016 for an executive session that ended in the departure of then-Superintendent Douglas Dias.
On Tuesday, July 28, iBerkshires.com filed a second Open Meeting Law violation complaint against the School Committee in less than a month. This time, the news site is alleging that the committee's July 24 executive session for the stated purpose of discussing the committee's response to an Open Meeting Law complaint was held in violation of the Open Meeting Law itself.
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Baker: Education Commissioner's Letter 'Not Bullying'
By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker and Education Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley on Thursday pushed back against the charge that the state was pressuring school districts to return to in-person instruction despite local preferences.
Appearing with Baker at his regular press availability, Riley twice declined to say what enforcement actions the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will take against more than a dozen districts who last week received a letter challenging their preference for remote learning to start the year.
"I think we're going to wait and see what happens," Riley said when asked if DESE would "force the hands" of districts who continue to shy away from hybrid or in-person instruction models. "We're going to wait for the written responses and see what next steps are from there."
Moments later, Riley was asked a second time whether those written responses could lead to a mandate from the commonwealth.
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Continuing a pressure campaign against local school districts that began over the summer, the commissioner of education this week sent multiple districts a letter requesting "further information" of those who are beginning the school year with remote instruction. click for more