Monadnock district’s public comment policy to go to lawyer for review
By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
| Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 12:00 pm
GILSUM — What started off as an uneventful Monadnock Regional School Board meeting Tuesday night quickly turned controversial as board members fought over proposals and motions ranging from reviewing policies to subcommittee membership.
School board members voted to send a policy to the district’s attorney for review that deals with rules for public comments at meetings. But some board members said they didn’t understand why it needs to go to the lawyer in the first place.
School board Vice Chairman James I. Carnie of Richmond said he didn’t know what the problem was with the policy, nor did he recall the school board asking the education and policy committee to look at it, which the panel did last week.
The policy, which has been on the books for years, allocates the first 15 minutes of the meeting for public comment, and requires people who speak to provide their names, addresses and groups, if any, they represent.
It also refers to people participating in the meeting only as “citizens,” and doesn’t specify between residents and nonresidents of the school district.
That’s where things have gotten sticky recently, as several high-profile issues have prompted more people, especially employees, who live both inside and outside the school district to attend and want to speak at school board meetings.
Monadnock covers Fitzwilliam, Gilsum, Richmond, Roxbury, Swanzey and Troy.
Per school board practice, people who aren’t residents of district’s towns must receive permission from the board to speak at a meeting. They also typically don’t speak until after residents have had a chance to make comments.
Some board members claimed the practice was policy until some people attending the school board meeting on July 15 called them out on it.
Michael Blair, chairman of the education and policy committee, said school board member Patricia Bauries of Swanzey brought the policy to his committee for modification and review in light of the events that happened at the July 15 board meeting.
At the meeting, the board delayed public comment to discuss giving permission to two employees who lived outside the district to speak. Permission was eventually granted.
Bauries said Tuesday night that what she asked the education and policy committee to do was incorporate the practice of the board voting for a nonresident to speak into the policy, and committee members chose not to do that.
“We have never, ever, ever to my knowledge denied a nonresident the ability to speak. We have always voted on that. But residents and voters of the district should have preference,” she said.
School board Chairman Richard H. Thackston 3rd of Troy said the fundamental issue is whether he interprets the policy correctly.
“I had the understanding that some people felt I was enforcing it incorrectly, and other people felt it should be amended so it could be corrected,” he said.
He added he was perfectly happy with the policy as is, but wasn’t against it being reviewed if attorney James A. O’Shaughnessy could assure board members he wouldn’t need to spend a lot of time and money looking over it.
O’Shaughnessy, who was at the meeting, said he could review the policy in short order to make sure it wasn’t defective.
The statement prompted Carnie to say, “If we’re going to send it to our attorney, I don’t want to know if it’s defective. I want to know if it’s legal.”
Carnie said he would also like a definition of the word “citizens.”
“I think it’s much ado about nothing,” he said.
More bickering among board members ensued when Blair presented a motion to continue an e-book subcommittee from the previous school year. Carnie and Bauries claimed Blair’s motion represented a move by some board members to push their own agenda through without being transparent with the public.
At times, the roughly 40 people attending the meeting in the multipurpose room of Gilsum Elementary School collectively groaned or gasped at the discussion.
Blair said the e-book subcommittee consisted of him and school board member Elizabeth G. Tatro of Swanzey.
The subcommittee has spent the past school year looking into having students use e-books instead of textbooks to save the school district money. Blair said the committee has made progress, but needs more time before presenting a proposal to the school board, which will have the final say.
The subcommittee was a subgroup of the school board’s technology committee, which has since been rolled into the education and policy committee.
Carnie asked Blair why some of the district’s budget committee members weren’t being allowed to return to the e-book subcommittee. Blair said he could invite them, but they were never part of it.
Carnie, with support from Bauries, continued to insist they were.
“There was no removal of anyone,” Blair said.
“Let’s not go there,” Bauries replied.
Blair insisted Tuesday there was no conspiracy in his motion.
The motion barely passed by a weighted vote of 5.484 to 5.183.
“I think it stinks,” Carnie said after the vote.
“And you wonder why we don’t get anything done,” Blair said.
Earlier in the meeting, the board discussed whether the school district could use its surplus from the 2013-14 budget to reimburse its member towns.
Business Administrator Jane E. Fortson said she expects Monadnock to have a surplus of more than $1 million once all of the revenue and expenses have been accounted for in the 2013-14 year, which should happen next month.
Thackston asked Fortson to explain what the surplus could be used for, and if it could be sent back to the towns in the form of a reimbursement check.
Fortson said the surplus from the 2013-14 fiscal year would be used to reduce the amount to be raised from taxes for the 2014-15 budget, and the only way that money could be used for something else is if the board had taken a vote to do so before June 30.
Still, Thackston and Carnie asked her to present at the next school board meeting how much each town would receive if the surplus were to be divided among the towns as a reimbursement.
“The December time frame was what I was thinking about,” Thackston said. “That would be a tough time for towns’ financials, and it would be handy if they could get a rebate check.”
SAU 93 votes to consolidate searches for top administrators
By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff
| Posted: Wednesday, August 13, 2014 12:00 pm
GILSUM — The Monadnock Regional School District’s search for a new superintendent will be combined with its search for an assistant superintendent.
In a weighted vote Tuesday night, the N.H. School Administrative Unit 93 board, which oversees the school district, voted 7.433 to 3.235 to consolidate the searches.
A weighted vote means that instead of one vote per board member, each member is assigned a whole or part of a number based on the number of residents in the towns they represent.
Every member of the Monadnock school board is a member of the School Administrative Unit 93 Board.
In the same motion, board members also opted to put Assistant Superintendent Karen Craig in charge of the search committee.
Craig and Superintendent Leo P. Corriveau are retiring this school year, Corriveau on Jan. 2, 2015, and Craig on June 30, 2015.
“The advantage of doing it this way is when you have two good candidates and two positions at the top of the organization that are going to be newly filled in a short time frame of six months, it gives the committee the opportunity to get a sense of how the two individuals will work together,” school board member Edward Jacod of Gilsum said.
Jacod made the motion to consolidate and school board member Phyllis Peterson of Fitzwilliam seconded it.
At about the same time, school board Chairman Richard H. Thackston 3rd of Troy asked board members if they wanted to follow the search committee policy that had been established, as school administrative unit policies are open to amendments or changes. He also asked if the board wished to consolidate the superintendent and assistant superintendent positions into one.
While board members agreed they should leave the policy as is, they said they wanted more information before deciding to combine the superintendent and assistant superintendent jobs.
“If we start talking about eliminating the assistant superintendent, that’s not something I want handed to me tonight to consider,” board member James I. Carnie of Richmond said. “I’m not ready to discuss or vote on this tonight.”
Thackston said that combining the positions wasn’t part of the motion on the floor.
“I put the question out there. We don’t have to answer the question tonight,” he said.
“Yes, but you brought it up,” Carnie said.
Carnie, a longtime member of the board, added that in the history of the school district, School Administrative Unit 93 and its predecessor, School Administrative Unit 38, the entities have never operated without a superintendent and assistant superintendent.
Board member Patricia Bauries of Swanzey said she would like to see in writing what the responsibilities of a combined position would be, and what that would mean for the work loads of other school administrative unit positions.
“These people are already down to a 30-hour week, and I’m sure that their staff is helping to pick up the slack,” Bauries said.
Corriveau and Craig went to part-time schedules this year.
Peterson said she too was concerned about combining the positions.
“There is a wide range of responsibilities I see the superintendent and assistant superintendent having. It would have to be methodically thought out, especially with the district making some positive turns. I don’t want to interrupt that,” she said.
Board member Elizabeth G. Tatro of Swanzey said a 60-hour work week is nothing for an administrator, and given that the superintendent and assistant superintendent are working 30 hours a week each, she felt a combined position would be possible.
Tatro served as principal of Mount Caesar Elementary School in Swanzey before retiring in 2013.
Peterson said she wanted to hear Corriveau’s and Craig’s thoughts on combining their positions.
Corriveau said district officials should look at redefining the positions and responsibilities within the unit.
Bauries then asked how the positions would be advertised if the board was undecided about whether they’d be consolidated.
Thackston said the board could meet and make a recommendation on the matter before there was a serious number of applicants for the positions.
“I see the committee and the district having as much flexibility as possible,” he said.
He added, “We’re looking for a permanent, long-time superintendent who could be with us indefinitely.”