Friday, January 15, 2016

School Committee Decision Held Hostage

The process of selecting and hiring a new Longmeadow School Superintendent to replace Marie Doyle who will be retiring on June 30 has been a time consuming, expensive and contentious process and it is not over yet!

This effort has involved the use of an outside consultant who developed a candidate selection process, launched a nationwide search and facilitated a SC Screening Committee to identify three finalists for the position. Prior to the final public interviews in mid December one of three final candidates withdrew leaving Martin O’Shea- current superintendent of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District and Neil Gile- current principal at Wolf Swamp Road Elementary School for the position.

Current Situation

Final approval of the contract to hire Mr. O'Shea as the new school superintendent is being held hostage
by an "open meeting law" complaint filed by town resident Attorney Scott Foster.
  As long as this complaint is active with the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office, Mr. O'Shea cannot be offered a contract without the caveat "approved pending a favorable AG decision"

It would appear that the School Committee has done its due diligence in responding to the OML complaint and has initiated policy changes that should prevent a re-occurrence.  The "redo" of the preliminary candidate screening meetings seems a little overdone and non-consequential but is planned as well.

I believe that this OML complaint is a very thinly disguised attempt to overturn the SC's vote to hire Mr. O'Shea.

If the contract signing is delayed for months because of uncertainty of the AG's actions, it could result in Mr. O'Shea deciding to withdraw his candidacy leaving Mr. Gile as the only viable candidate at this time. 

It's now time for Attorney Foster and others supporting Mr. Gile to step back and accept the SC's hiring decision by withdrawing the complaint.   

These actions will continue to cost Longmeadow taxpayers significant money in legal fees at the same time that our School Committee is currently facing a $1.2 million shortfall in funding for FY2017 (see this week's Reminder Publications article).  It's interesting that this is one of the areas that Mr. O'Shea's experience substantially outshadows Mr. Gile's limited experience.

Background InformationAfter two lengthy public meeting discussions, school visits and a second round of interviews with the two finalists, the School Committee in a vote of 4-2 (later amended to 6-0) selected Mr. O’Shea as the new School Superintendent.

Mr. Gile had strong support from some community members and local school professionals as well as two SC members (Ms. Grodsky and Atty. Dupere).  All SC members expressed that they felt both candidates were well qualified but the SC picked Mr. O’Shea primarily because of his greater depth of experience with school administration, budgeting, etc.

However, after the SC final vote, it was obvious on social media that many supporters of Mr. Gile were deeply disappointed and threaten to do what they could to overturn the decision.

In late December, a formal complaint was sent to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office by Atty. Scott Foster alleging that there were “open meeting law” violations for the two meetings of the candidate selection subcommittee.  These OML violations consisted primarily that these two meetings were not “posted”, minutes were not made public and there were inappropriate executive session discussions.

Here is how this OML complaint process works (from the Mass AG website):

“For complaints alleging a violation of the Open Meeting Law by a local public body, you must file with the public body and file a copy with the clerk of the city or town where the alleged violation occurred. For complaints alleging a violation by a county, regional or state public body, you must file with the chair of the public body."

"If you are not satisfied with the action taken by the public body in response to your complaint, you may file a copy of your complaint with the Attorney General's Office 30 days after filing your complaint with the public body. The Attorney General's Office may decline to investigate a complaint that is filed with the Attorney General's Office more than 90 days after the alleged OML violation, unless an extension was granted to the public body or the complainant demonstrates good cause for the delay.”

After considerable consultation with their attorney the SC has responded to the formal complaint by evaluating and modifying their policy for posting of public meetings so that the lack of posting does not occur again.  In addition, they are planning to conduct “do-overs” of the two screening meetings that would include approval of minutes but will not constitute a round of candidate interviews.  There would be no review of interview videos or resumes at these two "do-over" meetings.  It is expected but not assured that the vote for the three finalists would be the same given the high ratings each of the original finalists were given.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for presenting an intelligent and honest report of the Superintendent Search. The School Committee has been more than fair to a minority of residents in town. They have made outrageous claims and offered little evidence to support some of their irrational claims. It is time to move on and get to work on the school budget and other real issues deserving of our time.


John J. Fitzgerald
Member - Longmeadow School Committee