Monday, January 14, 2019

Another town resident expresses concern and calls for compromise...

The following "letter to the editor" was submitted by town resident Marc Haber to the LongmeadowBuzz blog

Like many of you, I have no particular stake in the decision to renew or not renew the contract of Longmeadow Superintendent Dr. Marty O’Shea.  Other than being a taxpayer and having 4 children who attend Longmeadow schools, I have no real “skin in the game”.  But back in November, I was asked to attend the School Committee (SC) meeting, at which the decision would be made on Dr. O’Shea’s contract renewal, and so I did. The overall passion of the teachers, administrators and various community members in support of Dr. O’Shea was striking.  The glowing support from the Police Chief Stankiewicz and Fire Chief Dearborn was just as impressive, Chief Stankiewicz noting that Dr. O’Shea “expanded school safety more in the last 2.5 years than what was done in the last 10 years.” Even State Representative Brian Ashe recommended that the SC listen to their constituents, as their voices are “loud and clear.”  Meeting after meeting that followed more citizens, administrators and teachers showed up in support of Dr. O’Shea.

Impressed as I was at the massive support behind Dr. O’Shea, I was perhaps more shocked and disheartened by the perceived lack of interest in hearing these speakers and unprofessional behavior by many of our elected officials on the SC.  One recent example, at the January 8th meeting committee member Stephanie Jasmin stated that she felt uncomfortable being alone with Dr. O’Shea, implying an inappropriateness. Later she poorly tried to revise her comment, noting that it wasn’t a “gender” thing, prompting Bronwyn Monahan to remind the quartet that she too is a woman and has absolutely never felt uncomfortable around or meeting with Dr. O’Shea. This is just one of many examples of pandering and insulting behavior demonstrating that this quartet does not like and will never support Dr. O’Shea. It is not plausible to believe that this SC was earnest in offering him a “clean slate” this year as they have repeatedly claimed.

As people not privy to the inside baseball, it is hard for any of us “outsiders” to know what truly has transpired in private meetings.  That said, an administrator with unquestionable integrity, Center school Principal Donna Hutton recently remarked at the January 8th meeting, “you are talking about Dr. O’Shea as if [he] is a completely different individual than the person we know.” In acknowledgment of the respect the administration has received for their accomplishments from the SC, she further notes it was largely due to the leadership of Dr. O’Shea.  If this is true (and I would never doubt the candor and character of Principal Hutton) clearly the credibility of the SC evaluation of Dr. O’Shea is in serious doubt.

The bridge between the current composition of the SC and Dr. O’Shea is not singed but incinerated.  But so too appear the bridges between the SC and much of the Longmeadow community, the administration and teachers and even between this voting block quartet and other members on the SC. The supercilious behavior of Chairperson Beth Baron towards respected members of the public and SC members Armand Wray and Bronwyn Monahan is appalling.  By not allowing the school administration to publicly meet and speak with them about this issue for almost a year and then slotting them only 15 minutes is insulting and disrespectful to these hard working and brave administrators. Instead of answering their request for concrete examples of where Dr. O’Shea has been derelict, Baron deflects by comparing the proceedings to a “Jerry Springer sideshow.” After watching these SC meetings and the animosity that they foster, I completely understand why an overwhelming majority in the teachers union voted “no confidence” in this dysfunctional body.

The common thread behind this dysfunction is the School Committee, as it is currently comprised, and this body alone. As such, honest introspection is required yet apparently lacking.  Better yet is action.  Compromise is necessary. While, I personally think that some of the damage done by members of this quartet is not fixable, perhaps Longmeadow can still salvage something from this process.

A simple solution that can save tens of thousands of our taxpayer dollars is to to simply extend Dr. O’Shea’s contract temporarily beyond the next round of SC elections. Two spots are open, currently filled by one member on either side of the divide. Because the so-called “Pro-Marty” side would require winning both seats, the “Anti-Marty” side has easier sledding.  Clearly citizens on both side of the issue want to have their voices heard and this compromise would afford them this option. 

To those who protest, “there already was an election”-Absolutely true! With that election, both victors, Bronwyn Monahan and Ryan Kelly, support Dr. O’Shea and his administration.  This is the clearest and most democratic compromise.

Another compromise would be for, the current Chair, Beth Baron, to step down from her position and allow another member to lead this group. Clearly, if Dr. O’Shea is not fit to lead our respected school district, Beth Baron is equally not fit to lead our School Committee. She has failed to provide transparency and lacks the temperament to conduct proper School Committee meetings. Under her leadership, the school administrators felt forced to sign a whistle blower statement, protecting them from repercussions. Our administrators and teachers should not be afraid to ask questions, express their opinions and provide information in support of Dr. O’Shea, yet they are. Under her leadership, the Attorney General has opened an investigation into whether she, Morrin and Jasmin violated the state’s Open Meeting Law. As the Chair during this tempest, Baron should either demonstrate cooperative leadership that this group is sorely lacking or she should hand the gavel to another more capable member.

In another compromise, all 7 members of the SC could resign immediately. This would be inevitably chaotic and challenging.  It is unclear if this would require a special election or if members would be appointed by the Select Board, but it certainly would drastically and immediately disrupt the negative dynamics associated with the current SC. Clearly this is not the most reasonable option.

Should Dr. O’Shea just step down now? Since he is already scheduled for non-renewal at the end of the school year, whether he steps down now or later doesn’t resolve the fundamental lack of trust associated with this School Committee.  Furthermore, as former SC member Michael Clark noted, communities throughout the area are aware of this discord and it will be very difficult to attract qualified applicants.  Would you want to be responsible to this School Committee?  We are lucky that Dr. O’Shea is willing to stay even through his current contract.

In the spirit of compromise, I am electing to take no action on proposed article 2.  Even though there is legal support for this proposal, a potential legal battle within the town would likely cost more money than the SC would potentially waste on an unnecessary superintendent search. In the spirit of fiscal responsibility, I will not pursue to take action on this unfortunately needed fiscal oversight.

In voting against Dr. O’Shea, SC member Kerrin Morrin, read that Dr. O’Shea fostered an “us versus them culture.”  This culture, if fostered by anyone, stems from the failure of this unreasonable quartet to compromise in any fashion.  The failed leadership of this body appears deaf to the parade of well-respected and knowledgeable administrators, educators, residents and respected officials. Perhaps someone can get them to listen. Compromise is necessary to restore public trust in this important committee. Compromise is necessary to restore trust between the school committee and our amazing administration and educators.

Take some advice from Representative Ashe and listen to your constituents who have spoken loud and clear.  Compromise. If you cannot, then please resign immediately.

Marc Haber
Longmeadow, MA

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