When ‘Public’ is not so Public: Keeping the tender ears of the SAU board from public comment

This is a letter to the editor of the Carriage Town News submitted on June 12, 2012.  The  abuse of non-public sessions will be one of my recurring themes.

Dear Editor:

Very few parents or citizens attend SAU meetings, (or their recent focus groups), for reasons I now fully understand.  Should you wish to comment at an SAU meeting, you must fill out a form stating which agenda items you wish to address. At the SAU 55 meeting on June 11th, I waited patiently to address the SAU board on two agenda points, the interim Superintendent’s compensation, and the new Superintendent contract.

When the interim Superintendent’s compensation came up, I spoke to an SAU member’s previously expressed interest in paying the interim Superintendent the same salary as the outgoing Superintendent. I argued that this was unwise on two counts. It is inappropriate to pay the interim Superintendent the same salary as someone who has been in the position for seven years, and doing so sets the salary expectations of prospective applicants. I also made a plea for the salary discussion to be held in public session. Only two members of the 10 member SAU board voted to keep the discussion public. I am well familiar with the law concerning non-public meetings. The law allows, but does not mandate, non-public discussion of employee salaries, and in my opinion, it was inappropriate in this case. When your elected officials do not have to justify their reasoning, any conclusion has to be accepted as reasoned and reasonable. How will you know otherwise?

 Shortly after the hour-long non-public session, there was a lengthy discussion by the SAU board as to if and how they could screen undesirable people from the superintendent screening committee to which more parents have applied than are positions. A pity they couldn’t hide that discussion in another non-public meeting.  Oh wait!  The screening committee is calling a meeting on June14th, portions of which may be non-public.

When the Superintendent contract was next, the chairman allowed me to address the board. Since the committee studying contract terms had not yet presented, I asked to reserve my comments for after the board’s discussion. The chairman did not permit me to do this. The proper way to conduct a public meeting is to open public comment after board discussion but before a vote, if there is one.

 As another example of the lengths the SAU board goes to keep itself free of public comment, you may not be aware that the SAU had its very own Superintendent focus group on May 31. This session was not advertised with the other public focus sessions and it did not allow public comment. I know because I asked to attend.

Sandown’s town hall has been closed on Fridays for years because we don’t have the money to heat the building –yet as of last night, the SAU has found $24,000 in their budget for a search consultant and additional pay to the SAU staff with interim responsibilities, and who knows how much more for exit costs payable to Mr. LaSalle. How much money does the SAU have sloshing around?

Timberlane has been a federally designated “School in Need of Improvement” for years. Hiring a new superintendent is a tremendous opportunity to improve our children’s education Your tax dollars should be going to effective teachers, not SAU administrators – and your votes should be going to people who support open meetings with public participation.

  Donna Green

Sandown rep, Timberlane Budget Committee

—————-

CORRECTION:  The SAU Board has 14 members, not 10.

The truth behind the words…..

Letters to the editor have to be around 500 words so much was left out. In my statement to the board, I argued that the interim superintendent should not receive any additional remuneration as he has been crossed trained exactly for this situation and will be assuming more responsibilities for only two to three months until the new superintendent is in place. Many of those in the private sector have been asked to do more for less in the last few years.  This is reality in nearly every business except where the taxpayer is footing the bill. In the end, the board decided to give the interim Superintendent an extra $60 a working day with discretion over $2500 a month for other employees for four months. Before this outcome, you should know that the Assistant Superintendent was budgeted to earn $110,313, the Business Administrator $102,838,and  the assistant Business Administrator $58,510. Mr. LaSalle’s salary was $138,679.

I have a strong misgiving that the SAU Screening Committee will avoid following the advice of their search consultant, which is to simply draw names out of a hat when there are more applicants for the screening/selection committee than available positions. In the June 11th SAU meeting the board talked about needing to screen people based on

1) ‘weak’ vs. ‘strong’ candidates.  Here I think you can read ‘foes’ vs. ‘friends’;

2) ability to keep information confidential.  Anyone in town from the leaky Defense Department?

3) convicted felons. Hmm…. What harm could a felon do with a prospective superintendent’s resume? Put on a fake mustache and impersonate the poor sod?

One well-intentioned board member suggested narrowing the field by selecting only those applicants who gave good reasons for wanting to be on the screening committee, leaving aside the fact that the call for participants went out without any such discursive requirements.

Two board members did advocate for drawing names out of a hat, which is the only fair and sensible thing to do, but no one made a motion to ensure that this was the ultimate selection process. The board agreed to leave the decision to the screening committee once they conferred with the search consultant.  I suspect the screening committee will get their way.

I highly recommend tuning in to the taped video recordings of SAU meetings on Vimeo available through the SAU website. http://vimeo.com/album/1914382

Stay tuned.

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4 Comments

Filed under SAU 55 Issues

4 responses to “When ‘Public’ is not so Public: Keeping the tender ears of the SAU board from public comment

  1. paula martin

    Bravo and thanks Donna, I am excited to follow you!

  2. Nathan

    Why not just expand the selection committee so everyone can participate? Maybe have a professional section with 4 votes and then the public section with as many as would like to join in and they get to proportionally assign the remaining 6 votes meaning a candidate would either need 100% support by the public, or the full support of the professional section and 20% of the public section in order to win.

    • Interesting suggestion. Although this was not said in the discussion, the screening committee is just screening applications. They will submit the final five applications to the SAU board for their final decision. The drawback of having it wide open is the possibility that factions would stack the population of participants, as sometimes happens at deliberative sessions. Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

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