How Your School Board Hides the Truth

Last night’s school board meeting was a raucous one but most of the shouting happened before the camera started rolling.

First, the immature drama

Chairman Steenson instructed me to change my seat at the board table.  I calmly but emphatically refused.  Ms. Steenson reacted like a mother with few coping skills to a daughter in defiance. She insisted and moved the name plates.  I refused and helpfully suggested she call the police.  At that she stormed out of the room clutching her cell phone saying, “I just might do that!”  When she returned, she asked Mr. Sapia to please sit at the end of the table so Mr. Spero, who arrived quite late to the meeting, would not have to sit at the end of the table.  Mr. Sapia did not do so.

Then, revenge

Mr. Sapia later felt the chairperson’s wrath when she tried mightily to shut him down during Other Business. Coincidentally, Mr. Spero was the one who voiced his support for Mr. Sapia speaking to his issue about the athletic wing during Other Business. Mrs. Steenson’s vigorous attempt to shut down Mr. Sapia can be seen around 10:45 pm when the Vimeo is posted. (The Sept. 3 meeting is available now as a live stream capture in five parts but the last part of the meeting does not play….sigh.(

We mustn’t dress the mannequins in the window

Mrs. Steenson takes it upon herself to shut anyone down who wants to contribute something she doesn’t want to be heard. That is her idea of being a chairman, along with arranging the boardroom table. You can also see her shut me down when I bring to the board’s attention that Mr. Collins has a tactic of moving outrageous dollar figures forward so the board can feel virtuous in approving a more modest number that is probably larger than could have been hoped for in an honest approach to things. You can see this little drama at about 58 minutes into the meeting. The board voted to add $350,000 to the Fund Balance Retention on top of the $250,000 they previously voted to squirrel away. This is the harm that comes with running ridiculously high surpluses. It’s your money, but you can’t have it back. We need a rainy day fund…. that’s only prudent…even though we normally have a $2 million surplus. I called this fund a moral hazard and poor Messrs. Sapia and Bealo thought I was insulting the ethics of the towns’ selectmen!  A definition of “moral hazard,”  a term used in finance, is below for their benefit.

Now, the duplicity

At the beginning of the meeting Mr. Collins motioned that approval of the minutes should be moved to the end of our meetings. He argued that this is for consideration of presenters. I believe it is to keep the public from learning how controversial the minutes often are. Last night was a prime example.

The non-public minutes for Aug. 27 came up for approval.  Here is the summary of a 35 minute non-public session:

“A discussion ensued regarding the implied threat of legal action by an individual as it relates to a conflict of interest when retaining both Board of Selectman and Budget Committee positions.”

That is as false as a sidewalk Rolex in New York City .   Mr. Horns has not threatened to sue us or even implied that he would do so. We, on the other hand, have threatened to sue him, as evidenced in a letter the board subsequently sent to Mr. Horns.

I proposed this amendment to correct the historical record:

“A discussion ensued regarding the possibility of launching legal action against an individual as it relates to a conflict of interest when retaining both Board of Selectman and Budget Committee positions. Mrs. Green objected to the non-public as being inappropriate and illegal.”

The board voted against accepting my amendment by a vote of 1-7 (Mr. Blair abstained as he was not present during the non-public session.)

Why was it so important for your school board to hide the truth from you and history?  You will have to ask your own representatives, but here’s my guess: they had to hide the fact that they were not in compliance with the law…. but they overlooked one eency weensy provision for permitted non-public sessions:  the threat of legal action has to be in writing.

91-A:3, II    (e) Consideration or negotiation of pending claims or litigation which has been threatened in writing or filed against the public body or any subdivision thereof, or against any member thereof because of his or her membership in such public body, until the claim or litigation has been fully adjudicated or otherwise settled. Any application filed for tax abatement, pursuant to law, with any body or board shall not constitute a threatened or filed litigation against any public body for the purposes of this subparagraph.

As a point of information, this section of 91-A will be changing in January to permit non-public discussion of litigation contemplated by a public body, so you can decide how much the board should be beaten up about this violation. Lying about it in the minutes and not recording my objection to the entire proceeding is another matter altogether.

The moral** of the story:  Don’t trust what you read in TRSB minutes.

Moral Hazard:

  1. lack of incentive to guard against risk where one is protected from its consequences, e.g., by insurance.

Coming soon:  How the board spent $30,000 wastefully, and Superintendent “Goals.”

** “Moral” used in this sense means “a message.”


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Filed under Non-public session abuse, School Board Behavior, Taxes, Withdrawing from District

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