Dear Mr. McQuillan:

I have received your letter of July 19, 2010, and am concerned about the number of questions which remain unanswered while apparently leading to your dismissal of my complaint. I have a number of questions for which a response would help me better understand your specific concerns or lack of jurisdiction.

It is also my belief that after addressing the following specific issues, you will reconsider my request for an investigation. The following numbered items summarize the background of each point and conclude with the questions in bold type.

1.    In your initial response, your letter stated:

you must show when the Oxford Board was presented with this petition, not when it was filed with the Town Clerk,

I’m confused by this comment because my complaint did not mention the Town Clerk. The paragraph in my initial letter stated:

On June 17, a petition was presented to the Oxford, CT, Board of Education requesting a hearing on issues related to the employment of the Superintendent of Schools. According to Chapter 170, Section 10-238, “Such hearing shall be held at a time and place to be designated by such board, not later than three weeks after receipt by the board of such petition.” Three weeks from June 17, 2010 is July 8, 2010. It is now July 12, 2010 and no hearing, which must be posted 5 days in advance, has yet been scheduled.

I included nothing about steps prior to that presentation because I did not think it was required. To be specific, June 17 was, in fact, the day that the petition, already approved by the Town Clerk, was presented by hand at the offices of the Oxford Board of Education at 1 Great Hill Road, Oxford, CT.

Please explain what specific documentation or explanation I need to make as your statement appears to address filing issues which I did not raise.

2.    The same paragraph continued:

Moreover, it is my understanding that the Oxford Board of Education has since scheduled and held a public hearing on July 14, 2010.’ Therefore, even if the Oxford Board was late in scheduling the hearing, it has rectified the matter by scheduling the hearing.

In making this statement, your office appears to be implicitly condoning the action. Specifically, the requirement to hold the public hearing within the reasonable time-frame of 3 weeks can be knowingly ignored as long as the hearing is held before a complaint can be acted upon within the time it takes for a letter to be received by your office.

Please confirm that the State Board of Education condones the willful disregard of this statute and explain where the statute allows the exception.

3.    By including a section of my complaint to the Freedom of Information Commission, I was openly acknowledging the filing, and did not intend to state that I believe all of the quoted material was covered only by Freedom of Information requirements.

The Officers of the Oxford Board of Education clearly operated independently in conducting an interview process designed to select a new attorney without receiving authorization or approval of the Oxford Board of Education. The subject was never discussed in a public meeting and has not been the subject of an Executive Session. They give appearance of forming a sub-committee. That sub-committee included no minority representation. Therefore, they appear to have formed themselves, or been formed by the Chair, without authorization by the Board of Education as a whole. This sub-committee did not contain minority representation, in violation of Section 9-167a of the General Statutes, requiring minority representation. Recognizing that the State Board does not get involve in local charter issues, you should also know for background purposes that the Oxford Town Charter clearly requires a bidding process that includes three written bids for all expenditures over $5,000, yet this process included none.

Please confirm that the State Board of Education approves of members of local Boards forming subcommittees without authorization of the full Board or may act in concert representing the Board without authorization by the Board.

4.    With regard to the same situation covered in point 3, please comment on the composition of this group which does not include minority representation.

5.    Further, the Board Chair requested written legal opinions on the existing contracts with the Superintendent and the Business Manager. My prior letter stated the following:

In a meeting on May 19, 2010, there was a

Motion made by Mike Macchio and seconded by John Lavin to enter into Executive Session at 8:40 PM for the purpose of discussing written legal opinions from the Board’s counsel regarding the Superintendents and Business Managers contracts. The Board may take action in the form of motions upon returning to open session.

There appears to be no record of any request for the “written legal opinions” referred to in the motion, nor any prior reference to a discussion of those contracts, either in or out of Executive Session, nor any authorization by the Board to spend funds on those “written legal opinions”. Yet, Mr. Macchio is making a motion to enter Executive Session to discuss an issue that does not appear to have been raised by the Board regarding a legal opinion the Board has never publicly requested and for which it has not publicly voted to expend funds.

Insofar as your letter makes no specific comment on this action, I think it is important that some clarification be made.

Recognizing that the State Board does not interfere in the Bylaws or Policies of a local  board, please confirm that the State Board of Education either approves of a Board Member making a unilateral expenditure of funds in this manner without prior discussion by or approval of the Board in question absent any delegation of this authority in the local Bylaws over which you have no authority.

6.    Your comment that the State, “does not prohibit a short-term durational contract with a Superintendent,” ignores the situation in which the Oxford Board of Education has placed itself. The Oxford Board unilaterally voided the contract with the Superintendents, not otherwise expiring until 2012, at a meeting on May 19, 2010, in Executive Session in which they discussed the written legal opinions referred to above. The Superintendent was not present and was not aware that the subject was to be discussed. The reasons for voiding the contract were not given, and the Chair of the Board has stated that those reasons are covered by attorney/client privilege. There are no known egregious actions which would have justified termination of the contract. As of today, no explanation has been given. In the same motion, the Oxford voted to, “continue the Superintendents employment through June 30, 2010, unless the Board extends her employment beyond June 30, 2010.” At a separate meeting held on June 30, 2010 (the minutes of which are not yet posted online in a separate FOI violation), they again extended the employment until July 31. The Business Manager stated this as a consideration for his own resignation as did the Assistant to the Superintendent.

Please explain why the State Board of Education does not consider the instability, brought about by the Oxford Board of Education itself, to not be detrimental to the children in that we are now half-way through the summer break and the Superintendent does not know what her status will be when school starts in five weeks?

7.    In your letter, you stated that, “The fact that the Oxford Board extended the contract requirements,” ignores the fact, stated in my original letter, that the not-yet-voided contract required this review to be completed in April.

Please comment on the Oxford Boards failure to meet its obligations to conduct the performance review within a time period included in the contract which they had not yet voided.

Since the date of my original filing, several additional facts can be added to the list of violations.

8.    It appears that the Chair has assumed executive level authority which has not been discussed or authorized by any meeting of the Oxford Board of Education, nor granted under any state statute of which I am aware. An example is seen in the following email from the Chair (Mrs. McKinnon) to another elected member who copied the (new) Board Attorney on an email.

Date: Sun, 18 Jul 2010 21:56:05 -0700
From: rose_mckinnon@yahoo.com
Subject: Re: Dr. Palmer’s completed evaluation
To: paulaguillet@msn.com
CC: wjn@nearylawoffices.com; johnlavin@beaconphysicians.com

Paula,

The modem has been replaced and I now have intranet access.  I have many emails to respond to given the fact that I was without intranet for the past few days. I realized that you copied the Board Attorney in your email and find this to be inappropriate. As it has been stated, at previous Board meetings that all communications to Board Attorney must go through the Chair.  I expect you to follow this protocol.

To confirm again, I received your individual performance evaluation.

Thank you,
Rose

Recognizing that the State can only interpret laws at the state level, please confirm that the State Board is not concerned that the Chair of the Oxford Board of Education is attempting to block access of an elected member of the Oxford Board of Education, who has concerns about the legality of the Chairs decisions, to the Boards attorney.

9.    The Board Chair, on July 11, instructed the Board members to ignore the goals that were unanimously approved at a meeting on October 20, 2009 (before she became chair and at a meeting she did not attend). The relevant section of those minutes state:

Mr. Schwab made a motion to accept the policies that were presented at the
September 22, 2009 Board of education meeting. Mrs. Sherman seconded. Motion
passed 6-0-0
Members were given copies of the “Draft Mission Statement and Draft
Organizational Goals 2008-09″. These were approved in the springtime. Members
were reminded that Dr. Palmer’s evaluation is based upon this and the direction of the
school board is also based on this as well. Mr. Schwab made a motion to continue to
adopt goals and move forward with these in place. Mrs. Sherman seconded. Motion
passed 6-0-0.

This decision to ignore those goals, approved unanimously at the prior meeting, has not been discussed or approved at any full Oxford Board of Education meeting and is apparently being unilaterally made by the Chair. A copy of the cover memo is attached.

Please explain how the State Board of Education feels about ignoring goals that were previously approved and attempting to establish unapproved goals covering a year that has already been completed.

10.    The Chair has now collected these evaluations, primarily through email, and forwarded them to the new attorney to compile into a single evaluation rather than compiling them in an Executive Session. This appears to have been done without the prior approval of the board. There are no motions recorded delegating this authority of the board to a third party or authorizing the expenditure of funds to perform an activity that has always been done by the Board. Note that this is also the same attorney responsible for writing the legal opinions, still held as privileged communication that was used to void the Superintendents contract.

Please comment on this non-discussed, non-motioned, non-voted, and therefore unauthorized delegation of the review process to a third party and also on the apparent conflict of interest of having the attorney who recommended voiding the contract compiling performance reviews for the person governed by that contract.

11.    On June 29, the IT Manager learned that his own contract would be reviewed in Executive Session during the June 30 meeting. He was not told what triggered the review, learned of it when reading a reference to it after being asked to post the agenda (because the Assistant to the Superintendent described above would normally do it but had already resigned), attended the meeting but was not invited into the Executive Session. He was not told anything more when the Executive Session ended and left the meeting knowing only that his contract was under review, but not why, by a board that had already voided the Superintendents contract causing the resignations of two of his peers (the Business Manager and the Assistant to the Superintendent) and which preceded the unexpected retirement of the principal of the school in which he worked. This extends the sense of instability in the district deeper into the ranks of the employees, and that IS detrimental to the students.

Please comment on where the State Board of Education stands relative to the feeling of intimidation that this type of activity engenders or why the State Board of Education does not see this as detrimental to our children.

The Oxford Board of Education has created a sense of division in our community, has been acting without providing answers to the concerns of a large part of that community, has been with disregard to State Laws and their own policies and bylaws. Your answers to these 11 questions will help us understand where and how our system can be fixed and, hopefully provide assistance in that fixing before substantial damage is done.

Sincerely,

William F. Schmitt

cc.    Richard Blumenthal,     Attorney General, State of Connecticut

Attorney Daniel P. Murphy, Director, Division of Legal and Government Affairs, ConnecticutBoard of Education

Rose McKinnon, Chairperson, Oxford Board of Education

Dr. Judith A. Palmer, Superintendent, Oxford Public Schools

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