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Groton school board session behind closed doors criticized

By Greg Smith

Publication: The Day

Published March 19. 2013 4:00AM

Groton - If the school board plans to discuss the search for a new superintendent, former board member Natalie Burfoot Billing says a little more transparency would be appreciated.

In the wake of the firing of former Superintendent Paul Kadri because of allegations of misconduct with school employees, Billing has questioned the school board's use of executive session at a March 11 meeting. The board was expected to discuss the steps to hire a new superintendent and formation of a search committee but instead met behind closed doors for "discussion of a personnel matter."

"It just seems to me especially given the situation, what we've just been through, that hiring the next superintendent is the most important thing this board of education is going to do," Billing said.

"I think it's critically important that they do that process well ... following a process that rebuilds trust with a community that I think has lost some trust," she said.

She believes it was the flurry of emails she sent to board members and interim Superintendent John Ramos that led to cancellation of Monday's school board meeting - another planned executive session. She said she is composing a Freedom of Information complaint against the board.

"I think it made them take a step back and rethink this," she said.

The Day filed a Freedom of Information complaint on Monday, challenging the school board's vague wording on the March 11 agenda and asking for a ruling by the FOI Commission. The commission has ruled in past cases that boards are required to provide a specific topic to be addressed in the executive session.

School board members Rita Volkmann and Elizabeth Gianacoplos both agreed Monday that discussion of the search process should be as open as possible.

Volkmann said she was unaware of the topic of the March 11 executive session until the board convened behind closed doors.

"It has to be done in public," Volkmann agreed. "There's no reason to talk about a search committee in executive session. I think we need an effort to gain public trust."

Gianacoplos said she expects more open discussion at future board meetings and said that perhaps there is a learning curve for board members when it comes to Freedom of Information law.

Even if state law allowed some closed-door discussions regarding the superintendent's search, Billing said she thinks it's a bad idea.

Interim Superintendent John Ramos and School Board Chairwoman Kirsten Hoyt could not be reached for comment.

g.smith@theday.com

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