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GROTON — After a number of high-profile resignations, members of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee managed to turn back an attempt to bring more transparency into their relationship with the district’s administrative council.

With members that include all of the district’s principals, Director of Curriculum Susan Rubel, Director of Pupil Services Joan Endicott, Director of Business Management Timothy Sheehan, Director of the Peter Twomey Youth Center Karen Twomey, Director of the Early Childhood Center Russ Hoyt, and Jeanne Mitchell of human resources, the administrative council is supposed to work closely with the school superintendent on a whole range of internal issues, among them employee relations.

Concerned that the School Committee was not familiar enough with the internal operations of the council, School Committee member Paul Funch brought the matter forward at a meeting held June 20.

“I wanted the School Committee be able to get more information about how the administrative council works,” said Funch. “I wanted the committee to better understand how the superintendent is interacting with the council, because right now all we get is contradictory information from the exit interview process. Since one of the superintendent’s goals for last year was to see how effective he worked with the administrative council as a team, I thought that the committee should know as much as possible about how the council itself worked. After all, the first line in the superintendent’s evaluation that we came up with this year says that the School Committee doesn’t have that much information on what happens in the administrative council. My motion was a way to get that information in order to help us better understand that interaction.”

Funch said that as things currently stand, the committee heard all kinds of things about the administrative council, both good and bad, but that all of it was “second hand.”

Concerns about how decisions are being made in the district have prompted many, including students, faculty and citizens, to wonder what exactly is going on in the district behind the scenes.

It all began last November when long-time GDR High School Principal Joseph Dillon announced that he would be leaving his position when his contract ended at the end of the school year. Then in February, Florence Roche Elementary School Principal Launa Zimmaro submitted notice that she too would be leaving at the same time. Still later, Middle School Principal Beth Raucci submitted her resignation.

News of the resignations coming so close together stunned students and district staff alike and gave rise to rumors that both Dillon and Zimmaro decided to leave their positions due to conflicts in “leadership style” with Superintendent Alan Genovese.

In fact, Zimmaro later accused Genovese of attempting to keep her quiet by seeking to suppress her freedom of speech.

“Some people have said that the principals were ready to go anyway but all that has been hearsay,” said Funch of the resignations. “There were no facts, just people making up their interpretations of events. And what if another employee leaves, then what? Do we just accept the same excuse for why the others left? You can get more accurate information in an exit interview and it’s common practice in industry anyway. But some people have axes to grind and you have to take what they say with a grain of salt. At least by conducting exit interviews with employees, we’ll have some information on what is going on.”

But most of Funch’s fellow committee members did not see things that way.

“Currently, the practice is that any employee who is leaving the district can request an exit interview with the director of human resources,” explained Barrett. “But Paul Funch made a motion to change that. He wanted the School Committee to be able to conduct exit interviews with departing members of the district’s administrative council going back to July 2005.”

“It just seems as if we’re never clear about what happened and I just thought that we should try to get more information before they go off to their new jobs,” said Funch of his motion. “Also, it’s a matter of respect to ask them if what they saw was good or bad or whatever about the district. It’s really nothing more than trying to get whatever information from people in the district on how the administrative council works and how the superintendent works with it. I was kind of surprised that there was no willingness to do that among my fellow School Committee members. Why can’t we just ask the employees about their reasons for leaving directly?”

That question seemed answered by the district’s legal counsel, who warned the committee that should it approve the motion, the interviews would come under the state’s open meeting law requiring and must be conducted in full view of the public.

“It’s very important to make the distinction that all employees can have an exit interview with the administrative council,” said Barrett. “Mr. Funch’s motion was to have the School Committee conduct the exit interviews, which is a very different thing. If the School Committee did them, they would have to be done in an open meeting which is a very different scenario (than in private with the administrative council).”

Although the School Committee voted 5-2 against adopting the measure, they left a crack open allowing for continued consideration of the motion through an established review process.

“The suggestion is really something that needed to go through the policy review process as opposed to a very quick discussion and vote,” said Barrett of the motion. “Such a significant change is something that should go through the policy process.

“Our efforts would be better directed at creating a superintendent evaluation process that would have members of the administrative council participating and that would allow them to provide constructive input instead of running the exit interviews and getting information after the fact.”

Although Funch would not rule out seeking change through the policy review process, it was clear that he did not intend to leave the issue alone.

“I don’t think conducting the exit interviews in public necessarily presents a problem,” said Funch in respect to the requirements of the state’s open meeting law. “I think our employees are professionals and would not use the opportunity to spread rumors or slander the superintendent. They’re going to say factually what the case was and I think they would be very professional about what they say.”

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