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HARVARD — Harvard School Supt. Thomas Jefferson expressed sentiments of relief Wednesday despite the news that he’d been fined for breaching the state’s Conflict of Interest Laws following an Ethics Commission investigation.

Jefferson said he felt vindicated that the Commission’s announcement omitted distinct reference to Jefferson having personally financially benefited by his approval of $30,000 worth of out-of-district tuition reimbursements for the daughter of former School Committee Chairman Paul Wormser to attend Cushing Academy in Ashburnham.

Complainants were relieved, too. But, on the eve of next Tuesday’s School Committee election, they stressed linkage to incumbent Stu Sklar, a staunch Jefferson supporter seeking re-election to a second term.

JEFFERSON FEELS VINDICATED

“First of all, I’m glad to have the ruling in,” said Jefferson. “It’s been three and a half years since the initial complaint. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

“This confirms there was no quid pro quo involved,” Jefferson said. “There’s no dollars that Tom Jefferson received, so in that sense, there was no undue benefit.”

“My actions were done in the financial interest of the district and the best educational interest for the child in a complex case that I inherited,” said Jefferson.

“The issue of disclosure remains a complex one. I’m still not sure how disclosure could have been filed without disclosing the identify and the nature of the child involved,” Jefferson said. “I’m surprised that in all this time the Commission hasn’t issued any advisory to all school districts. Perhaps they were waiting for this case to settle in order to do that.” Jefferson’s attorney, Michael Long, doubles as legal counsel to the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents (MASS) though he was privately retained by Jefferson in this case.

“Because Paul was a School Committee member, it was deemed ‘different’ than if he wasn’t a School Committee member. In fact, I don’t think Paul got anything different than anyone who wasn’t a member,” said Jefferson. “It was not any greater in scope than if he were ‘Paul Wormser, Parent’ versus “Paul Wormser, School Committee Member.”

He said he may appeal to Superior Court and has 30 days to do so. “I do have some disagreement with some of the evidence submitted.”

Jefferson balked at settlement deals, “if I would sign an agreement …I’d pay ‘x’ amount of fine. But why would I sign an agreement that I violated (the law)? It would have been a simpler process for me, but I felt the correct position was to stand through it.”

Where does he stand with the school committee? “You’ll have to have other people answer that question,” said Jefferson. “I wake up every morning and give 100 percent to the Harvard schools. It’s what I’ve done since the beginning despite what has been said or rumored.”

SCHOOL COMMITTEE REACTION

School Committee Chairman Keith Cheveralls commented, “The School Committee has the utmost respect for the work of the State Ethics Commission and clearly take these findings very seriously. They represent more than three years of research, investigative work and legal process by State Ethics. We have always respected that process.”

“In view of today’s press release from the Commissioners, the School Committee will be seeking all appropriate legal counsel in order to review these findings in detail and at our earliest opportunity,” Cheveralls wrote, “Please note that with town elections set for May 4th, School Committee is currently scheduled to meet on May 10th.”

ELECTION TIMING, LINKAGE

Incumbent School Committee member Stu Sklar did not respond to a follow-up request for comment Wednesday afternoon. He was unaware of the Ethics Commission’s ruling, which was subsequently forwarded to him via e-mail for review.

Sklar confirmed for the Harvard Hillside on Nov. 23, 2009 that he authored comments posted on the Harvard Press Web site in a public blog where he identified himself by name. Exerpts include:

* November 17 – “This case from the beginning was a witch hunt. The ethics commission TRAMPLED the rights of this student. Maybe your son or daughter will be the next to have their private records debated in public,” and

* On November 18 – “The district attorney dropped the investigation because NO crime was committed. The DA’s office didn’t even bother to bring charges, showing there was nothing there but baseless charges from people on a witch hunt.”

Original Ethics Commission complainants contacted Wednesday stressed linkage to Sklar for extending Jefferson’s employment contract in 2009 through 2012 while the Ethics matters were still pending.

One contacted wished to remain anonymous. “I am glad it is resolved no matter which way it went. I really was more concerned that it be properly investigated and then if it wasn’t a problem it would come from an independent party. For me the best thing for the town is that it’s resolved and to move on.”

The source stated they co-complained to the Commission because, “we don’t have the expertise to investigate it nor should we due to confidentiality to SPED. It needed to be investigated and it wasn’t being done.”

The source was curious to hear what Sklar had to say now. “Stu extended Jefferson’s contract with this thing hanging over his head.” Sklar and the then-sitting Committee voted in 2009 to extend Jefferson’s contract through 2012 while the ethical cloud remained.

Complainant Deborah Skauen-Hinchliffe of Still River said, “(Sklar) has been one of the people who has consistently promoted extensions of Jefferson’s contract. He has given him glowing performance evaluations.”

Asked if she believes Jefferson personally benefited by accommodating Wormser’s request, “Of course he did. He’s got contract extensions and he’s got raises. Frankly, I’d like my $30,000 back. Who’s going to repay the $30,000?”

Margo Holtzman also filed an Ethics complainant in the affair. Her husband, Wade Holtzman, said, “I’m just flabbergasted. I just assumed that this was going to go away — that’s usually the way these things happen. I’d have expected one count or something or a slap on the wrist and no big deal.”

“Now I don’t think the school committee and the town has any other option but to revisit this,” Holtzman said. “The previous committee had been poo-pooing this and pushed it under the rug and now it’s out there.”

“I want the whole town to listen to this. It isn’t just us complaining about something. It’s something that every resident and taxpayer in town should look at,” he said.

“You should rethink re-electing people like this,” Holtzman said of Sklar. “He’s the one that last year extended (Jefferson’s) contract, much to the chagrin to the other members of the school committee. I thought it was very odd for him to do that in light of other things percolating in the background. He continuously obfuscated and denied.”

Prior School Committee Chairman Willie Wickman was not aware of the ruling’s release but was then forwarded a copy. A stalwart Jefferson supporter, Wickman was at the center of an unusual Town Meeting censure vote, publicly admonishing the then school committee on its handling of the affair once it came to light in 2006.