On Wednesday, July 29, 2015, the Manchester Board of School Committee’s Committee on Coordination and Administration went into non-public session to consider contracts for Superintendent Debra Livingston, Assistant Superintendent David Ryan and Business administrator Karen DeFrancis. After concluding the non-public session they took votes on all three contracts, amending them in various ways, before referring them to the Board of School Committee for final approval.
Noticing they were not made public, as such documents are required to be under the state’s Right to Know Law (RSA 91-A), Girard at Large requested copies of the contracts that had been acted on, in public, by the committee via an email to Livingston on July 31, 2015. On Sunday, August 2nd, Livingston replied to our inquiry saying “Hi, Rich, The contracts have yet to be approved by the board as a whole. That will be on August 10.”
Translated, that means “we’re not going to release the contracts until after the full board has voted on them.” In other words, they’re withholding the terms proposed for the district’s top administrators until after they’re approved by the board.
In reply to Livingston, Girard at Large sent another email reminding her that amendments to the contract were voted on by the committee in public session, making the contracts public. Again, we requested they be forwarded. We received no response to our request until after taking to the airwaves (hour 2b) to expose the district’s refusal to release the contracts and publicly call for administrators and school board members to release the documents. This time, in response, Livingston said “Hi Rich, I am working on your request. Deb” late Monday afternoon. She did not reply to follow up emails we sent on Tuesday, asking what exactly she meant by “working on it,” and on Wednesday asking for an update. Believing Livingston’s “response” would be seen on the agenda, we decided to wait for its release.
The agenda released Friday, had the following entries regarding the proposed contracts under item 15 on what’s called the “Consent Agenda:”
f) Approval of the contract for the business administrator as amended to include a two year contract with tax cap increases each year. (Note: Contract to be provided under confidential cover.) 43
g) Approval of the contract for the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction as amended to increase the educational allotment to $5,000 with an additional $2,500 match from the school district; and offer a two year contract. (Note: Contract to be provided under confidential cover.) 44
h) Approval of the contract for the superintendent as amended to include a two year contract with tax cap increases each year and the addition of 2 personal days. (Note: Contract to be provided under confidential cover.) 45
In providing this information separately to the board “under confidential cover,” the district is doubling down on the proposition that the public cannot see the contracts until such time as they’re adopted by the Board of School Committee. This is no different than when they tried to withhold the release of the tentative agreement with the Manchester Education Association until after a vote of the full board; something their lawyer told them they could not do after we insisted on its release.
So now, unless members of the Board of School Committee object to voting on “super secret contracts” for its top administrators at Monday night’s meeting, the public will not know the total terms of the contract proposals until and unless the contracts are approved by the Board of School Committee, despite the publicly taken votes on various items contained in those contracts taken at the July 29th meeting of the Coordination Committee.
For the record, those present and voting on those contracts in the committee meeting were Chair Sarah Ambrogi (D-Ward 1), Ted Rokas (D-Ward 5), Erika Connors (D-Ward 8) and Kathy Staub (D-at-Large). Mayor Ted Gatsas, who is a member of the committee, was not present.
Prior to writing this article, we did extensive page and key word searches on the school district’s Web site to see if we could find the current contracts governing Livingston’s, Ryan’s and DeFrancis’ employment in the hopes of having a better idea of what was about to be voted on. We could not. We question why, if all that’s being done is amending the current contracts, Livingston simply did not forward the current contracts, which are indisputably public records, so that the public could be better informed about what is being proposed.
Girard at Large has clashed frequently with both district administrators, school board members and the board itself over its frequent refusals to make information available to the public, which show host Rich Girard said “demonstrates a continued and troubling disregard for the public’s right to know on matters they have every right, both legally and ethically, to know about.”