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School Committee Postpones Vote on Superintendent's Contract

Citing a desire to give the public time to comment, the School Committee delays its vote to approve a superintendent employment contract.

The School Committee has removed a controversial and late addition to the agenda for its meeting tonight, citing a desire to give the public time to comment on the superintendent’s contract before voting to extend the contract.

In an email sent out at 1:16 p.m. today, Miriam Sousa, administrative assistant to Superintendent Paul Ash, released an updated agenda for the School Committee’s meeting at 7:30 p.m. tonight, June 7, at the .

”In order to provide the public time to comment on the superintendent’s employment contract, some items included on the previous version of the June 7 agenda will be postponed until next week,” the email said.

The agenda item “Vote to Approve Superintendent’s Employment Contract” did not appear on the original agenda Sousa sent out in her June 3 email. However, it appeared on agendas posted at the Town Office Building late Friday afternoon, according to parents, and on a revised agenda posted to the town website Monday morning.

At 4:53 p.m. yesterday, an email from Sousa indicated the superintendent’s contract had been moved up the agenda to the spot of the first “Action Item,” with an estimated time of 10:05 p.m.

On Monday, several parents took to Yahoo’s “Lexington List” to express frustration and even outrage at what they perceived to be hasty action on the School Committee’s part to approve a contract extension when there has been no response to public questions about teacher morale.

“The way they appeared to sneak it on when they’ve been putting off the issue of teacher morale, I think people had a problem with it,” said Susan Kenyon, who wrote an email that went viral on Monday.  “I think people want the transparency about what the renewals are and what the terms are, and they want their opinions heard.”

Kenyon seemed to resonate with many parents and other community members and, by the end of the day, she had received dozens of emails residents intended to send to the School Committee, urging them to delay their vote.

Many emails took exception with the process through which the School Committee planned to approve a contract, but the bulk included concerns about alleged administrative issues, according to Kenyon, who summarized the emails she received.

“I have been amazed by the range of people who have sent emails to the School Committee, people from all sides of the political spectrum,” said Kenyon.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Lori Anderson, a parent of three, said she wanted the contract renewal to be an open and transparent process, with a thorough evaluation.

“This is a controversial issue and it needs to be an open process, and we have to air our concerns,” said Anderson. “You can’t back-door this; it’s got to be thorough. For an issue this important, it should be a separate meeting.”

Now, it appears Anderson may get her wish, although it’s unclear whether emails from parents influenced the decision to delay the vote.

Tonight’s meeting was to be the School Committee’s final meeting of the school year, a fact Chairwoman Maryann Stewart has cited as one reason the issue of teacher morale has not made it on an agenda this spring.

Now, the School Committee plans to meet again next week, to make a decision on the contract of Dr. Ash, who’s current contract does not expire until July 1, 2012 and would pay him more than $220,000 for the period commencing July 1 of this year.

In an email to Patch, Kenyon said she was “delighted” the School Committee has appeared to respond to the citizens, and hopes the committee takes seriously expressed concerns about Ash and considers a task force to examine teacher morale.

Kenyon also brought up the idea of a task force in an interview Monday, when she said her goal was to get the vote delayed until the issue of teacher morale was addressed.

“I don’t think in good conscience you can vote on a contract if you admittedly do not know if there is a problem with low teacher morale,” Kenyon said yesterday. “The goal is to delay the vote on the contract and to schedule a meeting for later in the summer to hear a report from a group of parents and teachers who are tasked with the job of gathering information about whether there is low teacher morale due to Dr. Ash’s position or actions as superintendent.”

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