Time to move on in Superintendent search

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It has been a tumultuous ten days since the abrupt announcement of Superintendent Dr. Glenn Brand's resignation from the AB Regional School District, and the ensuing chaos and confusion and angst and anger that has been felt by the Acton-Boxborough community has been painful.

After careful thought and consideration, looking at the released documents, knowing a bit about how the School Committee operates and the Open Meeting Law rules, and talking to a bunch of people, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that as a community, we need to let this issue go, for now, and move on to the Superintendent search. And our goal, one which we should all be able to agree on, is we want to find the best person to take over as Superintendent that we can.

If I could just wave a magic wand, I would turn back the clock and have the School Committee handle this much more professionally and strategically. You can't put the genie back in the bottle, unfortunately. It seemed obvious that they were handling the situation wrong, but I now am convinced that they were trying to do it for the right reasons. So, in short, I think we need to follow their advice, accept that the parting was amicable and mutual, that the salary guarantee was fair, and as a community, come back together as we move forward.

I will give my specific reasons and analysis below for those who are interested, but my advice is to focus on the next steps, which begin with the School Committee meeting of Tuesday, May 30 in which they will be discussing and voting on the parameters for a new search. We need a fair process that makes it most likely to achieve our goal, stated above, to find the best new Superintendent.

The "facebook" leaders will be having a meeting today, Monday afternoon, to discuss steps and strategies for Tuesday's School Committee meeting. I'm not sure if it makes sense to have 500 people show up on Tuesday again, but I'm sure whatever consensus is reached on Monday will be publicized and we will certainly have a good crowd to witness what goes on on Tuesday. If someone is interested in coming to today’s meeting, send Susri an email and she will send you the details, or email me at Allen@TheHomesteader.com.

FORENSIC ANALYSIS

I'm not a CSI fan, but one thing I realized during this whole debacle is that the public's ability to influence and comment "real time" on an issue such as this is very limited. We don't know what we don't know. If the School Committee isn't speaking, or feels they can't speak, then that is quite frustrating and it leads to a lot of conjecture and wild theories.

Compare this to the Liza Huber situation, where everything was settled and done, and then we requested documents. We had the same stonewalling, but the underlying situation is obviously much different.

When we request meeting minutes to try to find possible violations of the Open Meeting Law, we are demanding good government and accountability. Those motivations are fine and within the public's rights and responsibilities. Our elected officials need to know that people care and are watching and that the rules need to be followed.

But trying to “co-manage” an ongoing situation with 1,000 Facebook friends looking over the SC’s shoulder really can't and won't work. We have 11 people we have elected to represent us. They are given that inside, confidential information. They need to do their jobs, ethically, competently, and we need to trust them. After the fact, we will be checking and they know that. If that helps them make the right decisions, great.

Just to make my point here clear, the public's role is to forensically analyze what happened and not to try to insert itself into the process while it is ongoing. That is the reason we need to move on right now and stop trying to go backwards. Our system isn't set up to work any other way.

WHAT HAPPENED

So I am going to try to conjecture what happened. Let me say up front that this is just my opinion and is based on very few facts, just logic and inference.

It is very unusual (and upsetting) to have Dr. Brand leave under these circumstances. It just doesn't happen unless there is a triggering event. We know there was a triggering event because nobody had a clue this was coming.

In the two Executive Session meetings, Dr. Brand and the School Committee were represented by legal counsel. So this was a serious matter immediately and the separation agreement must have been drafted quickly. Again, this points to some type of sudden event.

The reason advanced by the School Committee ("operational and philosophical differences" or something like that) is obviously made up. But it was a joint statement, agreed to by both parties. Therefore, both sides benefitted from this purposeful obfuscation. That is an important clue.

Dr. Brand is staying until the end of the school year, and he is being paid for an additional year unless he finds other educational-related employment. These are both clues. Whatever happened couldn't have been "that bad" but they also required some type of compensation to Brand, so it is likely the School (or the community) has something to lose too. Again, to some degree, it must have been mutual.

This doesn’t mean that the AB School Committee committed any wrongdoing, just that the AB school system faced possible liability. Guess who pays? That’s right, the taxpayers. Therefore, if the settlement reduces our future liability, it could be a good deal for us.

If there is a scale from 1 to 100, with 1 being very bad for one side and 100 very bad for the other, whatever happened had to be in the middle. Maybe between 40 and 60. If much further to one or the other side, the settlement probably wouldn't be amicable and the terms probably wouldn't be so agreeable.

What specifically happened? I have no idea. But if I am right in this hypothesis, I don't need to know the specifics. I'm not on the SC and personnel matters are of no concern to me. And if the details ever do become public, individuals might be negatively affected and that might not be fair. Protecting these reputations might have been (and probably were) integral to reaching a settlement. This could be a very good reason to move on and not keep digging right now.

If the parting was mutual, and the fault was around 50-50, then it serves no purpose to make it public at the present time. The AB school system may have trouble attracting good candidates (for Superintendent, or even for teachers) if whatever it is becomes well known. There could be good reasons to keep the specifics private that benefit both sides, and the benefit to "Acton" could be far greater and well worth $200k in payments if you look at the big picture. So for now, unless there were willful violations of the Open Meeting Law, which we won’t know about until months (or years) later, we have to let the details remain private.

This explanation fits all the facts as I know them, as opposed to the pretext given by the SC for what happened. Everyone (the audience and the SC) knew the SC’s story at the May 24th meeting made no sense, but the SC could not admit the obvious, because to do so might be considered a violation of the separation agreement's non-disparagement clause. But remember, the clause benefits both parties and maybe having the story public hurts "Acton" more than Brand. We don't know and can't assume either way.

So that's the big picture. I have thought of maybe 10 or 20 "little clues" that all line up with this analysis which I won't go into here. I don't think we need to analyze this to the "nth" degree because it isn't going to change the bottom line: this is a done deal, it was mutual, and it is now time to move on.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

I like a good conspiracy theory as much as the next Oliver Stone, but all the evidence points to a mismanagement of a tricky situation and not some type of Machiavellian plot hatched by persons in power unknown. It is human nature to believe that when a group of people lies to your face, they must be doing wrong and then to assume the worst. That was certainly my working theory up until about 11 pm last Thursday night. As I corresponded with people and then went to bed, I realized that an alternate explanation made much more sense and actually fit all the facts as I knew them. And now that I’ve had a chance to really think about this for the past few days, I am about 99% sure that what happened is along the lines of what I wrote above, and not a plot by the nefarious to take over the school system. If you then assume the best of intentions, all the facts can be fit into that theory, including the withdrawal of one of our top administrators from the Groton-Dunstable Superintendent search. That could have been an act of bravery and self-sacrifice for the benefit of the Acton-Boxborough school system and both our communities.

SILVER LININGS

There are actually a few silver linings in all of this. The AB Community can be quite proud of how passionate its residents are for the school system. If that seems unclear by the few candidates running for office and the poor turnout at the polls, we know have convincing evidence it is true.

Second, the SC knows that people care and that they will jump in and get involved if something isn't right.

Third, maybe they have learned some lessons on how to handle the media, public statements, etc. I certainly hope so!

Losing Dr. Brand is a blow to the community, but we do have some good people in our school administration, we have a great staff, we have lots of people trying to do the right thing, and I believe we have a School Committee which is not "evil and should be replaced," but which needs to consider how best to handle these types of crises in the future...because we will probably have more.

Let me thank the School Committee for agreeing to hold that May 24th meeting in the auditorium and for taking the threat of a quick vote to "move on" off the table. (This is one of those little clues I alluded to above.) Being willing to sit in front of a room of angry and upset people and take a verbal pounding for several hours must have been tough. Thank you for your service to the people of Acton and Boxborough.

Happy Memorial Day everyone!

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