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PR Consultant Resigns, but Debate Still Ensues

The resignation did not stop a long discussion expressing concerns with information around public relations consultant Ann Baldwin’s contract

There was no need for the Board of Education to discuss whether they should continue to retain Ann Baldwin as a communications consultant because that decision had been made for the district.

“I received a communication from Ann Baldwin last night and she has resigned from working with the Newtown public schools,” Debbie Leidlein, BOE chairman said.

Instead, a nearly hour-long conversation during Tuesday night's meeting at the revolved around the following points:

  • The inability for the BOE to get the detail around charges already incurred from Baldwin
  • What some BOE members said they perceived to be a conscious attempt to keep the relationship with Ann Baldwin under the radar screen.

The late hour did not stop Leidlein, a newly elected BOE chairman, and some of the new BOE members in expressing their frustration with events related to the use of Baldwin as a communications consultant for the district.

New member Laura Roche quickly jumped in and asked why the questions that would have been asked of Ann Baldwin could not be answered by the people in the room. Specifically, Roche asked “What was the $3,800 invoice for? Who was part of the June meeting? Who was the original person who contacted Ann?”

Bill Hart, the former BOE chairman, said he and Andy Buzzi, a former board member, encouraged Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson to seek help with improving communication.

“Andy and I both encouraged Janet to find some way to help us find a better way to communicate," Hart said. "We had a meeting, Ann, Janet,  and myself. I guess Andy called in, and we asked her what we could do, what were her suggestions.” 

Hart was referring to a June meeting, adding that there were other recommendations made to Superintendent Robinson such as retaining some legal expertise, which also was done. 

John Vouros, another newly elected BOE member, talked about how upsetting the incident was to everyone, particularly the decision to hire a consultant when so many people in the district who were good communicators.

“I can find a lot of ways to spend that money," he said. "Just ask me.”

Vouros also cautioned Robinson about making communications a priority.

“People will say she is making $170,000 a year and she needs to find time to communicate with us,” he said, adding that he believed everyone on the board needed to be very open with the public as well as focus on what their mission was. “This was about the children, yet the children haven’t even been talked about yet,”

Hart, meanwhile, said he supported having a communications consultant because he believed that good communication was very difficult, and it took a lot more skills than what he had, and probably more than what most educators had. 

New member Cody McCubbin expressed concern at taxpayer money being used to educated some BOE members to the exclusion of others.

“Why didn’t someone standup and say this is not the right way to do it?” he asked.

Keith Alexander expressed disappointment he did not know about Baldwin until he read it in newspaper but he made it clear he did feel there was any conscious attempt to keep the news a secret. 

Roche said the incident was not a good sign to the public.

“We are going into budget season," she said. "We want the trust of the taxpayers but we can’t even get the simple facts of what happened. It is frustrating...The taxpayers want to know where the money is going and if we don’t even know where the money is going, how are we going to get their faith?"

Hart and Robinson said at multiple times during the conversation that there was no deliberate attempt to hide Baldwin, with Hart saying she had been introduced around the office after a meeting he attended and Robinson emphatically saying there was no attempt to deceive anyone.  

Linda Gejda, assistant superintendent of schools, also participated in the discussion, lending her support to Robinson.

“I am running as fast as I can to keep up with my superintendent," Gejda said. "The charge is always forward and she has a vision for this district. She believes in continuous improvement and she demands it. The standards are very high in this district and I am proud to be a member of it.” 

Leidlein brought the discussion to a close by saying she believed the BOE's communications committee that was being formed would help the district. 

Richard Gaines was the only BOE member to not attend the meeting. 

Tom Bittman December 23, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Clarke Bar, what apartment are you talking about? There are enough facts to deal with without the need for made up stuff.
skinnygirl December 23, 2011 at 03:36 PM
Tom, Wasn't your wife chair of the communication committee?
patchfollower December 23, 2011 at 03:54 PM
@ Tom - I must respond to this. 1) Lillian Bittman was on the Strategic Plan committee for communications. She was the BOE's representative and no work was done on this committee last year. 2) Your child was one of the students working with Ann Baldwin filming the O/O's back in August. Your child is also one of the students working with Ann Baldwin on the channel 17 TV segment as well. To say your family did not know about Ann Baldwin's existence is false and misleading. 3) Unrelated item…your child also was allowed to use an ipad in class, while it is against school policy. This may have been for a pilot program? I am not sure. What I find interesting, is how many special privileges did the Bittman children receive? How was the selection process performed for the students to be part of the Baldwin film crew or part of the ipad program? Were all students offered these choices, or just the ones with a parent sitting on the BOE? I think we all need to stop with the excuses and concentrate on the facts. Sadly we can’t even get them from Janet or Bill. If you listen to what was said in the meeting, Janet and Bill contradict themselves several times. It is embarrassing and the lies need to stop. I am thankful the current BOE will not allow this behavior and have the strength to call people out on the lies publically. Maybe we can rebuild the public trust by doing so.
Lk December 23, 2011 at 04:12 PM
Why can't we get some good, decent, honest people in this town that will actually put the children first? BOE and Newtown schools have gotten so out of touch and convoluded and as a result politics come before the kids. Let's simplify the educational system and get back to basics.
skinnygirl December 23, 2011 at 04:39 PM
@Kevin Fitzgerald: If Janet and the BOE had a decent transfer policy consistent with best practices, this would not have happened, the PR mess may have been avoided. You say the BOE should require greater detail from Janet, but you have advocated to stay out of BOE business and supported the notion to not "micro manage". You say Janet was "within her authority" to retain such services, but there was a clear violation of policy here concerning bidding and, if you add up all the PR costs she should have had an understanding of, it's well above the 30k threshold requiring BOE approval. The O/O issue was public. The problem I think many people have is how it was contrived. In other words, it was public, but manufactured for a a particular result. You continually say "when the legislative council voted 11-1 against funding EA's, you are wrongly describing the issue. The council cannot effect that end. It's against the law. And if you tried, then you were doubly wrong. The BOE, and only the BOE has that authority. Lastly and on the subject of EA's, why did you never ask Janet her rationale as to why EA's were in her original budget, and then accept her rationale that they were no longer necessary....a mere two months after her original budget submission? Given all the secrecy and misinformation, how van you accept the notion that the savings were what they professed them to be? I guess we will know in time.
Tom Bittman December 23, 2011 at 05:23 PM
patchfollower, really? You want to bring my children into this? Shame on you. 1) Of course she was on the committee, along with several other people. 2) This is not true. My child had nothing to do with filming O/Os last August. Yes, Dr. Robinson asked the tech club teacher to see if he had a student who could work on the channel 17 segment about two weeks ago. He asked my son, who is leading a revamping of Newtown TV (also his junior/senior project) and was a natural choice. By the way, the segment was supposed to be an interview of Debbie Leidlein, who did not show up - she might have had a good reason, but it was surprising. This was last week. 3) This is also not true. iPads are not against school policy - in fact, Principal Dumais encourages it. My son isn't the only one to use it. There is no pilot program. My son is being a pioneer on his own, and sharing what he is learning along with the way with the school. As you said, concentrate on the facts. Please keep my children out of your conspiracy theories.
Sawyer December 23, 2011 at 06:11 PM
Mr. Bittman/Mr. Fitzgerald, When your in a hole, stop digging!
patch 2135 December 23, 2011 at 06:28 PM
"Your child was one of the students working with Ann Baldwin filming the O/O's back in August. Your child is also one of the students working with Ann Baldwin on the channel 17 TV segment as well. To say your family did not know about Ann Baldwin's existence is false and misleading" Wow.... more and more comes to light every day. Seems the truth may be a real premium in Newtown. So Ann Baldwin was paid to make a video...and then used school children and a tech club? I would think this seems more than a litttle bit unusual. I sure hope we get ALL of our money back
Tom Bittman December 23, 2011 at 06:46 PM
My family was made aware of Ann Baldwin when she participated in the video shoot last week. This was AFTER my wife's five years on the BOE. What she was paid for, I have no idea. All I can comment on is how my son got involved. And Sawyer, I'm not digging, I'm shoveling **** posted anonymously about my CHILDREN that is not true. Isn't that a bit sick?
patchfollower December 23, 2011 at 07:07 PM
Tom – When did Lillian find out about Ann Baldwin? Oh wait….will we get a straight answer on this? I know for a fact your child knew about Ann Baldwin prior to two weeks ago. To confirm that I would have to bring another student's involvement in and I refuse to do that. I respect Debbie for not showing up, she probably knew it was not right as there were many unanswered questions. I am not blaming your child at all, nothing sick going on here. In fact, I think all the students involved in the Baldwin TV segment fell victim to the dishonesty by some of our previous/ current BOE members and Dr. Robinson. For those students, I am truly saddened.
Tom Bittman December 23, 2011 at 07:46 PM
What is the witchhunt about? Lillian had nothing, zero, nada to do with this consultant. Straight answer. So you've backed off your assertion that my son was involved in this conspiracy in August. Good. Now you're trying to figure out exactly how many weeks ago my son was told about Ann Baldwin. I just interrogated him. It looks like he was asked to do this four weeks ago by the tech club director. Please interrogate the other teenager so we can get to the bottom of this. I'm glad you're "truly" saddened - maybe you'll feel better if you stop making false accusations about my kids! Reminds me of the video my film major daughter did on high school overcrowding before the expansion. She was asked to do a video, which she did completely on her own, for which I am very, very proud. And then investigative reporter John Voket of the Bee starts asking questions because he "heard" that adults wrote the script for her. A lie. Took a good thing and turned it into slime. Great memories of Newtown my kids are taking with them! Spend some time wrapping presents, and try to get out of this spiral!
Deborra Zukowski December 23, 2011 at 09:33 PM
I wonder how much of the conversation above will become viewed (by some) as an historic record. As a follower of social media (see http://somonow.blogspot.com), I've come to view this and similar venues as a sad testament to the way we (i.e.,people in general) as a community work within the confines of social media. It is troubling because sites like this can often reinforce conjecture, hearsay, and rumor - turning it into what some perceive as the truth. We need mechanisms where context can be provided to unsubstantiated claims, where the quieter participants can more easily become a voice of reason. Some are already available on other sites (e.g., the community like/dislike voting buttons). Also, something needs to be done when folks specifically go on personal smear campaigns, as patchfollower did above. This is a definite abuse of the medium, in my opinion, and and should be addressed. At this point, it is time for me to say farewell. I do appreciate the journalistic coverage of town events, Hoa, but can no longer stomach the divisiveness and mean-spiritedness I see here.
Bernadette December 23, 2011 at 10:50 PM
Well said, Ms. Zukowski!
Mary Ann Jacob December 23, 2011 at 11:56 PM
I'm happy that this issue resolved itself, but don't harbor any ill will towards Ms. Baldwin. I assume she entered into this contract in good faith and had no idea what a hornets nest she stepped into. Hopefully, we can expect that communication will improve and this lack of communication and confusion is a thing of the past.
Sam Mihailoff December 24, 2011 at 12:32 AM
the issue is not resolved until 1- full monetary disclosure is made 2-100% of goods and services itemize and produced per a BoE request 3- dismissal of both Mr. Hart and Mrs. Robinson for deception and collusion 4- Bills personally paid by those despicable creatures listed above
Justin Case December 24, 2011 at 12:38 AM
I for one would post my opinions with my name if the Board of Education would operate in a clear, fair, transparent way. Every day we find new facts about what is going on and how this criminal behavior continues. Lies, fables, and hidden budget items, dark of night PR firms that slither off into the either when discovered. Student actors doing the dirty work under the cover of "journalism" If we dont stand up for what is right and just than what do we have? Outsiders running our schools for personal gain. I was saddened to read that the Board used children to prop up a failing PR campaign but perhaps someday these people will see the damage that they have done to our schools
Karen Visca December 24, 2011 at 01:15 AM
I agree with Sam. The children in Newtown are the most important So people do not believe this and it shows.
Mike Kelley December 24, 2011 at 01:31 AM
The Gaelic greeting for 'Merry Christmas': 'Nollaig Shona Duit'......which is pronounced as 'null-ig hun-a dit'. Sláinte! Health So, let’s finish it off with that. Mike
Sam Mihailoff December 24, 2011 at 01:40 AM
and the Cossacks of Russia had a battle cry directed at those who invaded their beloved Steppes (in our case our school system) Запорожье
parker snobble December 24, 2011 at 03:29 AM
My battle cry would be "janetius must exodus" Amid the crash of battle axes Yoda and Sam marchedin as brothers in arms. We shall not be defeated, we have resolve!
G December 24, 2011 at 03:53 AM
Veni, Vidi, Exii
Swami December 24, 2011 at 04:02 AM
¡Ya Basta! Enough!
G December 24, 2011 at 05:42 AM
"I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some . . . people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over HERE in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for us." Oh, and Happy Holidays and such like that to all that have, uh, names and such and to all who don't have names like we know we're sure that what our names were like. Eggnog anyone? It's really good! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww
Alex Tytler December 24, 2011 at 12:34 PM
The patch has replaced th bee for me. I just let my subsciption go after 14 years. Just too biased.
Douglas Brennan December 24, 2011 at 01:52 PM
G: Thank you for the link. Priceless!! Merry Christmas
onceuponanewtown December 24, 2011 at 04:46 PM
To all of those that forgot what their purpose was (in our public schools): I believe that when someone hurts you, you should forgive and forget...I forgive you and wish you blessings this holiday...but it is not within my power to release you from your duty of making atonement for your wrongs...to each and every child and family that has been hurt and damaged...by doing this you shall truly experience peach and happiness.
Dawne Kornhaas December 24, 2011 at 07:04 PM
Onceuponanewtown you meant peace and happiness right? Have a wonderful holiday all!
onceuponanewtown December 24, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Ooops! Yes! =]
Dawne Kornhaas December 24, 2011 at 09:15 PM
That's okay. it gave me a good chuckle :)
Mary Ann Jacob December 25, 2011 at 02:03 AM
Peach too!

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