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.