Groton superintendent wants hearing to respond to allegations

Groton — Superintendent of Schools Paul Kadri wants a hearing to address allegations that he intimidated and verbally abused employees.

According to an investigator’s report released Monday night, employees reported that Kadri yelled at them, created a hostile work environment and asked them to engage in behavior they felt to be unethical, or behaved unethically himself.

A complaint by Kadri’s executive assistant, Alisha Stripling, led to the investigation. Stripling said she was subjected to “intense verbal abuse and erratic, frightening physical interactions” with Kadri and she worked in fear of him, the report said. His actions made her ill, she told the investigator, and she could not continue working.

“The fear instilled in me over the time that I have worked at GPS (Groton Public Schools), coupled with three incidents in which Paul was furious in such a short timeframe, have left me so beaten down that I can no longer function at work. I have begun to suffer severe panic attacks,” she wrote in her statement.

Kadri blasted the report Tuesday for being “shoddily done,” biased and untruthful. He said the investigator never described the allegations or the scope of the review to him, and many of the employees who were interviewed had an “ax to grind” because they didn’t like the fact he held them accountable for results.

“At this point, all I can do is exercise my right to request a full and fair hearing before an impartial decision-maker and hope that when she has to testify under oath that Ms. Stripling will be willing and able to be more honest about these events,” Kadri said in a statement released by his lawyer.

Kirsten E. Hoyt, the school board chairwoman, said after the report was released Monday that there can be no board comment on this at this time. The report is on the board’s agenda to be discussed Thursday.

Stripling, who was hired in 2009, approached the district’s director of human resources, Laurie LePine, after Kadri yelled at Stripling several times and told her to do his personal errands, the report said.

LePine said that she, too, had been subjected to “intimidation and verbal abuse” by Kadri, and Kadri expected her to schedule grievance hearings only on dates when school board members who would support him were on the hearing panel, the report said.

LePine spoke with the board’s lawyer. The board voted in May to place Kadri on paid administrative leave to investigate his treatment of district employees. Under his current contract, Kadri’s base salary is $167,475. His term ends June 30, 2014, if the agreement isn’t renewed.

Interim Superintendent of Schools Randy Collins is being paid the same salary on a per diem, or daily rate, which is $641 for each work day.

William T. Blake, of Harlow, Adams & Friedman in Milford, interviewed 14 people, including current and former employees. Kadri was interviewed twice and was represented by a lawyer during both sessions.

Report: Kadri screamed at, humiliated assistants

One incident described in depth in the report is an administrators’ retreat in June 2010, where Stripling said the business office did not return the signed contract to the club hosting the event, which meant the facility had not been cleaned. Stripling, who was 35 weeks pregnant at the time, said Kadri screamed at her, waved clenched fists and gritted his teeth before ordering her to return to the central office.

Kadri called her repeatedly as she drove to the club, the report said, then sped into the parking lot behind her, grabbed the open window of her car and continued yelling. She said he would not remove his hands until she began to drive away.

He told the investigator that Stripling was “chewing him out” and he was in “absolute control” of himself in the parking lot.

Stripling went on maternity leave in July 2010, and two other executive assistants worked for Kadri, both of whom complained about their treatment.

Paula Haldeman told the investigator she refused to continue working for Kadri after he humiliated her in front of other administrators and got angry with her.

Several administrators who saw this behavior thought it would be best if Stripling returned to work in a different department, the report said, and Bonnie Drudi was hired to work for Kadri. In six months, Drudi said, she lost weight, began to doubt her ability and started taking anti-anxiety medication, the report said. She left, and Kadri decided Stripling should return as his executive assistant.

After a series of incidents in April in which Kadri yelled at her for tasks she was unable to complete and a disagreement over the fact that she could not go to his house to take care of his dog, Stripling told Kadri she could not go into work because she was ill, the report said.

She said she feared Kadri because he told her about a female friend who visited him and sustained a serious head injury, the report said, and he had made comments about her appearance and his personal life that made her uncomfortable.

LePine put Stripling on medical leave and contacted the board’s legal counsel, which initiated the process that led to Kadri being placed on leave.

Among additional allegations, Kadri is accused of directing an employee not to request overtime pay she was entitled to, attempting to use grant funds for improper purposes, telling an assistant superintendent to take a personal day to hold campaign signs with him and other administrators during a referendum, and contacting employees and the potential employer of a former employee to undermine her application after he was placed on leave, the report said.

The report contains statements from seven other past and present employees describing abusive treatment they say they either experienced or witnessed. Most of the witnesses are female, but one male employee did say Kadri called him at home to yell at him.

The investigator also reviewed the sexual and age discrimination complaint a former assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction brought before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. The complaint was settled and was not the subject of the investigation, but it was included as background material, the report said.

Kadri: Managerial style ‘misconstrued as hostility’

Kadri has denied acting improperly in his dealings with the employees. He told the investigator he sees himself as an agent of change, who, at times, clashed with the culture in the schools.

“I do understand that my style and manner of challenging people to be the best they can at times be misconstrued as hostility or anger,” he said in his statement, also noting that he has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. “... To interpret passion, directness or hyperactivity as an intent to harm anyone is profoundly uninformed.”

Kadri also addressed Stripling’s recounting of his friend’s injury, telling the investigator they were horsing around and she tripped.

The investigating firm was not asked to provide the school board with any recommendation for action.

Given the possibility of litigation, Gregg D. Adler said his client, Kadri, would not answer questions. The next step would be for school board members to decide, possibly at Thursday’s meeting, whether to issue Kadri a letter indicating they are considering terminating his employment, said Adler, of Livingston, Adler, Pulda, Meiklejohn & Kelly, PC, in Hartford.

If the letter is issued, Kadri could request a hearing before the school board, and the board would have to convene within 30 days to determine whether the contract should be terminated.

Kadri’s contract stipulates that if his contract is terminated for conduct that does not result in a felony arrest or constitute moral misconduct, he will be paid for no less than 90 days from the date he received the written notice that the board was considering ending his employment.

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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