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Groton — Paul Kadri, fired on Tuesday as the district’s school superintendent for the alleged mistreatment of school employees, said Wednesday that he was stunned by an independent arbitrator’s decision against him and is considering a civil lawsuit.
Kadri’s firing comes 10 months after he was placed on leave and the school board ordered an investigation into claims he was bullying, harassing and intimidating employees, most of them women.
Following five days of testimony at a termination hearing, arbitrator Timothy Bornstein described witnesses against Kadri as “strong, smart, well-educated professional women,” who broke down in tears as they described how Kadri has abused and humiliated them.
“He made a very sweeping set of accusations that I think are inaccurate,” Kadri said of the decision. “I’m kind of taken aback. I’m so frustrated with the process … At this point no one has heard in totality my evidence.”
While Kadri said he accepts the decision because of the agreement he signed, he also maintains the allegations brought forward during the hearing are inaccurate or, in some cases, were taken out of context. He explained that he suffers from a severe case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and that some of his action may be misconstrued.
“I pace, my brain’s going several different places. I have a deep voice and I’m a very large person. There’s no question someone could find me potentially intimidating,” Kadri said.
Attorney Floyd Dugas, who represents the school board, said he does not think Kadri has legal grounds to sue. Kadri, who was being paid a $167,475 yearly salary up until Tuesday, is due some accrued vacation pay, but nothing further, Dugas said.
Bornstein, in his 43-page decision, concluded that Kadri violated board policy “by threatening, bullying and humiliating subordinates.”
“Not only was his abusive treatment of subordinates itself grounds for discipline, but also it had the institutional effect of undermining the morale in the superintendent’s office,” Bornstein wrote. “Among other things, in response to his mistreatment, several able administrators resigned or retired earlier than they had planned.”
Kadri was heralded as an agent of change when he was hired in 2008. But complaints about his behavior surfaced in 2010, two years before the Board of Education started an investigation and more than a year before Kadri was given a favorable B+ grade in his evaluation by the board that led to a new three-year contract. The lowest grade on that evaluation was a B- in the category of “personal and professional qualities and relationships.”
Bornstein summed up the contrasting views of Kadri by writing: “He is a strong, committed administrator, but also he has been an abusive, insensitive supervisor.”
Bornstein noted that a $197,000 settlement in 2010 with former assistant superintendent Dorothy Hoyt might have raised a red flag for the school board. Hoyt filed a complaint alleging age and gender discrimination and testified that she became ill because of the constant abuse by Kadri at the office.
Kimberly Beam, former human resources director for the Groton school system, had approached school officials in 2011 to complain about an alleged assault and abusive behavior that included Kadri showing up at her home, according to testimony.
She withdrew her complaint out of what she said was fear of Kadri.
Alisha Stripling, hired as Kadri’s executive assistant in 2009, was among the first to make a formal complaint against Kadri that led to last year’s investigation. Bornstein said she carried mace to the office to protect herself.
School board member Robert Peruzzotti gave credit to the past and present school employees who had the courage to testify.
“It was heartbreaking to see so many people go in, they were sincerely frightened,” Peruzzotti said. He said the board plans to meet Monday to talk about searching for a new superintendent.
He said the board is looking forward to moving ahead, and the delay in the process of terminating Kadri was something no one wanted.
“People are saying, ‘why wasn’t he fired sooner,’” Peruzzotti said. “It was a daunting task. The process, by state statute and the contract, make it so cumbersome to ever fire a superintendent. We took every safety precaution we could to make this a fair arbitration.”
Peruzzotti said there will have to be a healing period for staff at the central office and school board members.
“Having (Interim Superintendent) John Ramos as our leader right now goes a long way to doing that,” he said.