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Carter lawsuit absurd, but problematic

If the claims included in a lawsuit filed by disgraced school superintendent candidate Terrence P. Carter are true - and admittedly, that is a big if - the actions of New London Board of Education President Margaret Mary Curtin may have needlessly contributed to the city's legal exposure.

Back in July, the New London Board of Education was set to hire Mr. Carter as the superintendent who would lead the New London school system through unprecedented change to become the first all-magnet-schools district in Connecticut. He had been vetted by a private consultant hired by the school board and received the approval of state education officials supervising the school system's efforts to improve academic performance.

Then it all unraveled for the Chicago educator. First came a report in the Hartford Courant that showed Mr. Carter had been using "Ph.D." and "Dr." without holding a doctorate from an accredited college. This newspaper followed up with reports that large sections of his application were identical to language used by other educators, without attribution or any indication to show the words were those of others.

When an independent investigation ordered by the Board of Education confirmed the information reported by the media, the board voted 6-0 Aug. 28 not to enter into the contract with Mr. Carter.

This week Mr. Carter fired back, filing a lawsuit against the Board of Education and Ms. Curtin, claiming breach of agreement and seeking damages. Those damages include the loss of income because he resigned his administration position with the Chicago Public School System, and the costs associated with selling his home and relocating to New London.

Common sense would suggest the court quickly dispense of this lawsuit, dismissing it as baseless. The New London school board had offered Mr. Carter the job based on the assumption he was acting with integrity and his representations were true. Instead, it learned he had used an academic title he had not earned (though not in his application to the board) and stole the work of others in preparing his application.

The Board of Education had the legal right not to go through with the contract. It would have been derelict in its duty to the city and the students if it had hired Mr. Carter, given the facts presented.

Yet common sense does not always prevail in court and insurance companies can be quick to settle any lawsuit that poses the potential for high legal costs. Mr. Carter could yet walk away with some cash in his pocket.

What is distressing is the potential that Ms. Curtin may have helped his case.

The Courant broke its story July 19, raising questions whether Mr. Carter had misrepresented his credentials. The New London school board was set to meet July 21 to approve the contract.

Mr. Carter claims in the lawsuit that Ms. Curtin assured him she "had the votes" to approve the agreement despite the troubling news reports. The lawsuit also alleges Ms. Curtin "advised (Mr. Carter) not to communicate his explanations of the facts concerning the negative newspaper articles to other board members because she would answer for him, and then did not."

While providing assurances "his appointment as superintendent was a formality," Ms. Curtin ended up lobbying to rescind the appointment, the lawsuit contends.

Recalling the board president's comments at the time, the claims don't sound so farfetched. "I would prefer to speak after we have a signed contract," Ms. Curtin said on the eve of the board's expected confirmation vote. The response came when a Day reporter asked her about the controversy surrounding Mr. Carter.

At the time, Ms. Curtin also defended Mr. Carter, saying, "he did not misrepresent himself to the board."

The board, however, declined to approve the contract that night. One can only imagine the legal mess the city would now face if it had signed the deal and sought to remove Mr. Carter after the fact.

On advice of legal counsel, Ms. Curtin is not commenting, which is understandable. We repeat our call, however, for Ms. Curtin to resign from the board.

On Thursday, came news reports that Manuel J. Rivera, a 1970 New London High School graduate and city native, named National Superintendent of the Year in 2006, would be taking the New London job.

With the fallout over the handling of the Carter matter continuing, Ms. Curtin's departure now would allow for a fresh start and greater public confidence as the board works to move beyond the Carter debacle and build a revamped school system with a new superintendent.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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