Ledyard officials criticize contract negotiations process for school administrators

Ledyard - The Town Council on Wednesday night bemoaned the way the Board of Education handled the process of administrator contract negotiations and voted to table discussion on the proposed 2015-18 contract until a later meeting.

"It's the process we're concerned about, because we haven't had any opportunities to have this kind of discussion" prior to the day of the vote, said Town Council Chairman Linda Davis, after listening to a presentation from the school board's labor counsel, Fred Dorsey of Kainen, Escalera and McHale.

The council shied away from passing judgment on the contract itself, focusing on the procedural issues mentioned by Davis and Mayor John Rodolico.

Councilman Stephen Eichelberg called the school board "elusive and unprofessional" in its handling of the negotiations and said the process had been "discouraging."

In previous years, councilors agreed, the Board of Education complied with a state regulation requiring that the Town Council be notified within 30 days of the school board commencing contract negotiations. The school board provided no such notification this year, said Davis.

Board of Education Chairman Julia Cronin defended the lack of a meeting in a letter sent to Davis on Nov. 24, writing, "there is no penalty imposed under the law for failure to conduct such a meeting, which has been confirmed in the courts."

Had the town expressed an interest in meeting, it would have been accommodated, said Cronin in the letter. Because a town Human Resources representative was involved in the negotiations, Cronin said she felt the spirit of the statute was met.

On Wednesday, Davis and other councilors criticized Cronin for those comments.

"I'm a rules follower. Maybe it's because I went to Catholic school for 12 years, but I'm a rules follower," said Davis.

She said it "is very upsetting to me" for an elected official to imply that a law does not have to be followed unless there is a penalty.

Dorsey said that the contract shouldn't have come as a surprise, noting that the administrators' negotiation schedule is included in a public document from the state Department of Education.

He also said the board approached the town about the negotiations earlier in the year.

"This is not something that was hiding under a basket anywhere in August or September," said Dorsey.

Davis proposed tabling the vote because Superintendent Cathy Patterson was unable to answer her question about what the contract would cost the town in 2015, 2016 and 2017, and what the difference would be from the current contract.

Patterson said she wasn't expecting the question and didn't have school Business Manager Jason Lathrop's phone number, but would be able to get the numbers to Davis this morning.

Without the exact numbers, Davis said she was unprepared to vote on the contract. Councilman Mike France followed suit, saying he didn't believe that the final contract had been filed with the town clerk, making a vote impossible even if Patterson had been able to provide the information.

Several different versions of the contract had been filed with the clerk, and it was unclear on Wednesday which, if any, versions were official and ready for the Town Council's vote.

If the town council does not take action on a Board of Education-approved contract, it takes effect within 30 days. If the first filing date with the town clerk is considered official - which the councilors implied they did not think it was - that would mean the contract would become official on Dec. 14.

Davis said the council will not meet again before Dec. 14.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

Twitter: @kccatalfamo

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