School Committee Member Calls Mayors Behavior
a “Disgrace” and a “Circus”
Methuen Mayor Jim Jajuga has violated the state’s open meeting law by sending out emails to the entire school committee telling them how they should vote on an upcoming matter before the committee.
As mayor, Jajuga sits as chairman of the school committee and admitted last night that he “overextended himself” during a screaming match with other school board members over the appointment of Brandi Kwong as interim superintendent after the resignation of Judy Scannell.
Kwong, the assistant superintendent, was groomed by Scannell to replace her before her schedule retirement at the end of the year. Scannell’s untimely resignation last week, came after it was learned that she never obtained her license to be superintendent 8 years ago, and was never certified or licensed to be an elementary school principal. Scannell served as a principal for ten years.
According to the state’s open meeting law, a public official may email other members of their board concerning an upcoming matter before their board “so long as the email does not reach a quorum (majority) of the public body (committee).”
” A public body member may lawfully email quorum of the public body only to discuss scheduling a meeting, distribute a meeting agenda, or to distribute reports or documents to be discussed at a meeting, provided that no opinion of a member of the public body is expressed.” (MGL 30a S.18)
Jajuga, however, sent the following email (below) to the entire school committee prior to their public meeting Monday night, telling them they should vote for Brandi Kwong as interim Superintendent for the remainder of the school year.
At least two members of the school committee told The Valley Patriot that they informed the mayor that his email was an open meeting law violation and that they did not appreciate “being told how to vote” prior to the public matter even coming before them.
Jajuga screamed at fellow board members at Monday night’s meeting saying the committee should not do a wide search for a new superintendent and that Kwong should be appointed immediately.
Committee member Jana DiNitale said she wanted to move forward with a search but the committee voted against her measure after Jajuga’s screaming fit. A motion was then made to appoint Kwong immediately but that motion failed.
“It’s so unfair what’s happening here tonight. This is unprofessional … I”m ashamed of what is happening here tonight.” DiNatale said on the motion to appoint Kwong without a search.
Committeeman Bob Vogler told the mayor he (the mayor) had already made up his mind and would not support appointing Kwong at that meeting, saying that the mayor can complain about the process “because you already made up your mind so, to you, the process doesn’t mean anything.” Vogler told his fellow board members that if they were going to go down this road they should just appoint Kwong tonight.
After shooting down DiNatale’s motion for a search, School Committee member Nicholson made a motion to appoint Kwong but only got one other vote, Mayor Jajuga. The committee then reconsidered DiNatale’s motion for a search which passed the second time around.
After the meeting, DiNatale posted the following message on the Valley Patriot’s Facebook page.
“My comments were directed at the circus that took place last night, due to the Mayor once again attempting to substitute his own judgement for proper process, this time as defined by the committee in our last executive session.
“It was a disgrace and placed our Acting Superintendent in an unfair position. It also created a sense of uncertainty where there isn’t need to be concern. We have a capable Acting Superintendent who has agreed to remain in the role as we do our due diligence in appointing an Interim Superintendent. The Committee intends to have her continue to play an active and important role in moving this district forward in any scenario – our current initiatives and progress will not be disrupted. Further, whomever is appointed interim deserves to have a process that will result in the role being defined and supported.”
“The correct process is for the committee to conduct a proper search for interim, considering all applicants to find the best leader for our schools both in the short and long term.”
“There is a misperception in the community that we are leaning one way or another. While some members have expressed such views please understand that I am keeping an open mind until all information is before us.”
JAJUGA’S ILLEGAL EMAIL
When we last met on Thursday, August 30th, our major order of business was accepting the resignation of former Superintendent Judy Scannell. The Committee also approved the appointment of Brandi Kwong as Assistant Superintendent, while instructing my office to provide information on the process for appointing an Interim Superintendent (as well as potential candidates).
As I thought about the pros and cons of hiring an Interim Superintendent other than Dr. Kwong, as well as beginning the process of hiring a permanent Superintendent to lead the Methuen Public Schools, it became very clear to me that this would not be the best way to proceed. As Mayor and Chair of the School Committee, I feel that stability for the schools is the most important factor at present. Former Superintendent Scannell has left a strong team behind, and it is my belief that this team – under the direction of Dr. Kwong for the remainder of the 2018-2019 school year – is best equipped to provide that level of stability.
In discussions with Dr. Kwong last week, she made it clear that she has a strong network of fellow educational professions – both in and out of Methuen – to provide support for her as Interim Superintendent. Her initial proposal to utilize her current leadership team to backfill pieces of her duties as Assistant Superintendent is a good starting point for discussion between her and the School Committee about how to maximize our opportunities during this academic year.
I have also heard from dozens of people in the Methuen Public Schools – teachers, administrators, parents, and citizens – who have spoken to Dr. Kwong’s professionalism and expertise as a leader in the system. Admittedly, she had labored in the shadow of a dynamic and personable individual for the six years she previously served as Assistant Superintendent. I believe that, on her own, Dr. Kwong will do an excellent job of leading the Methuen Public Schools for this school year.
Perhaps most importantly of all, I want us as a School Committee to spend this academic year focusing on an open and inclusive search for a permanent Superintendent to take the Methuen Public Schools into the next decade. I don’t feel that a bifurcated process – first searching for an Interim, and then a permanent leader – is the best use of our time. Obviously, this decision rests with the entire School Committee, and I look forward to a frank and open discussion at this evening’s meeting before deciding how to proceed.