FAIRFIELD — An independent party will be used to assess the performance of the administration in the local school district after calls for the superintendent’s resignation amid the rollout of a controversial restructuring plan.

The School Administrative District 49 board of directors approved the move in a 9-4 vote around midnight Thursday.

Board members who opposed the review by the independent party were Neal Caverly, Tim Martin, Jeff Neubauer and Shelley Rudnicki.

Board members who supported the review were Katrina Dumont, Kara Kugelmeyer, Katie Flood-Gerow, Roy White, Janice Chesley, Jenny Boyden, Shawn Knox, Caroline Toto-Lawrence and Danielle Boutin.

The decision comes after the board moved April 25 to discuss the performance of Superintendent Reza Namin, who came to the district in September and whose tenure so far has been marked by the rollout of a plan to change or eliminate 13 administrative jobs. The plan recently led to financial settlements with three former administrators at a cost of $417,665.

Details of the independent party review were scarce Friday morning. School board Chairman Shawn Knox said he could not give details of who the “independent party” might be, what the estimated cost of the assessment would be or what the timeline would be.

“We’re working together to move forward,” Namin said after the five-hour meeting. “I’m excited to have some set goals, priorities. For every challenge, I’ve always said, there’s an opportunity to build a stronger relationship, so I welcome that.”

Cory Rogers, the former director of special education in SAD 49 and one of the administrators whose contracts was bought out, said in an email after the meeting that “today was a sad day as a community member and former administrator in MSAD 49.”

“As I prepare for my next chapter I will reflect (on) the personally insulting statement Dr. Namin made against the good people of this district, ‘with that comes a lot of struggle, because you have to take away folks who had benefits, contracts worth thousands of dollars that didn’t benefit the community. I have to remove people who are incompetent. You have to remove money from where it’s being wasted and put it where the kids are,'” Rogers wrote, quoting a statement Namin had made in January.

“And hopefully some day soon the school board of directors will do just that,” Rogers said.

Earlier in the meeting, the board was asked to approve renewal of teacher contracts, during which Namin asked them to put the contract for Lawrence High School French teacher Isaac Badenya Thomas on hold.

Lawrence High School teacher Isaac Thomas stands to be heard Thursday as his contract remains in question during a School Administrative District 49 school board meeting at Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Namin said he wanted to check with the state to make sure Thomas’ teaching certification was up to date, and he asked the board to put it on hold.

Some board members said they didn’t see why Thomas’ contract couldn’t be approved on the condition his certification is up to date, and they ultimately approved the contract along with a group of others, 12-1.

Rudnicki voted against the contracts.

Thomas spoke up at the April meeting to read the results of an employee vote asking for the resignation of Namin; Rudnicki, the former board chairwoman; and former Vice Chairman Tim Martin. On Thursday he implored board members to include his contract among those they would renew.

He said afterward he felt he was being retaliated against.

“I think it’s obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to what’s been going on in this district that I was being retaliated against,” Thomas said. “Having my name removed for special discussion of the continuation of my contract was certainly retaliation for speaking out against the superintendent, in part, but also for speaking up on behalf of students and other workers in the district, including teachers, and for running for president of the teacher’s association.”

The board Thursday also discussed the results of a request for proposals for legal counsel. Two firms responded to the RFP, Drummond Woodsum and Brann & Isaacson.

The request was made after some board members raised concerns earlier this year regarding Namin’s decision to use the firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry without consent of the full board.

Superintendent Reza Namin stands in the hallway Thursday at Lawrence Junior High School as the School Administrative District 49 school board holds an executive session in Fairfield. The Fairfield-based board was evaluating Namin’s job performance after calls for his resignation because of his restructuring plan that now is costing the district at least $417,000. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The district doesn’t have an attorney on retainer, but in the past it typically has relied on Drummond Woodsum for legal counsel.

“I think we need to understand the history of past engagement with Drummond Woodsum, our primary lawyer in the past, including the ways we’ve used their services and the types of services,” Kugelmeyer said. “I think we need to have a really good understanding of the types of things we were doing as part of that matrix.”

Namin came to the district in September, having previously served as the head of the science department at the Cambridge Arts, Technology and Science Academy in Boston.

In Maine, Namin was also the superintendent from 2009 to 2011 of the Westbrook School Department, where he introduced a restructuring plan similar to what has been proposed in Fairfield.

He then went on to become superintendent of the Spencer-East Brookfield Regional School District in Massachusetts, but he ended up resigning from the district after two years.

The school board there banned him from school property just before his departure and also asked Namin to pay back $17,000 in travel expenses, according to the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Namin, who is originally from Iran, said he experienced retaliation from former employees as well as racism and efforts to ruin his reputation by members of the public who were not happy with changes he made.

In January, he introduced an administrative restructuring plan in SAD 49 that called for changes to or the elimination of 13 administrative jobs.

The plan, which was originally supposed to be in place by July 1 but has been put on hold, a move Namin said he supports. At the same time he has also pledged to improve communication in the aftermath of outcry over the restructuring.

The board is scheduled to discuss further action on the restructuring at a special meeting next week.

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, a handful of residents and staff spoke on Namin’s evaluation. Four spoke against him and one in his support.

“As a teacher in SAD 49 I feel supported, respected and appreciated by our superintendent,” said Lauren Conohan, a fifth grade teacher at Albion Elementary School. “On his visits to Albion I’ve been able to observe him with my students and with parents. When he enters the classroom he is such a welcoming presence. He immediately made me feel comfortable.”

Lauren Conohan, a fifth-grade teacher at Albion Elementary School, speaks Thursday in favor of keeping Superintendent Reza Namin as superintendent of School Administrative District 49 during a school board meeting in Fairfield. The board met Thursday night to evaluate Namin’s job performance after calls for his resignation after his implementation of a restructuring plan that is now costing the district $417,000. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Hailey Higgins, a senior at Lawrence High School, however, said she felt Namin was helpful to students at the high school only after they protested the departure of former Principal Mark Campbell, whose contract also was bought out.

“I do respect you, Dr. Namin, and I thank you for listening these last few weeks, but I think you should have been listening before that,” Higgins said.

Some who spoke Thursday also complained about the cost of the buyouts to taxpayers and questioned whether the restructuring is worth it.

“This is a poor community that can’t afford that type of money to be spent for something that shouldn’t have been done,” said Frank Bouchard, a resident of Fairfield.

 

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