FAIRFIELD — The board of the local school district on Thursday undid several aspects of a controversial administrative restructuring plan that just a month earlier led to the buyout of three employees whose jobs were affected.

School Administrative District 49 board members said input from the community and additional information about the plan caused them to change their minds.

They also took steps toward hiring a special education director and a high school principal — two of the positions whose occupants were bought out last month — with the same job descriptions that were in place before the approval of the restructuring plan on Jan. 3.

“I think we need to let the public know why we just spent a lot of money to eliminate these positions and now we believe in bringing them back,” board member Kara Kugelmeyer said, prompting other board members to share their thoughts on reversing some aspects of the restructuring.

“One is we see what it did to the school and the culture and the community,” board member Katie Flood-Gerow said. “We recognized and heard the voices of the community. I think also that in learning more information, it became very apparent we need to step back in order to move forward.”

The restructuring plan proposed by Superintendent Reza Namin involved changes to or the elimination of 13 administrative jobs in the district, a move he originally said would generate a cost savings of about $113,000 and improve the district’s performance.

But after the district faced the threat of legal action from three affected employees — the special education director, high school principal and director of operations — they ended up paying $417,665 to buy out the contracts  of the three administrators, all of whom have resigned.

Reza Namin, superintendent of School Administrative District 49, listens to a student speaker Thursday during an SAD 49 school board meeting at Lawrence junior High School in Fairfield. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The resignation of Lawrence High School Principal Mark Campbell in particular sparked student protests and calls for Namin’s resignation and led to the former board chairwoman and vice chairman giving up their leadership positions.

“For me it came down to realizing how the community truly felt and the fact that as the truth has slowly trickled out to all board members, decisions may have been very different,” board member Danielle Boutin said. “I think in doing this now and moving forward from the restructuring, we need to heal as a district and take some time to do that and build ourselves up again.”

Kugelmeyer, who in the past has criticized Namin for a lack of data and research to back up his plan, also added that the board should take away from the experience the need for open discussions and due process.

“I will always push back on not having enough time to talk about something,” she said. “I hope that is what we take away from this — that we need to be factual and data-driven so the types of things that are happening today that are very uncomfortable don’t happen again.”

On Thursday, the board voted unanimously, 9-0, on a series of motions to rescind action taken in January to eliminate the high school and junior high principal positions, restructure the assistant principal’s job at the high school, restructure the assistant principal’s job at Benton Elementary School and restructure the assistant principal’s job at the junior high school.

Absent from the meeting were Neal Caverly, Tim Martin and Jeff Neubauer. Shelley Rudnicki, who was present for the first part of the meeting, was absent during the votes.

Shelley Rudnicki, right, chats with school board member Caroline Toto-Lawrence on Thursday during a School Administrative District 49 school board meeting at Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

The board also voted 9-0 to restore to the high school principal’s position the duties and job description that had existed before Jan. 3 and immediately advertise for candidates for the job.

Other aspects of the restructuring involve restructuring of four business office positions, to include new titles and job descriptions; the creation of a human resources specialist position; and restructuring the transportation supervisor’s job.

The business office restructuring was not discussed Thursday night and it was unclear whether the board will address those changes.

School board Chairman Shawn Knox said after the meeting it’s a decision the board will have to make and he could not speculate on whether the discussion will come up.

Of the proposed changes under the restructuring plan, only the creation of the human resources specialist’s job has been included in the budget for 2019-2020, which goes to a referendum June 11.

The board Thursday did discuss renewing the contract of Transportation Supervisor Scott Washburn with the same job description he had before the restructuring.

Under the plan, his job was set to change to “transportation and facilities supervisor,” and Namin said Thursday he has been performing some of the additional duties in facilities without any extra pay.

Stewart Kinley speaks Thursday during a School Administrative District 49 school board meeting at Lawrence Junior High School in Fairfield. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Namin, whose job performance the board is evaluating after the calls for his resignation, also said Thursday he is in favor of halting all restructuring.

“My goal is really to stop the restructuring and start working on the healing process and get back to where we are and move on with operations,” he said.

Though no action was taken Thursday on Washburn’s job, Namin recommended his contract be extended under the terms that had existed before Jan. 3 and he be offered a stipend for his additional duties.

Also Thursday, the board interviewed a candidate for special education director and authorized the district to negotiate a job offer. The candidate’s name has not been made public yet, but Namin said the person was an applicant when the district previously advertised for the restructured position of “director of student support services and special education.”

Cory Rogers, the former special education director whose contract was bought out under the restructuring, said Friday he was happy to see the district moving forward with filling the job. “I’m excited to see services will be returned to the students,” he said.

In other news, the board also interviewed in open session attorneys from two law firms who responded to a request for proposals for legal service.

The attorneys were Peter Lowe, from Brann & Isaacson; and Eric Herlan, Bill Stockmeyer and Peter Felmly, from Drummond Woodsum.

The cost for services provided by Brann & Isaacson is $260 per hour for a partner or $200 per hour for an associate. The cost for services from Drummond Woodsum ranges from $200 to $350 per hour, depending on the experience and expertise of the attorney.

Both firms said they take steps to manage the reputations of their clients and potential risks and have attorneys who specialize in various aspects of education law, including special education and school finance, though the attorneys from Drummond Woodsum also pointed to their experience working in SAD 49 for almost 40 years.

In the past, Drummond Woodsum has been the district’s legal counsel on an hourly as-needed basis.

Last month the board voted to put out a request for proposals after Namin chose to consult another firm, Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry, without full board approval.

He has argued he didn’t need the board’s approval and that the second firm was less expensive, though some members of the board criticized the decision as indicative of a lack of transparency.

Namin said Thursday a decision on which legal firm to go with probably will be made at the next board meeting, scheduled for June 20.

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