Fairfield’s Town Council decided at its meeting Wednesday evening to invite the School Administrative District 49 board to a forum to address ongoing complaints made by community members about the school board.

The decision came after Town Manager Michelle Flewelling and Chairman Aaron Rowden disclosed to the council the heightened number of complaints they both had received recently.

“This is on the agenda because of the numerous contacts from the community that Michelle and I have been receiving,” Rowden said. “It hasn’t been so much about policy but rather about the elected members themselves and the conduct of these members.”

Flewelling explained that though these complaints have come after the turbulence of Superintendent Reza Namin’s controversial restructuring plan, community members seem to be more upset about certain actions of school board members that could violate Fairfield’s code of conduct. 

Residents have opted to voice their concerns on social media, and the town Facebook page has been particularly active since the beginning of June.

A repeated refrain targets board members who have been absent from meetings yet have something to say about issues at hand. There are suggestions that the board itself is being controlled by people who are not on the board. Other comments target individuals and their behavior at meetings.

“Every elected official has to sign Fairfield’s code of conduct,” Flewelling said. “These complaints have been accumulating over the past several months, and they’ve been about things like poor attendance and behavior on social media. It has nothing to do with the way the board is voting.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, Flewelling contacted SAD 49’s Chairman Shawn Knox to learn what he thought about potentially bringing council and school board members together to formulate a plan to deal with some of the complaints that have been made.

School Administrative District 49 board members — at rear from left, Katie Flood-Gerow, Kara Kugelmeyer, Katrina Dumont, Jenny Boyden and Shawn Knox — vote with six other board members to put out to bid a request for proposal for legal counsel during an April 11 school board meeting at Lawrence junior High School in Fairfield. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

“He was very open. He thought it would be a very good idea to have the council members and board members getting together and having an open dialogue about the plan to move forward,” Flewelling said. “What this wouldn’t be is a session in which everyone would be invited in to attack anyone; it would simply be a discussion about how the district and the community moves forward.”

After Flewelling and Rowden’s presentation, the remaining council members agreed that a council-school board forum was at least worth a try and voted to allow Flewelling to invite to Knox and SAD 49’s school board.

“This is in no way a hearing or proceeding. It’s simply a discussion over the ethics we all agreed to be bound by when we took our positions,” Flewelling said. “It would be an opportunity for people to see that we all (the council and the school board) want what’s best for the community. This could be a venue for the board to get the word out about how they’re trying to progress.”

Official plans for a Town Council-school board meeting have not been made, but Flewelling confirmed she will continue the discussions with Knox after adjournment of the meeting.

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