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Francis: Selectmen Disregarded The Opinion Of The School Committee

May 22, 2015 09:32AM ● By Bill Gilman
Two days after a joint meeting of the School Committee and Board of Selectmen ended with tension and resentment, Dennis Francis was still aggravated.
On Tuesday, the joint boards elected former School Committee member Jayne Miller to fill a vacancy on the committee. On the third ballot of the night, the vote was 5-4, with all five selectmen voting for Miller and all four members of the School Committee voting for Arthy Bennett.
Miller will serve out the remaining 10 months of the term of Lisa Puccia, who resigned in April.
In a telephone interview on Thursday, the School Committee vice chair said he has nothing against Miller and feels she is certainly qualified for the position. Rather, he feels that he and the other three committee members were disrespected by the Board of Selectmen and is advocating for a change in the manner School Committee vacancies are filled.
"This isn't about Jayne and this isn't about Arthy. This is beyond that," said Francis. "This is about the process and about how the voting played out that night."
Francis said he is upset that the School Committee was not consulted regarding the questions that would appear on the applications filled out by residents wishing to be considered for the School Committee vacancy. He's also upset that upset that the Board of Selectmen didn't defer to the wishes of the School Committee when it became clear the committee backed Bennett in the roll call voting process.
"We were the first ones to vote and we all voted for Arthy," said Francis. "Yes, I think they should have (deferred). The voters elected us to make decisions regarding the operations of the Tewksbury Schools. It was as if the selectmen were saying they didn't think we were capable of deciding who would be the best candidate (to fill the seat)."
Todd Johnson, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, defended his board and said the School Committee was involved in the process as much as the town bylaws, and time, allowed.
"First, it's not the job of the Board of Selectmen to defer to the School Committee," said Johnson. "Everyone had access to the same information about the candidates. We heard the votes of the committee and each selectman came to his own decision."
Johnson said the statute puts the responsibility for filling a vacancy on the School Committee (created by a resignation) in the hands of the selectmen.
"There are three methods the statute allows and the other two don't involve the School Committee participating at all," he said. "I think we showed respect to the (committee) and considered their opinions."
Had the School Committee not requested a joint meeting within 30 days of Puccia's resignation, the selectmen could have selected a candidate on their own, said Johnson. Another option would have been a special election. However, given that the remaining time on the term was just 10 months, Johnson he didn't feel the situation warranted the expense of a special election, which can cost the town several thousand dollars. He added that none of the other four selectmen recommended a special election at the meeting when a course of action was decided.
Regarding the applications, Johnson said time was of the essence and the opening needed to be posted and the applications made available. However, he said School Committee Chair Krissy Polimeno was kept in the loop about the process. He also said that after applications were received and before the joint meeting, she reached out to the committee and asked if there were any additional questions they wanted asked of the candidates. He said he was told there were none.
"Everyone was on board with the applications and the process until after the vote," said Johnson.
Immediately following the joint meeting, Polimeno said she had wished there had been time allotted for the members of the committee and the selectmen to discuss the seven applicants in an open roundtable discussion.
Johnson said the statute doesn't allow for such a discussion as part of the process. However, he said any member of the School Committee or the Board of Selectmen is allowed to comment on why they are supporting a certain candidate before casting their vote in the roll call format. The only one of the nine who took advantage of that opportunity was Selectman Bruce Panalaitis, who explained why he was supporting Atty. Scott Consaul before casting his first ballot vote.
Francis says he supports a change that would mandate all School Committee vacancies be filled by a Special Election. He says he plans to move forward with efforts to change the process.
"Absolutely, I definitely do think process needs to be changed," said Francis. "Again, this isn't sour grapes because the candidate I supported didn't win. I can work with Jayne. This is about a problem with the process."

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