A Gloucester parent who is already part of a lawsuit challenging the charter for the Gloucester Community Arts School has filed two Open Meeting Law complaints with the state Attorney General's office against the school's trustees.
In one of his June 13 complaints to the office of AG Martha Coakley, Jason Grow asks that the charter school perform a professional review of its executive director, Tony Blackman, in open session and release the minutes for 11 hours of executive sessions it has held with Blackman in recent weeks. Grow's complaint also asks the AG's office to require the trustees to undergo additional Open Meeting Law training.
Grow's request came in the wake of board members' referencing a review of Blackman's work — a review which does not appear in open meeting minutes, he said.
According to Open Meeting Laws, any review of an employee's "professional competence" is to be held in open session; executive sessions are limited to discussions of an employee discipline, health or other issues covered by privacy laws. The executive director's position at a charter school is equivalent to that of a superintendent of schools.
According to minutes, the board met in executive session for a total of 11 hours over a period of two days on March 24 and March 31 to renegotiate a contract for Blackman, who had allegedly received favorable reviews, according to meeting minutes referencing the review.
That triggered Grow's suspicions about "whether the substance of the executive session was indeed limited only to the actual negotiations," he wrote.
Grow's other official complaint, also filed on June 13, alleges that the controversial cutting of the charter's principal-type head of school position in May might have been discussed during the executive session, breaking Open Meeting Laws that prohibit such a private discussion. The decision to discard the position — ousting sitting Head of School Jody Ziebarth in the process — does not appear to have been discussed in open sessions, according to meeting minutes.
In his formal complaint, Grow wrote, "I contend that the substantial restructuring of the administration, including the elimination of the Head of School position occurred under the cloak of these executive sessions."
In the complaint, Grow again calls for the school to release "complete and detailed" minutes of the two executive sessions and to undergo further Open Meeting Law training. Grow also suggests the board "should release all communications ... about the decision to restructure their administration including the elimination of the Head of School position."
Charter Board of Trustees Chairman James Caviston did not return calls seeking comment.
Grow, a former Gloucester city councilor and one of 14 city school parents challenging the granting of the Gloucester Community Arts School charter by the state in 2009, said he's filed these complaints in order to force the board to be more accountable to the public.
"It is imperative that a board that's been unaccountable to a community from which its driving its tax funding, ought to find some way be accountable," Grow said.
Grow filed a previous open meeting complaint in November 2010. And, in its November 2011 findings, the Attorney General's Office concluded the board had broken open meeting laws, but had done so unintentionally, when the trustees held an "emergency" meeting to replace a session that had to be rescheduled. The state's Open Meeting Laws hold that so-called emergency sessions can be used only because of unforeseen events, not as part of a rescheduling.
While the Attorney General's Office determined the board had broken the Open Meeting Laws unintentionally, they did not issue a punishment, but suggested further Open Meeting Law training for the board.
Grow said the board's Open Meeting Laws training should have prevented any future unintentional missteps.
"They're well past the stage of not knowing the rules," Grow said. "Every single one of those board members needs to be following the letter of the law."
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or email@example.com.