ALTON — After an hour of accusations, insinuations, and recriminations, the Alton School Board last night voted unanimously to rescind its vote to hire a private company to provide superintendent and curriculum services to the Central School beginning next fiscal year.
The decision in question took place in a non-public meeting held about 15 minutes before the January 31 SB-2 deliberative session. It authorized the district to hire YET — an eduction consulting firm — for one year at a cost of $125,000. The vote was three for, zero against, and one abstention from Krista Argiropolis, who said last night she abstained because she had questions. Terri Noyes was ill.
In exchange, said member Steve Miller, the company would provide a minimum of 150 days for a superintendent and 150 days for a curriculum director.
Right now, said Miller the cost of both of those positions is $202,569 including benefits.
The company, YET, LLC is an education consulting company formed by current Superintendent William Lander and former Curriculum Director Sydney Leggett, who is now the principal of the Gilford Middle School.
The company paperwork was signed by Lander and Leggett on December 12 and entered into the Secretary of State's Corporation filings on December 18 — the day he resigned at a 1 p.m. meeting of the School Board.
Leggett submitted her resignation to the Gilford School District on February 12.
Lander has submitted his resignation as superintendent to the board effective June 30, telling them he wanted to devote more time to teaching and to YET, as well as consulting for the N.H. School Board Association.
What the nearly 75 people at last night's meeting found so wrong was the process by which the School Board made the decision.
Speaking against the proposed contract — as of last night no official contract between the district and YET had been signed — was Noyes, who claims she was told there was no need for her to attend the board meeting preceding the SB-2 session.
"When did the board give you permission to negotiate that," she asked Miller, who was the person approached by Lander about hiring YET for a transition year between permanent superintendents.
"It's unethical," she said, telling Miller that not only did the board violate the N.H. Right-To-Know law by holding a private meeting to discuss a public contract but broke the board's own code of ethics by engaging in a negotiation before consulting the rest of the board.
"All outside contracts are the same, " Noyes said "They have to be done in public."
Miller said he didn't engage in any negotiations but was approached by Lander one day while he was in the SAU office. He said he felt it was appropriate to go into non-public under Right-To-Know because it was a discussion about employment.
He also invoked the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens v. United ruling by saying that corporations are people and can have the same non-public privileges as employees.
"This has not been done honestly and transparently," Noyes rebutted.
Most of the people who spoke against hiring YET concentrated on the Right-To-Know issue. Some questioned Lander's personal ethics because he approached a board member about hiring his private company while he was still a paid employee of the School District.
Jeffrey Clay asked the three members of the board who voted for hiring YET to step down and demanded an independent inquiry into the entire process.
Cooler heads prevailed later in the meeting when Carole Locke, an educator in Gilmanton, said she thought that Miller had acted in good faith and tried to save the school some money.
She said the board should rescind the vote of January 31 and investigate the best way to make the transition for July 1 when the district will need a new superintendent.