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School committee member bounced from meeting prior to vote

August 26, 2014

School Committee Member Jonathan Daly-LaBelle, second from left, said that he would have voted against the extension of the superintendent's contract if given the opportunity.

SOUTH KINGSTOWN – School Committee Member Jonathan Daly-LaBelle claims that he was kicked out of a closed-door school committee meeting on June 10, immediately prior to the vote taken by the rest of the committee to extend Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow’s contract – a decision he said on Tuesday that he would have voted against.

The motion to approve the extension of the superintendent’s contract by three years and bestow a favorable review upon her was made by Kevin Jackson and passed 6-0, with Daly-LaBelle “not present.”

“In regard to the vote on the superintendent, I was available for that vote,” said Daly-LaBelle at Tuesday’s open session. “I did want to vote. The choice was not mine to not be able to vote. I would have voted against it.”

Because the vote and the events leading up to it occurred in executive session, nobody on the school committee is able to discuss the situation in detail.

Further calls to Daly-LaBelle following the meeting resulted in little more information.

“I was present for that meeting, and then I wasn’t,” he said on Tuesday night. “And it was not my choice to leave. Over the course of the past year, I’ve expressed my concerns: the budget was not properly reviewed or presented. There was no looking back at the previous years’ cuts to see how it affected the children. NECAP results were not reviewed in a timely manner. It took six months. My concern continues. The NECAP presentation, a public document, is not available online. We as a district have a lot to be proud of, but we can always do better.”

While it can be assumed that Chairwoman Maureen Cotter ejected Daly-LaBelle from the meeting, she is not allowed to comment on the matter, either.

“I cannot comment on any discussion or event that occurred during any executive session - it would not be lawful,” she said on Wednesday morning. “The superintendent evaluation is personnel and falls under the exceptions to hold discussion in executive session. However, I can offer a sense of the importance to evaluate the superintendent. It is one of the most important responsibilities of the school committee. The primary purpose is to provide a means for the school committee to address and effectively serve the needs of the school district to improve student achievement and district operations. A highly effective superintendent evaluation process such as we have here in South Kingstown promotes clarity of roles, promotes professional growth, and builds good board to superintendent relations. It is a tool to create and maintain a common understanding of leadership and serve as a mechanism for accountability.“

Cotter continued to praise the superintendent for her recent work, as reflected by the otherwise unanimous vote to evaluate her favorably and, essentially, to keep her around.

“When we evaluate the superintendent, the school committee speaks with one voice - not seven or one individual(s),” she said. “The school committee takes this responsibility very seriously as does the superintendent. As you know from the vote, the school committee was very pleased with the superintendent's performance this year (as well as in past years). The superintendent has provided excellent leadership for the district and we are pleased with the outcomes that demonstrate her leadership. For example, the town of South Kingstown is losing - in round numbers - half a million dollars a year in state aid to education and we will continue to do that for six more years. Based on the superintendent's recommendations, we have managed that loss of state support without cutting major programs. In fact, there are program initiatives within the district such as the world language program during this difficult time. We have maintained and even enhanced quality programs without heavy reliance on increased property tax.”

Superintendent Stringfellow did not comment on the matter, but was appreciative of the praise given by Cotter and the rest of the school committee.

In the same executive session, the superintendent's salary was increased by $3,000, a 2.5 percent raise. This brings her salary to $123,000.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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