Another Director Resigns Resulting in Confrontation between School Board Members
June 3, 2016
by Barbara O’Brien
John Pratte has only been employed as the facilities director for the Windham School District for the past year, but he’s already given notice that he’s leaving at the end of the current school year on June 30. Pratte, who took on the job of maintaining the facilities and grounds in the Windham School District last July, will be returning to his previous employment with the Hudson School District.
Although Pratte has only worked for the Windham School District since July of 2015, he has frequently received accolades from school board members and other administrators. It was noted on several occasions that Pratte had saved the school district more money than was being spent on his annual salary.
Perhaps Pratte’s most controversial proposal, which was approved by school board members this past winter, was bringing the school district’s groundskeeping in-house, rather than to continue having it contracted with an outside vendor. The proposal, purported to translate into large savings for the Windham School District within a short length of time, was not supported unanimously. School board member Dennis Senibaldi was adamantly opposed to bringing the job in-house.
Pratte, who will be returning to the Hudson School District, has agreed to a three-year contract with his former decade-long employer.
Windham School Board member Tom Murray noted that Pratte has been a “tremendous asset” to Windham and that he is “very disappointed” at Pratte’s exit. “John will be sorely missed,” Murray said. “He’s done an amazing job,” Interim Superintendent Tina McCoy said of Pratte’s performance. “Mr. Pratte has made significant contributions in the past year,” school board chairman Daniel Popovici-Muller said. “He will be missed, but he has left a lot of value behind.” Murray and school board member Ken Eyring accepted Pratte’s resignation with “deep sadness.”
During the discussion of Pratte’s resignation at the May 24 school board meeting, Murray spoke about an email sent from Popovici-Muller to Pratte, requesting that Pratte reconsider his decision to leave the Windham School District. Apparently, school board member Dennis Senibaldi disagreed with Popovici-Muller’s attempt to coax Pratte to stay; writing an email to that effect. Murray said he was concerned about Senibaldi’s negative response and wanted the email made public. Popovici-Muller was not ready to release the email; however, telling Murray that he wanted to seek legal counsel first, since the email was in regard to a school district employee. Senibaldi told Popovici-Muller he wanted to be assured that all information regarding the issue would be included in any questions to the school district attorney. Murray said he was “not ready to let the issue go” and intended to follow up on his request at the next school board meeting. Attempts to contact Pratte for comment on the issue were not successful.
When Senibaldi was contacted a few days after the May 24 school board meeting, he said he was not able to discuss the email he had sent regarding Pratte’s resignation, because a legal opinion had not yet been received from school district counsel. Senibaldi did comment, however, on statements attributed to fellow school board members Ken Eyring and Tom Murray, in the May 28 edition of The Eagle Tribune, in which both men made comments about Tina McCoy’s performance as interim superintendent.
According to Murray’s comments in the article, McCoy violated school district policy on several occasions and has not always provided the school board with requested information. In the same article, Eyring also is quoted as saying that McCoy did not always furnish requested information, some of which pertained to the proposed construction bond and was time sensitive.
Eyring and Murray, as well as Chairman Daniel Popovici-Muller, voted against hiring McCoy as the permanent superintendent for SAU 95, a job that will be taken over by Richard Langlois on July 1. In The Eagle Tribune article, Eyring stated that he chose Langlois over McCoy because he was “the best person from the pool [of candidates]” and McCoy had less experience as a superintendent.
In regard to the article in The Eagle Tribune, Senibaldi said he thinks Eyring’s and Murray’s “attack” on McCoy should result in their resignations. “In my opinion, Tom crossed the line and discussed what any rational board member would say is a personnel issue,” Senibaldi said. “I feel Ken did the same, but just not as blatant as Tom.” “If you have an issue with an employee you cannot just spout off and say what you want,” Senibaldi said. “In my opinion, they have now put the district in a difficult position; with possible legal ramifications.”
In response to the allegations from Murray and Eyring, McCoy released a significant number of evaluations she had received from other staff members, all commending her for the exceptional job she has done during the past year.
Battles between Eyring, Murray and Senibaldi have been a hallmark of school board behavior since Eyring and Murray were elected. Eyring is now in the third year of his three-year term. Murray is in his second year and Senibaldi was re-elected to a second three-year term this past March.
Pratte’s resignation comes on the heels of several other administrators leaving the Windham School District, including Fine Arts Director Jared Cassedy, Technology Director Kevin Verratti, and Business and Finance Administrator Adam Steel; positions which had not been filled at press time. The beginning of the 2016-2017 school year also commences with a new superintendent. Richard Langlois, a former Massachusetts-based superintendent, taking the reins as SAU 95’s top administrator on July 1. He signed a three-year contract with the district.