School Board Finally Releases Vote Tally on Hiring New Superintendent
March 25, 2016
by Barbara O’Brien
A contract with the newest superintendent hired to oversee the Windham School District was signed on Feb. 18, but it took nearly a month for the school board to make its vote public. In the meantime, rumors throughout town were bandied about, and frequent demands to know the tally were seen on social media and heard at meetings.
School board members had gone into non-public session on March 1, at which time they decided to delay the decision on whether or not to divulge the vote for another two weeks. On March 15, the subject was not raised until former School Board Chairman Barbara Coish went to the podium and asked what they were going to do about revealing the vote to hire current Marlborough, Mass., superintendent Richard Langlois. “It’s supposed to be first on tonight’s agenda,” Coish said. “Instead, it’s buried halfway through the meeting.” The final decision had come down to choosing either Interim Superintendent Tina McCoy or Langlois, who is in the midst of a three-year contract with Marlborough.
Windham resident and attorney Andrea Alexander chastised the school board for not being more forthcoming with the information, citing New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know Law (RSA 91-A). You can seal the minutes from a non-public meeting, Alexander noted, but not the vote. Alexander also commented that there are only three reasons that this information from a non-public meeting can be sealed: threats of terrorism, revelation would render any decision ineffective, or to protect the reputation of an employee. Popovici-Muller, who is now the school board chairman, said it had been the school district attorney’s opinion that a decision to keep the vote secret could be justified in order to avoid any potential liability.
Alexander also took exception with the school board’s decision to hire Langlois, rather than McCoy. “I credit Tina with the large turnout on Election Day; and with almost single-handedly nearly getting this town to approve the school construction (warrant article).” McCoy had engaged in extensive public interaction prior to the election, as well as spending hours at the polls explaining to voters the details of the $38,950,000 bond issue for renovations to Golden Brook and Windham Middle School. Although the bond issue failed to receive the required 60 percent majority, it came excruciatingly close (57%). Resident Cynthia Finn said she hopes the same, or a very similar proposal, will be back on the ballot again next year.
Resident Louise Bates didn’t think the public needed to know how the vote on a new superintendent had gone. “Why do we need to know?” she asked. “What good can come out of knowing?”
“I don’t understand the reluctance of releasing the vote on the new superintendent,” resident Jonathan Sycamore told the school board. “You should stand up and own it.” Sycamore also disputed the board’s choice of Langlois. “You missed an excellent opportunity for continuity,” Sycamore said. “You hired a retired superintendent who wants to spend more time with his family, instead of a young and upcoming candidate (McCoy),” he added.
Following Coish’s question and the subsequent public comment, school board members did finally move forward unanimously (5 to 0) with deciding to make the vote on hiring Langlois public. As it turns out, many who had made assumptions about how the vote for Langlois had gone were correct. It was, indeed, a 3 to 2 decision. Voting to hire Langlois for a three-year period were Ken Eyring, who had been chairman at the time, Tom Murray, who had been vice-chairman at the time, and school board member Daniel Popovici-Muller. Voting in opposition to hiring Langlois, presumably because they were in support of Dr. McCoy, were school board members Dennis Senibaldi and Rob Breton.
Langlois is expected to start the job in Windham on July 1. McCoy will continue as interim superintendent until June 30. Dr. McCoy, a Windham resident, has spoken with Langlois and offered to assist in the transition.