Friday, January 22, 2010
Minuteman School Committee wrestles with ethics charges
Jeffrey Stulin, Chair of the School Committee of Minuteman Regional Career and Technical High School, opened a special meeting on January 13 that addressed rumors and anonymous letters, as well as concerns of the participating towns’ governments, about ethics issues relating to Superintendent Dr. Edward Bouquillon’s hiring practices and occupation of a house owned by the school at 10 Mill Street, Lexington. Bouquillon responded to two motions about going into executive session with a request for an open meeting with no executive session. Both motions were withdrawn and an open meeting proceeded.
Housing for the superintendent: a “gentlemen’s agreement”
In an effort to review the history of the decision to provide Bouquillon with on-campus housing at 10 Mill Street, Stulin stated that, “At the end of the previous administration, which ended disastrously, there were two searches for a new superintendent in a narrow field of qualified applicants. The committee was excited to finally find Dr. Bouquillon. We learned that he might move back into Massachusetts, but then leave after a short time if his compensation package did not address the higher cost of living that he would have in this state, so we broached the idea of housing the superintendent on campus to keep him.” Stulin noted that there is precedent for housing administrators on the campuses of technical high schools in Massachusetts, and Bouquillon added that in most of these cases, housing is provided as a part of the compensation package, whereas he is paying rent to live at 10 Mill Street.
“The original agreement with Dr. Bouquillon was, in fact, a gentlemen’s agreement, not a contract,” Stulin continued, “that if the arrangement with him were working after a year, the committee would approve and fund repairs and renovations on 10 Mill Street so that, as customary in many towns, the superintendent could live on campus.”
The committee did finally vote to approve the deal, which included repairs and renovations to be paid out of a revolving fund that is designated for property maintenance, and, Stulin said, “we essentially gave him a blank check,” based on a repair estimate of $50,000 to $80,000.” He said it was expected that no towns would suffer an increase in their assessment and Bouquillon would pay rent for the use of the house when it was habitable. “How can you blame him,” asked Stulin, “for something that [the committee] did?”
The repairs eventually cost over $130,000. They are documented and were acknowledged by the finance and warrant subcommittees of the School Committee.
Weston threatens to stop feasibility study
David Harmon, committee representative from Weston, brought a report from his Board of Selectmen that argued that although the expenditures may have been acknowledged, they were never officially authorized by the whole School Committee. He said that Weston is demanding an external audit of all expenditures as to the amounts and authorizations to prepare the house for the Superintendent and that the town does not approve spending money on a house that should have been spent on the students. (The revolving fund used to repair 10 Mill Street cannot be used for student expenses, but is designated specifically for maintenance and repair of the four or five properties owned by MMRHS.) Weston, Harmon continued, “does not approve of the management procedures that allowed spending on a house and then allowing the superintendent to live in it. There is no evidence of official authorization to spend the money on the house. The committee should have full oversight of any funds expended.” He further insisted that the funds that provided this money have not been precisely identified. Copies of the checks for repairs and renovations have been provided to the committee and identified as having been drawn from the revolving fund for property repair, but it is not clear whether this happened before or after Weston Selectmen drew up their demands.
“Weston Selectmen,” he continued, “will not move ahead on the feasibility study [for Minuteman renovations] until the issue is resolved. A way to resolve this tonight, rather than censure, is to have the superintendent admit that he has created a bad appearance, apologize for it, and we have an audit and we consult with the auditors to insure that going forward, any moneys are authorized before they are spent.”
Bouquillon had a lawyer present with him, who responded to this statement by angrily demanding an apology from Harmon, asserting that there has been no proof of any wrongdoing by the superintendent and that Weston’s assertions and demands might warrant legal action.
Stulin noted, “This stuff all happened a year ago. There are half a dozen financial oversight issues still percolating. The finance [sub]committee has been working on this issue for a year so this [kind of confusion] won’t happen again, but it is taking a long time. Over the next year, these issues will be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.” Committee members called for better oversight of expenditures.
Bouquillon added, “I implore you to close this issue in whatever way, shape or form you can and let’s move on. We have much more important work to do.”
Several more minutes of acrimonious discussion ensued, with a lot of finger-pointing as to who is at fault for not publicizing the original deal even to the whole School Committee except in a stream of emails, and the failure of the School Committee to effectively communicate all of the relevant information to the member towns.
Minuteman hiring practices: committee approves documentation
After a short break, discussion continued on the other issue in question, that of Bouquillon’s hiring his daughter, Erin Bordeau, as a teacher, as well as her husband, Brian Bordeau. According to Carlisle’s representative to the Minuteman School Committee, Mariellen Perugini, Massachusetts law has “no prohibition of relatives working in [a public] entity, as long as all required notifications are made to the School Committee, which then can determine whether or not there is conflict of interest.” As it turns out, the School Committee did receive all the required notifications of hiring practices regarding Bordeau and her husband and determined that there were no improprieties or conflict of interest in evidence. The committee affirmed their acceptance of this documentation.
However, Concord Town Moderator Edward N. Perry stated in a December 10 letter to Stulin, that in his position as “appointing authority for the Concord representative on the Minuteman Regional School District Committee,” he had reviewed the documentation. Perry said, “the legally required paperwork was available to me; however, the timing of the preparation of the paperwork relating to Ms. Bordeau’s hiring appeared to raise questions and there still remained the appearance of ethical impropriety.” He recommended that Bouquillon ask the State Ethics Commission to review the hiring of Erin and Brian Bordeau.
Weston representative Harmon suggested that “the whole problem could be fixed by firing Erin Bordeau.” The School Committee objected to this line of thinking, noting that there would be consequences with the faculty union if it were deemed that no required hiring practices were violated and that the School Committee would take such an action in response to anonymous letters, rumor, and innuendo, rather than facts.
Committee forms communication task force
Much discussion ensued over the issue of public perception, and the necessity to communicate with member towns in a clear and transparent fashion. Acton representative Dore Hunter observed that “there are better and more constructive ways, a higher road to take, with our issues.” Perugini noted that in their review of Bouquillon’s performance the committee had already asked for improvement in communication, and that he has already made strides in the transparency and timeliness of his communication to the committee. By the end of the meeting, the committee had formed an on-call “Communications Task Force,” which will respond to requests and calls from member towns, schedule meetings with the requesting communities, provide information and answer questions.
Minuteman budget cut by more than 10%
In a telephone interview following the meeting, Perugini also noted that Bouquillon has responded to the “skyrocketing” per-pupil cost at Minuteman, reducing the budget by more than 10%, so that there will be “$1.1 million less in assessments to towns next year. The per-pupil cost has been one of Dr. Bouquillon’s concerns, and he has placed it on a downward trend.”
Perugini added that she would like to see further communication of the school’s value to the Carlisle community, and especially to middle school students and their parents. “Many of us think of a ‘technical’ education as training only for the trades, but Minuteman is all that and much more today. Students can put a good deal of specialized training on their college applications, and this training is cutting-edge. Many more Carlisle students could be well served by a Minuteman education.” ∆
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