Records offer some background on Adams-Cheshire superintendent's resignation
CHESHIRE — The Adams-Cheshire Regional School Committee last month floated two proposals for dealing with Superintendent Kristen Gordon's employment: Place her on immediate leave or obtain her resignation effective June 30.
Documents obtained by The Eagle via a request under the Massachusetts Public Records Law shed some light on the school committee's moves in dealing with Gordon, but still do not explain why her employment situation came under scrutiny. The records of two school committee meetings from February are extensively redacted.
In two closed-door meetings in early February the school committee ultimately voted to modify Gordon's 2015 contract, which was to have spanned through June 2020.
In a 5 to 2 vote, the committee's decided Gordon would resign effective June 30 "at the first School Committee [meeting] following the execution of this agreement," according to the documents. The modified contract dictated Gordon would receive her $123,235 salary and benefits and collect at least a sizable portion of $63,000 in accrued sick time upon her departure.
Gordon did tender her resignation as the school committee instructed. Since 2012, she has served as superintendent and was principal at the district's C.T. Plunkett Elementary School for nearly 10 years before that.
At the time, Gordon told The Eagle that she was tired of working "70- to 80-hour weeks" and wished to return to being a building administrator. She said she had to take time off this year for personal reasons.
District officials told The Eagle last week Gordon has been absent for 32 days so far in 2016, a span of time confined mostly to one extended leave from the end of January until earlier this month.
Split among members
The meeting records reveal the school committee was not unanimous on the terms of Gordon's resignation.
Two of seven committee members — Stephen Vigna and Edmund St. John IV — objected to the June 30 resignation scenario. They preferred that Gordon go on immediate leave and "not return to school subject to committee's approval"; they also sought to reduce the sum of compensation the district stood to pay her.
The modified contract, approved by the other five members, also required Gordon, while announcing her resignation, to limit comments to a "prepared statement" subject to School Committee Chairman Paul Butler's approval. A mutually agreed upon press release would be issued following the meeting.
Gordon "has decided to pursue other opportunities in the education industry," the press release said. Until the end of the school year, Gordon was to perform her duties in a "professional and workmanlike manner."
Her future employers, the terms finally stated, "shall be directed solely to the then chairperson of the committee for background information concerning Superintendent Gordon" and "no other employee or agent of the district is empowered to make any comment." When contacted as a job reference, the chairperson was to do no more than confirm Gordon's dates of employment, positions held and salary and benefits and "that she served with dedication."
Gordon's announcement came at a school committee meeting on Feb. 22.
The superintendent's long absence and subsequent resignation have prompted repeated questions — informed and otherwise — from concerned residents, parents and some district staff seeking reasons for the unexpected events.
The school committee's leadership has kept mum and dutifully shut down inquiries into the matter during public meetings.
The public records provided to The Eagle by Adams-Cheshire Regional School District on Thursday revealed less than was possible because they were, prior to release, heavily redacted by the school district's attorney, Jeffrey Grandchamp.
Portions of the documents — the modified contract and minutes of the Feb. 4 and Feb. 8 executives sessions concerning Gordon — were exempt from disclosure because they "are personnel files" and "contain materials relating to a specifically named individual, the disclosure of which may constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," Grandchamp argued, citing Massachusetts General Law.
An entire page of the provided minutes for the Feb. 4 executive session appeared as little more than blocks of blacked-out text.
On the other hand, matters concerning public funds, Grandchamp said, are by law subject to disclosure. The redactions, therefore, did not concern finances, he said.
"There is no money being paid separately or being lost and not recovered," Grandchamp said. "That was not an issue here."
Sources within the district say a brief investigation of Gordon's management decisions — occurring early in Gordon's absence — resulted after a district employee filed an official complaint against the superintendent.
The investigation led to some questioning of payments to one district employee in particular and additional questions concerning Gordon's hiring practices, which allegedly suggested nepotism and favoritism.
According to sources, two scenarios were presented to Gordon following the initial investigation: Resign or remain while the district presses on in its investigation.
She chose the former, and in so doing abandoned a six-figure separation payment she was seeking in the initial negotiations, sources say.
Gordon is now seeking new employment, and according to sources, has achieved "finalist" status for the principal positions at both Crosby Elementary School in Pittsfield and Conway Grammar School in Conway.
Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.
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