Superintendent’s Contract: Resident ‘Promises’ To Sue Board Members
By: Alex Scofield
Richard W. Augustine promised Wednesday night to sue four school committee members if the Town of Sandwich lands on the hook for damages from a potential lawsuit filed by Schools Superintendent Mary Ellen Johnson.
“Four of you ... wantonly disregarded our requests and your responsibility to protect our financial interests,” Mr. Augustine said in brief but pointed comments aimed at committee members Nancy A. Crossman, Marie A. Kangas, Chairman Sharron L. Marshall, and Vice Charman Jessica A. Linehan. The members made up the 4-3 majority that voted in June not to extend Dr. Johnson’s contract through 2012-13 school year.
That vote came two months after the committee’s original vote to extend the contract. Assistant District Attorney Thomas G. Shack, however, stated the first vote was null and void since the meeting had not been property posted.
By the time the issue could be revisited, a town election had occured, bringing two new members to the board. When it came time to revote the contract, those two members, Ms. Crossman and Ms. Kangas, opposed the extension.
Dr. Johnson’s status after the current school year has been in dispute ever since.
School committee members met in private with their attorney Joseph A. Emerson Jr. last week to discuss a letter from Dr. Johnson’s attorney Paul L. Nevins.
“There isn’t anything I can say,” said Ms. Marshall on Wednesday night, regarding the private meeting.
The letter urged committee members to honor Dr. Johnson’s initial contract extension by October 10, or prepare to face litigation.
Mr. Augustine raised the stakes this week.
He said the town’s insurance company could decide the committee acted “outside the scope, responsibilities and requirements of their positions,” and decline to cover the costs of the lawsuit.
Should Dr. Johnson prevail in the lawsuit, and the town’s insurer decline to cover the damages, Mr. Augustine pledged to seek compensation for the town’s expenses—from the committee members’ own pockets.
“Please be advised that it is my/our intention to sue the four of you, both individually and severally, on behalf of all taxpayers and the Town, for damages plus the cost of litigation, which may exceed $300,000,” Mr. Augustine said. “We hope you all can afford the approximate, average $75,000 plus judgment that could be assessed against each of you. You gambled with town funds and, ironically, it may well be that you gambled with your own money.”
“Please do not regard the foregoing as a threat. It is not. It’s a promise!” Mr. Augustine concluded.
With his comments made, Mr. Augustine was gone, leaving the committee and Dr. Johnson to discuss ways to achieve $2.6 million in budget reductions for Fiscal Year 2012.
“We’re not going to have a lot of flexibility here,” Dr. Johnson said. “One of the major areas that we have to focus in on, unfortunately, is personnel.” She likened the budget-cutting process to removing items from a cup every year—eventually, you get to the bottom of the cup, she said.
As the dispute continues over Dr. Johnson’s contract, the committee has taken preliminary steps to find a successor. The committee sought consultants to assist with the search, and several consulting candidates have applied. “We’ve had responses from companies,” Ms. Marshall said. “It looks like the next thing for us is to set up interviews with these companies.”
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