Report Finds School Board Members Did Not Harass Superintendent

An independent investigation has found no basis to claims that four school committee members had intimidated and harassed former Superintendent of Schools Mary Ellen Johnson.

The claims were made by Dr. Johnson against committee members Nancy A. Crossman, Marie A. Kangas, Jessica A. Linehan and now former committee member Sharron L. Marshall.

Douglas I. Louison and Regina M. Ryan of Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff, LLP, were hired by the town to conduct the investigation.

In her claim, Dr. Johnson asserted that, from May 2010 through May 2011, the four school board members intimidated her, retaliated against her and bullied her because she ordered an audit of the Community School; eliminated third-party vendors from the school department; pursued her legal rights with respect to her contract; and because she issued four reprimands to her administrative assistant Joan D. Caulkins. The reprimands were ultimately removed and rescinded from Ms. Caulkins’ personnel file.

But after interviewing Dr. Johnson and the school board members involved in the claim, along with committee Chairman Shaun P. Cahill, Ms. Caulkins, secretary Bobbi Moore, as well as watching video replays of school board meetings, the investigators failed to find evidence to support Dr. Johnson’s claim of harassment.

“I am very pleased with the findings. It completely vindicates my actions,” said Ms. Marshall.

“I know that the [allegations] made [in the claim] were false,” Ms. Crossman said. “It’s a relief to know that a third-party lawyer was able to make the same determination.”

Dr. Johnson was not pleased with the investigation or the final report. She said the investigation was not thorough and the final report was not accurate.

According to the report, which was released on Wednesday, investigators found the four committee members to be “credible” in their responses to questions about the Community School audit and about the elimination of the third-party vendors.

In her findings, Ms. Ryan wrote, “it was the process by which Dr. Johnson addressed the Community School audit and the elimination of third party vendors that frustrated the [committee members], particularly the fact that when they asked Dr. Johnson for information to back up her findings, she refused or failed to provide them with the information.”

“That’s not true. The other three school committee members should have been interviewed,” Dr. Johnson said.

According to the report, each of the members, when interviewed, expressed frustration with Dr. Johnson and felt that they tried to treat her professionally but she was rude and disrespectful to them, and frequently failed to cooperate in providing information to the school committee members when requested to do so.

In a telephone interview this week, Ms. Crossman said that the committee members were not harassing Dr. Johnson. They were doing what they were elected to do, which is to ask questions and to garner as much information as possible to make informed decisions.

“We were trying to be sure we got the budget in time to adequately review it,” Ms. Crossman said. “It’s our budget, once we approve it.”

Ms. Ryan also wrote in her findings, “Dr. Johnson specified in her interview that she was subjected to harassment and bullying by these individuals when they excluded her from meetings, though she could not identify any meetings from which she was excluded; they did not show her respect at the school committee meetings (I observed the specific meetings that she suggested and I did not observe a pattern of disrespect); and they stopped copying her on e-mails (she could not identify any e-mails but has stated that since May 2011, she has been included on more e-mails.)”

Dr. Johnson took exception with this particular part of the report.

“The investigator stated that she did not observe any pattern of disrespect toward me by the school committee. That speaks to the integrity of the report,” she said.

Ms. Marshall pointed out that the investigator’s findings were based on replays of the school committee meetings.

“It’s not a matter of hearsay. It is watching what actually occurred. It is the purest kind of investigation,” Ms. Marshall said.

In Ms. Ryan’s report, she states, “Dr. Johnson was asked to provide a witness list but stated that she could not identify any witnesses that would offer testimony beyond what could be witnessed during the televised school committee meetings.”

But Dr. Johnson said this is not the case. “I told her if she needed more evidence, I would provide her with a list of other people to interview,” Dr. Johnson said.

Beyond that, Dr. Johnson said she believes the investigator was biased. She said when she called Ms. Ryan to give her a list of additional witnesses, the secretary said that Ms. Ryan was working for the town and not for Dr. Johnson.

Both Ms. Marshall and Ms. Crossman were satisfied with the report and are happy to put this harassment claim behind them.

“It was frustrating to have to go through all this,” Ms. Crossman said. “I hope that people will remember that the whole complaint was false. …We did not do any of [the things alleged].”
 

 

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