WILMINGTON, MA – The Wilmington Board of Selectmen still want an explanation from the Wilmington School Committee over the separation agreement it reached with former Superintendent Mary DeLai.
At its November 28th meeting, the Selectmen unanimously agreed to invite School Committee Chair Julie Broussard to their December 12 meeting to discuss the agreement.
Town Manager Jeff Hull sent the invitation to Broussard on November 30, writing that the Selectmen “would like to have a more complete understanding of the nature of the agreement and the basis for the School Committee members agreeing to the terms.”
Broussard responded with a letter on December 5, writing she was unable to attend the December 12 meeting due to a prior family commitment.
Noting that financial terms of the agreement are a matter of public interest and must be disclosed, Broussard provided those details:
“Ms. DeLai shall receive her regular compensation, with all benefits (health and dental), less deductions from all applicable and necessary withholdings including, but not limited to, state and federal taxes, MTRS deduction and employee health insurance contributions. For the period from October 4, 2016 through June 30, 2017, Ms. DeLai shall receive nineteen (19) pay checks each in the gross amount of $6,630.27 per pay check, for a total compensation during the period of $125,975.13.”
The non-financial terms of the separation agreement, however, remain confidential, according to Broussard, who classify them as a personnel matter. Broussard and her colleagues are “looking forward to moving on from this incident in order to advance its agenda for the benefit of students and families.”
Town Manager Jeff Hull sent a public records request via email to Interim Superintendent Joanne Benton on November 30. Hull was seeking a copy of the separation agreement “along with any and all other documents related to Ms. DeLai’s separation or termination.”
Benton, on behalf of the School Department, responded to Hull’s request via letter on December 2. Benton provided Hull with the financial information from the separation agreement, but redacted the remainder of the agreement because the school department views it as a personnel record, which – according to state law – is exempt from disclosure under the public records law. The School Department also views any other documents related to DeLai’s separation as exempt from disclosure under the same exception.
The School Department then submitted this matter to the Supervisor of Public Records in the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office and agreed to abide by whatever decision the Supervisor makes. Based on Benton’s letter to Hul, however, the school department seems confident that, based on Massachusetts General Law Chapter 4, section 7, clause 26, exemption 3, it will not need to disclose any additional information surrounding the separation agreement.
Selectmen Aren’t Satisfied
“I believe what we received for information is is all that we’re ever going to receive,” said Selectwoman Judy O’Connell. With the exception of requesting Executive Session minutes, O’Connell stressed that the School Committee, likely following the advice of their attorney, won’t be forthcoming with any additional details.
“You may well be right,” acknowledged Selectman Mike McCoy, “but it would have been nice to see their Chairperson here.” McCoy was especially bothered with all the redactions. “[The School Committee] can hide behind these black lines, but they can’t hide from the voters and taxpayers,” he said.
After calling former superintendent DeLai “nothing short of a bully” and criticizing her management style, McCoy said he doesn’t think the School Committee will want to come to explain their actions. McCoy added that the separation agreement is all he’s hearing about and he can’t go to Market Basket without someone stopping to discuss it with him.
“I agree that this is somewhat of a conclusion in that we have the financial information now,” said Selectman Kevin Caira. “The School Committee still needs to come in and justify their decisions; just a little explanation and rationale.” Caira went through a list of unanswered questions – could the Committee has just terminated DeLai for just cause; why did they agree to pay her her full salary with benefits; did they talk to legal counsel; what legal advice were they given? “I just want to know how the Committee came to this agreement before we can put [this issue] away,” added Caira.
On a motion from McCoy, Selectmen once again unanimously voted to invite School Committee Chair Julie Broussard to its next meeting on January 9. This time, however, the invitation was extended to all 7 members of the School Committee.
Selectman Greg Bendel questioned whether the School Committee could really provide the Selectmen with any answers without violating the confidentiality of the separation agreement. “I don’t want them answering questions that might breach the agreement… I would hate to see this snowball into costing the town anymore than it has,” said Bendel.
“That is a legitimate question,” responded Town Manager Hull. “One would imagine they will receive counsel from their attorney as to what they can and can’t say… To what degree that information considered during Executive Session may be made public without potentially bringing on some sort of claim that Mary DeLai might pursue? I don’t know the answer to that.”
Selectmen Want To Maintain Good Relationship With School Committee
“I don’t want to injure of fracture what’s been a very positive, mutually beneficial working relationship between our two boards,” said Selectman Mike Champoux. “It’s not my intent to be adversarial and confrontational, but righter get a better understanding of the decision-making process in this matter…. I also want to instill a sense of confidence among residents that we have a transparent government.”
“I don’t like the number, but I don’t know what they were facing. Maybe that was the best number they could get?,” said Champoux, who noted he’d keep an open mind on the matter.
“I believe the School Committee wants to be cooperative… but they’re of the mindset that their hands are tied,” added Selectwoman Judy O’Connell. “I believe they’re heeding to the legal advice they’ve been given.”
“This isn’t about people or personalities. It’s about the subject matter…. This is not a personal attack,” stressed O’Connell. “We’re seeking to get a general understanding of how the decision was derived. I cannot express enough that I want to continue a good relationship wit the School Committee. We just want a generalized narrative of how things unfolded, but I get these sense the School Committee is being legally advised not to provide it.”
A Note About Executive Session Minutes
Selectmen expressed an interest in viewing the School Committee’s Executive Session minutes for the meetings in which the DeLai separation agreement was discussed. Those minutes remain confidential.
Wilmington Apple, however, did obtain the Executive Session minutes for the Committee’s October 26 Executive Session, which occurred weeks AFTER DeLai’s separation. (Those minutes were approved for release on November 1.) At that meeting, School Committee members MJ Byrnes and Steve Bjork volunteered to represent the committee in contract negotiations with Joanne Benton. The Committee also reviewed and discussed a draft contract for Benton that was written by the school committee’s lawyer, Andrew Waugh.
One could infer that if Waugh was involved in crafting the contract for the incoming interim superintendent, he was also involved in crafting the separation agreement for the departing superintendent just weeks prior. That inference is supported by the fact that, according to an interview Broussard provided to WCTV, the first call she made after learning of DeLai’s arrest was to the committee’s lawyer.
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