In response to Seth Henry’s request that the Harwood Unified Union School District (HUUSD) explain why his public records request would cost $6,100, Superintendent Brigid Nease responded with a detailed letter she was presenting to the HUUSD Board on December 6 as The Valley Reporter went to press.
Over two weeks ago Henry, Fayston, requested a full spectrum of financial records from the central office (Washington West Supervisory Union) from 2010 through 2017.
He received a written response from the school board’s outside attorney detailing the amount of work it would take and explaining that the least paid appropriate person to do the work was paid $38.50 per hour and the work would cost $6,100 plus $500 in copying fees.
In response to that, Henry sent another letter clarifying why he is seeking the information, referencing community concerns about wasteful spending by the superintendent and the central office. He referenced concerns about “six-figure settlements” for several legal settlements related to personnel conflicts. He also clarified concerns about software spending and consulting fees as well as central office expenditures. Henry also raised questions about transparency around how public complaints are handled.
In an email sent to The Valley Reporter and Waterbury Record on December 3, Nease addressed some of the points Henry raised. She prefaced her response to Henry by noting that her letter was necessitated after receving the letter from Henry.
She noted that a lot of the information on the central office is available on the Washington West Supervisory Union website without cost. She reiterated the calculations provided in the letter from the board’s outside attorney explaining portions of the projected costs. In terms of consulting fees, Nease wrote that this is a “large area” and includes special education and other servies. She suggested that Henry specify a particular area of consulting services to reduce costs.
In her letter to the board about Henry’s questions, Nease noted, “All local boards and now the HUUSD Board have a clearly defined process for hearing public complaints. Since my hire in 2009, there has not been a single public complaint made to the board or myself in writing or at a publicly warned meeting about ineffective or wasteful spending. If in fact these concerns exist, I would encourage you to direct those community members to the WWSU website where they can utilize our policy on public complaints.”
Asked for comment about Nease’s response, Henry took issue with the fact that Nease responded to his letter that he specifically addressed to the board. “I am not sure what is the most appalling, that the media and board have been sent a letter authored by the superintendent purportedly addressed and delivered to me that I never received, that the superintendent has responded to my communication that was addressed only to the board chair, vice chair and Fayston reps (not her) effectively speaking for the board without the board formally convening to respond first, or the cover note she included which states that her actions are not driven by the request I made, but rather who I am and how she judges me. Each of these issues, in its own right, is a serious problem with proper functioning of our governance, even more so considering the fact that I still have received absolutely none of the information originally requested as to how the taxpayer’s resources are being spent,” he said via email.
The email from Nease that included her response reads:
“Good evening, as promised, I am sending to you the letter I sent to the HUUSD Board this evening in preparation for their meeting this Wednesday, December 6. The letter was necessitated after receiving the following email letter from Seth Henry, Fayston community member and husband of resigned board member Heidi Spear, last Friday afternoon.”
That email was sent on Sunday, December 3, in advance of the December 6 HUUSD Board meeting.