After an executive session meeting on February 3, Harwood Unified Union School District Board chair Torrey Smith is negotiating with the board’s chosen superintendent candidate.
The Valley Reporter and Waterbury Roundabout raised the issue of how Smith could be negotiating absent the board deciding in open meeting on which candidate to pursue. In a February 4 interview, Smith said that the board did not come out of executive session to make the decision on which candidate she was to negotiate with and said she’d reached out to the school board’s attorney Pietro Lynn for advice on whether the board met the requirements of Vermont’s Open Meeting Law.
Under that law boards can deliberate in closed-door executive session on personnel matters, but need to come out into a public hearing to take an action, such as hiring someone. Smith said part of the board’s reasoning was that contract negotiations can be conducted in executive session.
“The board made a choice and essentially asked me to begin negotiations. To me, it feels like it’s in the best interest of our district to keep that person’s name confidential until we know we have a contract. Our intent was to give the district the opportunity to get the best candidate and start that person off on the right foot,” she said.
“Our intention was to follow the letter of the law on open meeting and it may turn out that our interpretation was not correct, “she said, referencing the fact that the Washington Central Supervisory Union interviewed Meagan Roy and Zack McLaughlin on February 2 in executive session and exited executive session to vote to offer its superintendent job to Roy. Roy and McLaughlin are two of the three finalists for the HUUSD position.
The Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union where Roy and McLaughlin were also candidates, met on February 3 in executive session to discuss candidates and then entered open session where a motion to extend an offer to McLaughlin was made and passed
“We felt that waiting until we had an answer and then going out with the answer was in the best interest of the school district. It may turn out that I’m wrong,” Smith acknowledged.
Smith said that negotiations were underway and said that if the chosen candidate accepts the position, that person’s name would be revealed prior to next week’s February 9 board meeting.
This week the board interviewed the three finalists for the superintendent position in executive session on January 31 and February 1. The board also conducted public interviews with each of the three candidates for replace outgoing superintendent Brigid Nease. Those public interviews were posted on the school board’s YouTube channel and Mad River Valley Television.
By the time the board met on February 3, finalist Mike Leichliter’s video had been viewed 363 times, Roy’s video interview had been viewed 342 times and McLaughlin’s video had been viewed 296 times.
After the videos were posted to the public, HUUSD also provided a community survey link allowing people to answer three questions about each candidate, including one that asked if they supported the candidate for the position.
Smith said that the board received 115 survey responses for Leichliter, 118 responses for McLaughlin and 105 for Roy. In the survey, 86.8% of those who responded regarding Leichliter were supportive and 13.2% were negative. Those who responded regarding McLaughlin were 66.7% supportive for his candidacy and 33.3% negative. For Roy’s respondents, 43.3% were positive and 56.7% were negative.
“The board was grateful for the interest and participation by the community. Board members read the survey responses and reflected on them and there were mentions of the comments and responses during our meeting, but it wasn’t the prime focus of our discussion,” Smith said.