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February 10, 2011

SC Executive Meeting Minutes

by at 2:52 pm.

I am not sure who has said it or where I read it or where I may have heard it but we will never really know the whole truth regarding the contract negotiations between the Superintendent and the School Committee.

It took me a while to read through the set of six School Committee Executive Session meetings (link here for the pdf copies of the six meetings) but I have come to the conclusion that the turning point in these negotiations was not what occurred in those meetings but what occurred during the January 6th discussion between School Committee representatives, Mayor Jim Milinazzo and City Solicitor Christine O’Connor, and School Superintendent Chris Augusta Scott and her attorney, Michael Gallagher, outside the meeting.

Jen Myers article in today’s Sun recaps what occurred and her opening paragraph indicates why an initial offer was never made: “A three-year contract offer drafted by the School Committee in early November was never presented to Superintendent of Schools Chris Scott or her attorney, Michael Gallagher, because Scott did not agree to the format in which the committee wished to negotiate, according to executive-session minutes released yesterday.” That decision took place at the December 20th meeting.

If you read the minutes up to January 6th, the School Committee was going back and forth on what they wanted to offer the Superintendent and the terms of the contract. But they were in the process of putting together some kind of a proposal (see 12.29.10 minutes): “a three year contract at $170,000 per year; zero, zero increase each year; the new performance evaluation; salary increase tied to the United Teachers of Lowell (UTL) for the third year of the contract; travel allowance of $300 per month; $3,600 per year

That evening the proposal for the three-year contract was rescinded; “the committee began discussing the pros and cons of a one year deal.”

According to the 12.29.10 minutes:

It was discussed that if they do come back with a counter proposal, the Committee could go through the process of a formal vote. The Mayor indicated that no final decisions have been made. To be fair to everyone, members could still change their minds either way.

Mr.Conway stated that he, for one was in the middle aisle, and there was a possibility that someone could change their mind.

Mr. Conway moved: ‘To authorize Mayor James L. Milinazzo and City Solicitor, Christine O’Connor to report to the Superintendent and her attorney that as of yet, there has not been a counter proposal that has gained the support of a majority of its members. APPROVED

Now back to the January 6th meeting:

Ms. Laraba stated that there has been a lot of conversation but no contract has been offered except the initial one.

Ms. Laraba moved: ‘To offer Dr. Chris Scott a successor contract for two years with the same pay and benefits; seconded by Ms. Martin for discussion. On roll call Ms. Laraba had the only affirmative vote. All other members voted in the negative. One yea; six nays. DEFEATED

The Committee goes into recess and the Mayor and the Solicitor go out to meet with Superintendent Scott and her attorney. Once they returned the minutes reflect the following:

The pros and cons of a one year contract were discussed further.

The Mayor and the Solicitor also reported that there was a request that they meet with her Attorney on Monday.

Ms. Martin moved: ‘To authorize the Mayor and the City Solicitor to meet with the Superintendent and her Attorney Michael Gallagher on Monday, January 10, 2011 to continue negotiations; seconded by Mr. Conway. On roll call Ms. Laraba had the only negative vote. All other members voted in the affirmative. Six yeas; one nay. APPROVED

We will never know what was said, heard and understood during the 1 ½ hour discussion between the four of them on January 16th. After that everything fell apart. So now we are searching for a new Superintendent and Dr. Scott is looking for a new place of employment.

What prompted Dr. Scott cancel the January 10th meeting and go to the newspaper a week later. I do not think we heard that decision full explained. And I do not believe in the conspiracy theory that a cabal inside the SC wanted her out to put in an insider; I do believe that there were members who were beginning to be dissatisfied with her performance; and I also believe that the SC’s inability to come up with a consensus in a timely manner is problematic.

That is why, I was baffled that they voted down School Committeewoman Alison Laraba’s motion to appoint an interim Superintendent. Last Monday the majority voted to begin the process of searching for a new Superintendent, with a target date of April 20th. It is going to be very difficult to do. Maybe it would have been better if the SC had slowed things down, appoint an interim and let emotions calm down a bit. We are going to go through this process and if we do not succeed, we then scramble to find an interim?

Right now the majority of the media (mainstream media and new media) is blaming everything on the School Committee members; some more than others. Dr. Scott does get good press and unfortunately some of the SC members never do. They will have to take their arguments directly to their constituents.

I am not sure if the “populist” movement led by the editor of the Sun and the President of the United Teachers of Lowell will result in challengers to the School Committee. I do not have the knowledge nor the tools to measure how much true displeasure there is with this school committee. I know that some people are baffled with the turn of events but angry enough to have a major change in the School Committee? I do not think so.

It would be great to have a number of people emerge as challengers not because they support Dr. Scott but because they believe that they have something to offer our school system. I really think that if a challenger comes on the scene and their sole purpose is to throw out the people who in their estimation did not support Dr. Scott, they will have a difficult time garnering popular support.

33 Responses to “SC Executive Meeting Minutes”

  1. jdayne Says:

    Three points:

    1. Everyone on the School Committee should read Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher. It is required reading for MBA students in negotiation courses and, since so many folks think that they want government to behave like a business, negotiating skill is one place do I agree.

    2. Every participant in a negotiation should walk into it with a “best alternative to a negotiated solution” in mind. I.e., if you cannot negotiate to an acceptable solution or your opposite will not negotiate, have a plan for what to do. I’m guessing Ms. Scott did and the School Committee did not.

    3. When oh when will residents of Lowell, irrespective of where they send or sent their children, realize that the good reputation of a public school system is an a priori (that is a “prior to”) requirement for strong, stable real estate values. Folks in Newton, Weston . . . (you name any high value town where many children are sent to private schools) are adamant in their support for public schools — which includes voting in able school committee members and insisting on able school management — because a slip in the reputation of their public schools is a sure drop in the value of their real estate. They care about preserving real estate value recognizing its significant their financial security and mobility.

  2. JC Says:

    Good tone in this piece, Mimi. Your words are measured and thoughtful. You seem to understand the implications. You are wise to take such a balanced, nonjudgmental approach.

  3. Robby Says:

    I have been reading posts on this blog since abut 2007 and this is probably the fairest and thought-provoking post I have read. Big props up to “Mimi”.

    I do not respectfully believe that too much blame is being put on the committee. It was the committee’s job to either offer Scott a contract, or tell her to pack her bags. They failed to do both. They never made a counter offer. They never told her that the majority didn’t want her here anymore. JDayne is 100% in stating that this committee needs to attend Negotiating Skills 101. This is NOT the first time there has been “lagging” issues with this committee, either. They didn’t seem to take this issue very seriously, and now our children and teachers are left with confusion, questions, anger, and an unpredictable future.

    Scott was asking for too much money. But she was simply making her 1st offer. Of course you make the first offer higher than what you really expect. We can only assume she, like any rationally thinking person, was expecting a counter-offer. She waited. And waited. And months passed by, and was forced to make her own mind up.

    So what are We The People to do? Im not interested in what any union or the Lowell Sun or any special interest group endorses or props up as a candidate. This goes for the Council as well. There is no question that the majority of this school committee have outlived any usefulness they once had. And I do mean that with all due respect. But elected members shouldn’t be elected for life, and CHANGE is good!

    I want candidates who will take a STAND. No more ducking and hiding from issues. No more voting “present” during important issues. No more double talk. I want candidates who will take the role seriously and responsible and someone who is not afraid to say what they really mean.

  4. Eleanor Rigby Says:

    I don’t recall when it changed, perhaps Dick Howe can chime in, but in the past the school committee let a professional negotiator handle talks like this.

    Yes it is a little on the ‘hands off’ side but on the other hand contract negotiations can get very testy to say the least and it is sometimes better to have a professional that meet the outline described by jdayne as your point person in something like this, then give that person direction.

    That is not to say the SC can’t sit in on talks, just let a professional negotiator handle them. In the long run the results are much better.

  5. The Fraud Squad Says:

    Mimi, you seriously don’t know what prompted Scott to walk away from negotiations and go to the paper? Maybe it was because there were never any negotiations in the first place and she realized she was gone anyway. Negotiations imply both sides are making offers and negotiating give and take. There was never a formal offer given. What was she supposed to do? Wait till the spring, or perhaps the end of her contract so she wouldn’t have a job period?

    Come on now Mimi. You’re a smart, reasonable woman. If your employer treated your negotiations this way, what would you do? You’ve been around long enough to read the tea leaves. Even a newbie like Dr. Scott could see which way the wind was blowing.

  6. Mr. Lynne Says:

    Jdayne, thanks for the book suggestion.

  7. JC Says:

    jdayne- It looks more and more like the SC did know what they were doing, did understand the consequences, and did have a plan of what to do. Consider that they have rejected any notion of an interim appointment. Consider also that they have announced the goal of having a new Superintendent vetted and selected by April, and in-place by the end of Scott’s term. All of this smacks of pre-planning. Is a crown prince or princess lingering in the wings just waiting to be tapped for succession? Scott is gone, that’s not going to change. The big question now is what comes next? Is the fix in?

  8. Renee Aste Says:

    There is a problem with towns that have great public schools, is that it’s impossible to live there unless you fall into ‘The Two Income Trap” where Elizabeth Warren writes how the middle class go broke in the mean time to keep up high property values.

    Remember mortgages are debt, and the majority of us can’t pay upfront for a home.

    Because mortgages and property taxes are fixed costs, and if just one spouse loses their job or reduces work load for a newborn, they never can afford to live in that town with good public schools. Why do we only have good public schools in a towns, where many people couldn’t afford to have children and live there? Two incomes is fine, working moms fine, just if you have the benefit of two incomes in a household it’s better not to mortgage it away into a home with the best zip code.

    Elizabeth Warren is now creating a new agency under the Obama Administration to protect consumers and disclose credit terms upfront and clearly.

  9. Mr. Lynne Says:

    Careful Renee, you might be turning into a fiscal liberal. ;)

  10. Lynne Says:

    Oh please. To people who see conspiracy everywhere: you are paranoid.

    I just heard Connie Martin on the radio, and she took a very measured tone on hiring a new Super - she is realistic, and if they don’t feel they get enough quality candidates, then at that point they will consider an interim.

    Don’t we have enough crazy crap going on in Lowell’s politics to keep you people entertained without making shit up out of whole cloth? Good god.

    If you actually LISTENED to what people say once in a while you can actually learn a great deal. To me, there is some possible culpability in the SC in not acting quicker, but the fact is, there were some questions that needed to be answered regarding Scott’s administration - and mind you, I suspect that everyone involved would have rather worked with her to address those issues, like her not reporting to the SC when she was told to, rather than start all over again from scratch - but you don’t just hand someone a 5-year $50K raise contract when there’s some questions appearing about how you run things, you just don’t.

    Anyone think that maybe the manner in which Scott suddenly gave up on the process, when these questions came up, might say something about HER? Like, she didn’t like the fact that she was being reigned in a bit on her rather insular administrative style? She’s the employee of the SC, but in some ways, she wasn’t acting like it. Now, there are good reasons sometimes to make unilateral decisions, as running things “by committee” can be cumbersome. So there’s a balance to be struck there. But if you are asked for things and do not deliver, and if you are making decisions in a vacuum and your employer asks what’s going on and you don’t tell them…in the private sector, that can definitely affect your employment with that company. All the way from getting pulled into the bosses office to try to correct the situation, up to getting fired. No one would blink at a private employer doing this with a possibly wayward employee.

    Someone please tell me how running the school system should be any different?

  11. Jack Mitchell Says:

    Attitude is important. We can be cynical, if we choose. We can wonder aloud, “Is the fix in?”.

    Or

    We can wonder aloud “Has a solution be determined?”.

    The SC is in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Why?

    I know the UTL desires the SC to be as politically weak as possible, when they go to negotiate a contract. I think, in part, the “Scott Incident” is being flogged to harm the public’s trust of the SC. I wonder “Is the fix in?”

  12. Lynne Says:

    I find the whole union support thing to be particularly disturbing. It just smacks of the Cox resignation, and the “I’m for Cox” campaign that came with it.

    It’s not just reminiscent even, it’s downright parallel to that incident, and it wasn’t a good thing then, either. Back then, too, vehement city union support bordered on mad crazy fanaticism for no apparent reason. Back then too, it was apparent that Cox wasn’t going to keep his job regardless, but you could see that these supporters were looking to damage those Councilors as much as they possibly could on his way out.

    I think Jack is on to something, the union has its own agenda which likely has a lot more to do with their position in negotiations. If they had managed to “save” Scott’s job, they now have a Superintendent on the opposite side of the table in their debt. In the case of not saving her job (which is what happened), make the teachers mad enough at the SC, and it’ll be easier to goad them into action that will strengthen the union’s hand down the road and/or damage their reelection campaign. There’s really no down side to pushing the union support here.

    I still don’t honestly see, however, the usefulness for Scott to burn her bridges here so spectacularly in the paper. That’s the only piece of the puzzle I can’t figure out a motive for, unless she really did think it would get the SC to give her a new contract. If I were an SC in another town, I sure as hell would think twice in hiring someone who appears to be volatile…

  13. Mr. Lynne Says:

    Is the support really “mad crazy fanaticism”? With the Cox incident we had mobilizations and street visibility. With this thing the only thing I know about is Mr. Georges agreement with the Sun on the issue, and I only know that from the Sun. Are the rank and file agitated here?

  14. Mr. Lynne Says:

    I take it back, I remember the protest at the meeting. Still, that kind of visibility might be an indication of only the leadership (and the people the leadership could get to show up to protest). Just wondering is all.

  15. Lynne Says:

    Indicative of a certain set, sure. Like the GLTHS “support” of the recent Super hiring there, there’s likely a set of people who are so into supporting Scott they are willing to be vocal and show up to meetings. But there’s a lot of teachers in the system and I am guessing that the vocal set might not be representative of the whole by a longshot…

  16. Mill Girl Says:

    If the SC came out publically and said they were not willing to renew her contract, then Dr. Scott could potentially have grounds to sue the city again right? If they take steps to ensure that she is the one to leave the table then that threat is removed. Seems smart to me.

  17. Lynne Says:

    I am pretty sure that was not intended, but yeah, it does seem to make it a little harder to sue your former employer when YOU quit first.

    Not that I am willing to count out the possibility of a lawsuit - Scott and her lawyer (who by the way IS someone I know and respect) can’t seem to stay out of the paper defending her. Which I can’t see a reason for - there’s every reason to stay quiet IMHO, as she must be looking for a new job now and the publicity can’t be good for that (if you were an SC, would YOU want to hire someone who airs out her grievances this publicly??) - unless she were angling to either a) try and trip up the SC into making a mistake and then being ready to dive in with a lawsuit if they do or b) thinks she has enough for a lawsuit as is and is strengthening her case.

    Personally, I think she’s acting really weird. If I were in her shoes, I would have gone radar invisible after the initial crazy exploding publicity. *shrug*

  18. Prince Charming Says:

    I still say that the minute she moved out of the Bon Marche building, the SC should’ve formed a search committee.

  19. waittilnextyr Says:

    A review of those minutes leaves a few questions.

    Why, after agreeing to an initial counter-offer ($170K plus 0, 0, TBD and $3,600) on 11/10, did it take until 12/20 to take the next step?

    Then on 12/20, 3 and 1/2 people had apparently changed their minds on that and tried to rescind the tentative offer - what went on in that 40 day hiatus to make these people change their minds?

    And on 12/29, the 3 and 1/2 became 6 to rescind the tentative offer and it was rescinded.

    My conclusion is either there was some not-yet disclosed problem with the Superintendent, or the School Committee is disfunctional.

    Subsequent events only cemented the decision.

  20. JC Says:

    Radar Invisible? I don’t think so.

    How can she stay quiet? Highly charged, potentially defamatory words, and worrisome innuendo have been published in the blogosphere. That stuff is there forever. It can’t be expunged, hidden or swept away. It certainly has the potential to create serious problems for her.

    The SC, as elected public officials, continue to be safe, worthy, and deserving fodder for our speculative aggression. They put themselves in the public sphere willingly and knowingly. All they have at risk is the next election.

    But, this lady, this Superintendent Scott, she made no such bargain with the public. She has her professional reputation at stake, and her future livelihood is now at risk. Don’t you think both she and her attorney will do their utmost to protect that reputation, that future? I know I would.

  21. Lynne Says:

    Really? She’s worried about BLOGS? Seriously? Not to mention, at least here, I haven’t seen “defamatory” anything. I’ve listed some things that are PUBLIC record. What’s been going on in the paper is WAY more likely to affect her future prospects than a blog. Good freaking lord, I WISH I had that kind of power. Right. What are you smoking and I can I have some?

    The SC has basically had a crapload of stuff blow up in their faces, so no, they aren’t “safe” or “inured” from anything. In fact, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    Scott is just as much a public figure, by the way, as the SC. And also, she is accountable to them - and through them, accountable to us, as her PUBLIC employers. Anyway, you’re taking this *awfully* personally…what’s YOUR stake in this exactly?

  22. Renee Aste Says:

    Actually I’m do consider myself a fiscal moderate, I understand why we need taxes. I think income/sales tax is just a fairer way to tax compared to property taxes. An individual can control what s/he earns or consumes, but an individual can’t control the housing market.

  23. Maggie Says:

    Frankly - I think the School Committee should be required to read the book that jdayne mentioned before going any further. My personal opinion is that they contributed more to this mess than Scott did.

  24. Eleanor Rigby Says:

    It was up to the SC to make a counter offer. They did not.

    Scott is not going to start negotiating against herself so when the Mayor and Solicitor came to Scott and said the SC could not agree on a counter offer that told her, loud and clear, find another job.

    The question now is why did the SC decide to get rid of Scott and do they have someone in mind who perhaps recently became available since the appointment of an interim superintendent was defeated. Begs the question!

  25. Jack Mitchell Says:

    @ER:
    “Scott is not going to start negotiating against herself ”

    I heard that on TV, this morning. It must be true.

    In Lowell, the question is always begged. If the stars aligned and it was all unfolded, a small faction of miscreants would take delight in FUDing up the joint. It’s how they get off.

  26. Kim Scott Says:

    I do not want to rehash why the school committee chose to end negotiations with Dr. Scott because I have small children in the public schools and it is a done deal that is too time consuming. What I want to know is how they will have parental involvement in the upcoming search, what they are looking for in a candidate that they did not find in Dr. Scott, and why with such a limited field in February they would ever consider holding this search? I am sure these questions will be asked at Monday night’s subcommittee meeting.

  27. no more union looting Says:

    re: I am not sure if the “populist” movement led by the editor of the Sun and the President of the United Teachers of Lowell will result in challengers to the School Committee

    very well put

    it won’t

  28. no more union looting Says:

    http://www.lowellsun.com/editorials/ci_17421971

    The Sun continues its assault on the School Comm. for not hiring the poor, underpaid “Doctor Scott.”

    Now the rest of us can go back to sleep.

    re: “from the facts presented, the School Committee conspired [to] place the city’s taxpayers in a legal bind.”

    Oh gimme a break. “Doctor Scott” is going to sue here ex-employer, the city, because she didn’t get a raise (or whatever)?

    You do realize she will be committing professional suicide by doing so, right? What city would ever hire someone who sued their last employer for such reasons?

    Answer: No one.

    She is smart enuf to have long ago “moved on” from Lowell.

  29. Lynne Says:

    Kinda sick of people (ie Scott’s BFF the “editor” of the Sun) reading into the fact the SC couldn’t find a consensus. If they can’t find a consensus, duh, they can’t find a consensus. That’s DEMOCRACY - you need a majority to DO something. If enough people were questioning what if anything they wanted to offer Scott and what shape that would take, and you meet twice a month (which is a LOT) in extra executive sessions to try to work something out, and three sessions go by and you can’t come to a conclusion (and there were less than two exec sessions a month as far as I remember), a month or lot more can go by with no resolution.

    Nothing nefarious, no “message,” just, goddamnit, NO CONSENSUS. What, was someone supposed to FORCE the rest of the committee to agree with them so they could move on something? What does “the editor” suggest? An SC member to blackmail the others?

    Good freaking annoyingly overwrought LORD. You can so tell that’s a Campy editorial - it’s pretty incoherent and just simply bitches and moans.

  30. no more union looting Says:

    someone on Disqus pointed out that the editorial itself violated the Stalinistic “niceness” rules on their comment website.

    Decmocracy has broken out on Disqus!

    http://www.lowellsun.com/editorials/ci_17421971

    better read them now before the censor does her work!
    (don’t worry, I saved them!)

  31. Lynne Says:

    LOL, nice.

    But that commenter should watch out - quoting Campanini back to himself can get you in trouble. When Dick Howe did that, posted a whole series of quotes Campanini–er, I mean, “the Sun editorial page”–in order to point out that Campanini should not be acting all shocked when people complain that the Lowell Sun was biased against someone too much (I can’t remember the specific subject but it was around the time of the MA-05 special election, so it might have pertained to that), Dick faced a little confrontation kerfuffle at a public event by said “professional” editor of the Sun. Of course, he was pretty dumb to do that, because seriously, not a good idea to mess with Dick Howe.

  32. no more union looting Says:

    re: kerfuffle at a public event

    so in addition to having strange political and legal views, and thin skin, he is a social bore as well….

  33. Lynne Says:

    Basically. I have other first hand stories that prove that out as well. LOL

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