2007-04-19 / Front Page

Panel tries to boot Jamestown liaison

By Donna Drago

William "Bucky" Brennan, a member of the Jamestown School Committee, who also serves as the liaison to the North Kingstown School Committee, left his place at the table at last Wednesday's NK school board session after two members of that school committee asked that the Jamestown liaison position be eliminated from discussions and votes during executive sessions.

NK school panel member Larry Ceresi distributed a memo to the school board and asked Assistant Town Solicitor Stephen Robinson to give an opinion on the Jamestown liaison's participation.

The memo asked "Should the Jamestown School District representative be permitted to vote on or attend a closed executive session in a personnel matter or action regarding the Superintendent of the North Kingstown School District?"

At the meeting, the solicitor gave his opinion that the strict interpretation of the North Kingstown charter is that Jamestown has no standing or vote and can only enter debate as any other citizen can, this according to Brennan.

Later, Robinson clarified his position that the North Kingstown charter makes it clear that Jamestown cannot vote on a North Kingstown school board matter. That does not, however, prevent a representative from Jamestown from sitting at the table and giving opinions for the record, he said.

Whether a Jamestown liaison is welcomed at the North Kingstown school board meetings, "is up to the (NK) school committee," Robinson said.

Ceresi made a motion to eliminate the Jamestown liaison, it was seconded by member April Brunelle and a discussion was called.

Before a vote could be called, Brennan said he told them he'd be "happy to go home to his family," thereby eliminating the necessity of a vote.

"I'm not angry," Brennan said just minutes after he left the meeting. "It's just silly."

Despite a change in several of the school panel member at the November 2006 elections, Brennan said the committee is still "dysfunctional, and needs to learn to work out their differences," in a more productive way.

Brennan said that Ceresi, who brought up the motion to remove the Jamestown liaison, and committee member Brunelle both ran on a platform of eliminating NK Supt. James Halley from his position in last November's elections. Brennan said he'd made comments at the meeting, which was called to discuss the job performance of Halley, who has been put on administrative leave pending the outcome of discussions that the school district may have misspent some $245,000 in special education money on other, non-special education items.

Brennan said that his position was that the money may have been spent incorrectly, but, "it was not criminal." This raised the hair on the necks of Ceresi and Brunelle, Brennan said.

While the town charter does not mention Jamestown participation, a 1993 policy in the North Kingstown School District manual says that:

"When another school department contracts to send its students on a tuition basis to a North Kingstown school as a school of record, the Chairperson of the North Kingstown School Committee may invite that School Committee to appoint one of its members to sit as a liaison member with the North Kingstown School Committee at all scheduled public meetings." The policy continues, that "The liaison member is encouraged to deliberate on any and all issues on an equal footing with North Kingstown members. Further, the liaison member may register a vote on such issues, for the purpose of maintaining a record. However, said vote shall not change or effect the result of the vote by the members of the North Kingstown School Committee."

Jamestown School Committee Chairwoman Cathy Kaiser said that "Jamestown was the town in 1993," which the policy was written about, and added, "You can't take away the conditions under which we signed the contract," which stipulates the terms and amount of tuition that Jamestown pays the North Kingstown district.

Currently Jamestown sends some 213 high school students to North Kingstown High School at a cost of more than $193,000 per year.

Brennan said the vote, "always has been a ceremonial one," and added, "It has just let Jamestown have an opportunity to state opinions and enter the debate."

Kaiser, who served as the NK liaison prior to Brennan taking over the role, said it was "absolutely a bad thing," for Jamestown not to have a representative at the North Kingstown school board discussions.

"It's our primary channel for information," Kaiser said, adding the information received from the NK committee meetings allows the Jamestown committee to, "be accountable to Jamestowners for services provided by North Kingstown."

She added, "We need to voice opinions during discussions."

Kaiser said the Jamestown School Committee will take up the matter at their next meeting on April 26.

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