Education

Burlington school district was investigating tech center director, documents show

Burlington High School
A sign for Burlington High School and Burlington Technical Center on North Avenue. Photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger

The former interim head of Burlington Technical Center was under investigation by the school district when he resigned last year, a newly released document shows.

But the reasons behind the probe into Adam Provost, the tech center’s interim director, remain unclear. 

Provost’s resignation agreement was released Friday after the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling earlier this month that the district could release it. The agreement states that the district was “investigating claims” against Provost but was not more specific about the content of the claims.

Seven Days reporter Molly Walsh requested the agreement in June 2018, after Provost left the position at the technical center in January 2018 citing medical reasons. The district notified Provost of the request, and Provost threatened to sue the district if it released the records. 

The district then sued Seven Days and Provost so a judge could make the decision on whether or not it should fulfill the request, instead of following the typical procedure of making that decision on its own. 

A lawyer for the school district, Joseph Farnham, provided the agreement to VTDigger Friday after the period for Provost to ask the court to re-argue the case and the period for the court itself to reconsider passed. 

The agreement states that Provost believed the district’s investigation into him violated his due process rights, “including, among other things, as a result of a conflict of interest that was previously unknown to the district.” 

The district suspended its investigation to evaluate the conflict of interest claim and consider its options, the agreement states, and no findings or conclusions had been reached as a result of the investigation. 

Provost had been on medical leave for twelve weeks and wished to resign at the time of the Jan. 7, 2018 agreement. 

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School district spokesman Russ Elek, School Board Chair Clare Wool and Provost did not respond to requests for comment. 

The agreement states that any action taken by the district to comply with legal obligations, for example, the public records law, should not be considered a violation of the agreement. The district committed to notifying Provost’s attorney if it believed it had to release the agreement or any documentation about the investigation to the public. 

The Vermont Agency of Education was aware of the claims against Provost, and the agreement states the district can reopen the investigation if the AOE require it to do so. The district committed to responding to inquiries from possible future employers by only releasing the dates and positions of Provost’s employment. 

Superintendent Yaw Obeng and other school district officials promised not to discuss the resignation agreement other than to say that Provost resigned for medical reasons. 

The documents released with the agreement also included Provost’s brief resignation letter, effective January 2, 2018.

“I am resigning my employment with the Burlington School District for medical reasons effective January 2, 2018,” he wrote. “I am resigning my employment voluntarily and with the understanding such resignation is irrevocable.” 

Provost has worked as a consultant since his resignation, according to his LinkedIn page. 

The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision earlier this month that the district can disclose the agreement and that the district could sue the newspaper in lieu of responding to a public records request. 

Provost had appealed Judge Helen Toor’s ruling that the district could release the agreement. Provost argued the state court’s civil division did not have jurisdiction over the case and that the court’s conclusion that he had waived any objection to the release of the agreement was incorrect. 

Before the suit was filed, the district informed Provost’s lawyer that it intended to release the separation agreement in response to the public records request. Provost’s attorney asserted that the disclosure of an unredacted copy of the agreement would violate the terms of the agreement. 

Provost’s attorney provided proposed redactions to the agreement, but the district did not believe that those were warranted under the public records law. The district field suit to let the court decide how it should proceed. 

The Supreme Court ruled against Provost, and determined he had not articulated any argument that the public records act prohibited disclosure of an unredacted copy of the resignation agreement. 

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Aidan Quigley

About Aidan

Aidan Quigley is VTDigger's Burlington and Chittenden County reporter. He most recently was a business intern at the Dallas Morning News and has also interned for Newsweek, Politico, the Christian Science Monitor and the Republican-American newspaper in Waterbury, Connecticut. He is a 2018 graduate of Ithaca College, where he served as the editor-in-chief of The Ithacan, the student newspaper. He is a native of Trumbull, Connecticut.

Email: [email protected]

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Richard M Roderick

Let the sun shine in.

 

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