The Windham Northeast Supervisory Union lost its third top official in less than two weeks when its board chair announced his resignation during a contentious meeting Wednesday night.
David Clark, who has served on boards in the Bellows Falls-area school organization for decades, wrote in a statement that his colleagues were “no longer able to place trust” in him as chair.
Clark’s resignation came after a dispute among board members about replacing the district’s outgoing superintendent, Christopher Pratt. Pratt submitted his resignation Aug. 28, to take effect later this month. Pratt and then Assistant Superintendent Lynn Carey resigned after months of friction with board members over how to spend a barrage of federal education money and set Covid-19 protocols.
In an interview, Clark told VTDigger that Andrew Haas, director of student support services for the district and its soon-to-be interim superintendent, approached him Sept. 1 about his interest in replacing Pratt. With the deadline for hiring a new superintendent less than a month away, Clark said he would welcome having an internal candidate taking over the job.
Clark then met privately with Haas and fellow board member Jack Bryar on Sept. 2, Clark said, and added to the board’s agenda for a meeting Sept. 8 an action item to consider Haas as a candidate for superintendent.
Yet some board members were upset by Clark’s actions, saying he had overstepped his bounds.
“The fact you have talked with [Haas] with no authority to proceed is disturbing,” Priscilla Lambert, another board member, told Clark in an email he shared with VTDigger.
“It is not a one- or two-person decision and that’s what you have set up,” Lambert said in a later email. “The appropriate way is for you to bring a suggestion to the board and let them decide how they want to progress, not announce to everyone this is the solution.”
Other board members voiced concerns about considering Haas at the meeting itself.
School board members can speak to job candidates without publicly warning that conversation, so long as a majority of the board is not present, Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said in an interview. If a majority is present, then the discussion is subject to Vermont’s open meeting law.
The Windham Northeast Supervisory Union board has nine members, so a meeting among Bryar, Haas and Clark, like the one the former chair described, would not constitute a majority of the board.
Clark said his discussions with Haas were meant to quickly stabilize a district that had no apparent successor.
“By having the assurance from [Haas] that he is willing to assume the leadership position … and announcing it before a long weekend, we put the rumor mill out of business and provide the public and staff with assurance that there will be continuity in the discharge of the responsibilities of the central office,” Clark wrote in response to Lambert’s emails.
Still, some in the district blame Clark and other board members for driving Pratt and Carey out in the first place — a claim that Clark refutes.
Board member Jessa Westclark will take over as chair of the supervisory union board.
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