Basiliere to board: Mend bridges

MILFORD – During another contentious school board meeting, district moderator Peter Basiliere told the board he is dismayed that board members have not taken action to resolve the conflict between employees and Superintendent of Schools Jessica Huizenga.

Teachers and support staff took a vote of no-confidence in the superintendent last month, saying she is a poor leader whose one-year tenure has caused low morale.

“I am really dismayed the school board has not said what it is going do to improve relations between the community and school board,” Basiliere, a former board member, told the board at its June 3 meeting.

“This is not good, and it’s not getting better. I would like to see a public discussion on how you five intend to go about mending bridges in this community,” he said to the extended applause from an audience filled with teachers, students and residents.

After he spoke, board member Holleigh Tlapa made two motions: the first, to create a performance evaluation for the superintendent and have the board conduct her quarterly review in July. The second motion was to have board members participate in school employees’ exit interviews.

Tlapa’s first motion failed 3-2, with she and Mike Hannon voting for it. The exit interview motion failed for lack of a second, but at the end of the meeting Hannon and Tlapa said they will attend exit interviews.

In their response to the teachers’ non-confidence vote, the board issued a statement saying the superintendent has “violated no district policies or state or federal laws and is “implementing an education plan developed by the school board with input from the community.

But at the June 3 meeting, Hannon called the current board-teacher relationship a “toxic environment.”

Trust, partnership and superior communications are all essential for the success of any organization, he said, and “your primary influence is the environment you create, and right now we have a toxic environment.”

Tlapa advised union members to submit grievances and advised the board to meet regularly with union representatives because their continuing stream of accusations “is hurting every student in the district.”

About a half dozen Milford High School students went to the microphone to support teachers, and several adults criticized school officials.

There is a “lot of attitude and a stark lack of positive leadership,” said Kevin St. Onge.

For the second meeting in a row, there was a police presence, and teacher Steve Vetak called it a waste of taxpayers money.

During the meeting the board had reinstated the summer Title I program, which helps children with reading and math, and parent Carla Beaudreau said she was thrilled by that action but she begged the board to talk to teachers.

After a parent advised everyone to have patience, high school senior Alex Taylor disagreed.

“Night after night” there is conflict, he said, but nothing is happening, because there’s been no communication between the board and teachers.

Tlapa said that if a vision is not shared by constituents, the cost of implementing it can be higher than the return on investment,“especially when it concerns human capital and culture.” She was referring to changes made by the superintendent, many of which have upset teachers and staff.

Julie Desmarais, a crossing guard and long time member of the MIlford Police Department, said she had been employed at Jacques Memorial School since August and had sent in a four-page resignation letter in February “for the shortest job I’ve had in my life.”

In the letter she asked for exit interview, she said, and was recently contacted by someone in the SAU office who told her she did not have to do that.

“Well, this is what I want to do,” she said, inviting everyone to her June 11 interview. “People need to hear what I have to say.”

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.