Milford privately nixes petition

MILFORD – Any signs of the oft embattled Milford School board’s attempt at transparency has hit another invisible bump in the road.

According to Milford town clerk Joan Dargie, and Milford town moderator Pete Basiliere, a warrant article that was submitted to the school board did not make it to the ballot.

“This warrant article was submitted to the school board,” said Dargie, of a petition requesting the resignations of Milford school superintendent Dr. Jessica Huizenga and school board chairman Ron Carvell. “They refused to put it on. If you look at these RSAs [Revised Statutes Annotated], there’s no provision that allows for a school board not to place a petitioned warrant article on the ballot.”

The only preclusion would be if the petitioned was illegal or didn’t meet requirements, such as there were not enough signatures (there must be a minimum of 25), if the if the signatures were not of registered voters, or it was an illegal article.

“The board received a properly completed article from petitioners,” echoed Basiliere. “The board received it on Jan 14. New Hampshire law allows the select board or the school board to create a warrant but also NH Law also allows townspeople to put an article on the warrant as well if the board has chosen to not touch upon that topic.”

For example, for the town of Milford, there are five petition warrant articles, which the select board puts on the town warrant.

“A group of petitioners put together an article that be placed on the school district warrant and the school board has decided not to do that,” said Basiliere. “They must have received advice from counsel that they could take no action and not put it onto the warrant. However, the meeting in which the board decided to not put it on the warrant was held in a non-public session, or a non-meeting, I don’t know. And the board sealed the minutes of that meeting. So, neither the petitioners nor the general public know the reasoning behind the board’s decision.”

According to Dargie, no one is even sure when the non-public school board session took place.

“The only way that we knew they chose not to put it on the warrant, which was released the warrant ten days later,” Dargie said.

Basiliere went on to say that he had a meeting on Jan. 24 with Huizenga and Carvell to prepare for the deliberative session.

“That Wednesday morning, Jan. 22, in order to begin my preparations, I asked for a copy of the warrant,” Basiliere said. “And that’s when I realized that they did not include the petition warrant article.”

Basiliere then contacted the SAU office and asked if this was a mistake. They said no- the board has voted not to put the petition warrant article on.

“If you look at the article, you can draw your own conclusion,” said Basiliere. “As moderator, this is action regardless of the content. Because NH law has stated for decades, if not over a century, that townspeople have the right to put an article on the warrant if the select board has not chosen to do so.”

“Often times, they may not be things that are pertinent to the town,” he said. “For example, there’s a climate change warrant article by a group of people who thought that was important. And they wanted to bring it to the community. In this case, a group of people thought it was an important issue and wanted to bring it to the community and the board has denied them that opportunity. Then the question becomes was the board correct in its decision? And because the board has met in non-public session to discuss this and take action or perhaps no action, they have as a result denied anyone the understanding of the legal basis for their decision.”

Dargie added, “I believe that is illegal as well to take a private vote. They’re not being transparent.”

Dargie also said she attempted to have a meeting with the school clerk, Regina Matthews, to help the school clerk back in October on the subject of Right to Know.

“People were coming to me and asking me how to get copies of things from the school board,” Dargie asserted. “And I sent them to the school clerk. And we tried to have a meeting and they said I’m not a school district employee so they wouldn’t meet with me.”

Then last March, Matthews deputized Dargie as a deputy school clerk.

“We were doing a recount at the time,” Dargie said. “Later I found out, in their terminology, that there’s a difference between a deputy and an assistant. They’re saying that Milford School district doesn’t allow for a deputy.”

Basiliere reiterated that as the town moderator, he would not take a position.

“However, from my perspective, the situation is that a group of townspeople properly submitted an article to the school board and the school board decided not to put that article on the warrant for reasons that it has not disclosed,” he said. “Those reasons are because those decisions were made in a non-public meeting. And on top of that, the school board also did not inform the petitioners of their decision. It wasn’t until that I asked for a copy of it last Wed., and then at noon on Wed. I informed the petitioners of the board’s decision. And the time that lapsed between when the board made its decision and I informed the petitioners, was time that the petitioners, if they chose to, could have appealed to the attorney general, they could have gone to superior court, they could have done a number of things before the deadline.”

In an emailed response, Dr. Huizenga said, “This is a board matter, so I can’t comment on the reasons which the board decided, as that is outside my role.”

“I do want to clarify that the petition warrant, which is filled with numerous inaccuracies, called for our resignations, not our removal. There is a difference. To be clear, there is nothing binding to that, other than to publicly humiliate.”

“In regard to this, I consider it simply another bully tactic this small group of Milford residents continue to employ to stop the changes long needed and necessary to educate all the children in Milford. My direction from the board has remained steadfast, which is to move the district forward and address some significant and long-standing issues. Therefore, my focus remains on the children of Milford, and meeting the goals of the district strategic plan.”

“We have amazing teachers, staff, students and families in this community. My deepest hope is that this consistent disruption can come to an end and we can get back to what should be our primary and shared priority: providing excellence to every child in the Milford School District.”

As of press time, a phone call and voicemail to Mr. Carvell went unanswered.