The Windsor board of education's meeting room at L.P. Wilson was packed with concerned parents and teachers Thursday night, requiring extra chairs be added around the room's perimeter.
While there were those in attendance who expressed support for the board's decision to hire Loyola University-Chicago's Dr. Marlon James — Windsor mom Jill Jenkins said the board's action should be applauded and that Dr. James' work will benefit the entire community — the majority of residents who chose to address school board members expressed concern over the process of hiring the Loyola professor and his credentials.
For nearly an hour, resident after resident asked the board to take another look at its decision to contract Dr. James to conduct an "equity and excellence review" at Windsor High School for a price tag of just over $300,000.
Dr. Rosemarie Miskavitch, Windsor resident and former board of education president, requested the board reconsider its decision, saying the board leaped over a competitive bidding process to "a desired conclusion."
Dr. Miskavitch and her fellow Windsor residents' opposition to the board's hiring of Dr. James was echoed by board members, particularly republican members Paul Panos and Cristina Santos, who, along with republican Pam DiGiore, alleged a violation of board policy and ethics on the part of Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Villar and Board President Doreen Richardson.
In particular, Santos, Panos and DiGiore alleged violations of the board's bidding procedure and conflict-of-interest bylaw.
In a memo dated Nov. 13, however, .
Brochu was in attendance Thursday during the boards' special meeting, and neither Panos nor Santos were reticent with respect to their opposition to Brochu's findings and their belief that the process of hiring Dr. James was flawed.
Brochu's findings were based on the fact that the board voted to authorize the superintendent to enter into a contract with Dr. James — a vote, Brochu said, that serves as an ordering of Dr. Villar to enter into an agreement with a particular contractor (Dr. James); moreover, an order Dr. Villar would only be in violation of were he to fail to complete it. Simply by voting to order Dr. Villar to make an agreement with Dr. James, Brochu argued, the board waived its bidding procedure and began a process that Dr. Villar, who is an employee of the board, had to complete at the behest of his employer.
In addition, Brochu contended that no conflict of interest is present given Richardson has no financial gain in Dr. James' hiring and all board members were apprised of her relationship with the professor prior to his being brought before the board.
Both Santos and Panos railed against Brochu's arguments, arguing in turn that board policy specifically mentions taking an additional vote in order to waive bidding-process procedure and that Richardson used her position of power to influence Dr. Villar and the board to hire a friend of hers.
The objections presented by Santos and Panos Thursday had no ability to weigh on Brochu's findings, but the special meeting did present an opportunity for questions to be answered in a public forum — questions that Santos and Panos seemed to receive no satisfactory answers for.
In addition to allegations of policy violations, Santos, Panos and DiGiore have submitted a formal letter alleging ethics violations — violations, according to Panos, that are relative to the allegations of policy violation.
The board briefly discussed procedure regarding the ethics allegations and left with some question regarding the town and board's responsibilities to the allegations given the town's board of ethics has no purview over board of education matters.