Home » Contentious BOE meeting as residents debate Gilbert move

Contentious BOE meeting as residents debate Gilbert move

WINSTED — There was no holiday cheer at Town Hall during the Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 14.

Residents, school administrators and Board of Education members argued and debated over an agenda item that, if approved, would have rescinded the board’s previous decision to move the town’s seventh- and eighth-graders to the semi-private high school, The Gilbert School.

During an Oct. 26 meeting, the Board of Education voted 5-4 to send the seventh- and eighth-graders to The Gilbert School.

In early November, Gilbert School officials met and approved the move.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members voted to take the item to rescind the original vote off of the agenda.

The decision came after an hour of emotional opinions from residents during the public comments portion that preceded the agenda items.

During public comments, residents, school teachers and parents spoke both in favor and against the move.  

Lisa Brochu, a teacher at the Pearson School, said she was speaking as a parent when she made her comments against the move.

“My daughter will be 12 years old next year and some of the kids at Gilbert will be 19 years old,” Brochu said. “Mixing the two [age groups] is something I don’t feel comfortable with. Last month, three students at Gilbert got arrested after they were caught selling drugs. Last year, three students at Gilbert got pregnant. It’s not an environment I would want to send my daughter to because I think she’s getting what she needs at Pearson.”

While he did not address Brochu’s comments, Gilbert School Board of Trustees Chairman Steven Sedlack spoke about the plans the school is currently making for the next fall semester to accept the seventh- and eighth-grade students.

“When our superintendent [David Cressy] spoke to our faculty, he found them to be overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the decision,” Sedlack said. “We are eager to reach out to parents, students and teachers to make this move go seamlessly.”

Sedlack said an open application process to hire teachers at Gilbert for the new classes would begin in January and that six current Pearson teachers have expressed their interest in applying for positions with Gilbert.

After Sedlack spoke, Mayor Candy Perez took her turn during public comments to express her financial concerns about the planned move.

“In three-and-a-half months we’re going to be presenting a [town and Board of Education] budget,” Perez said. “But one of the things I have not seen is a base line point of what the seventh- and eighth-grades currently cost and what we have now in the high school in terms of personnel. The community needs to have some information and preliminary reports. There have been open houses and plans but there hasn’t been any financial talk. We know there will be savings, but how much savings?”

After Perez spoke, former Board of Education member Raymond Pavlak forcefully demanded that he be recognized to speak.

While Pavlak was signed up to be third on the public comments list, board Chairman Kathleen O’Brien insisted that she did not know that he had signed up.  

Pavlak then spoke about why he was against the seventh- and eighth-grade move to Gilbert.

“You should rescind that vote because you have done this without knowing the full measure of the problems of Gilbert and problems here,” Pavlak said. “Why don’t you negotiate to ask Gilbert for financial control or at least financial oversight. Have you gotten that? We have 225 students up there and they can tell you to fly a kite. You did not pass this with a majority vote. They are giving you no control or no fiscal say.”

After Pavlak spoke, resident Martha Rein, who said she has two children in the school system, implored the board not to rescind their decision.

“You have voted once already and you have made a positive decision,” Rein said. “The issue should be closed and there’s no good reason to revisit it. Before today, the Board of Education spent countless hours deliberating this issue. The majority of the residents [at previous meetings] spoke out in favor of the move to Gilbert. To rescind the vote, you are ignoring the will of the citizens who took their time to come out and express their opinion. The time for careful consideration and decision making is over. Stop the secret meetings and the covert planning. Stand behind your decisions and move forward.”

Winchester Education Association President Sandra DeFeo spoke after Rein and said she was against the move.

“We, the teachers in the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school system, do not feel that this is a good move for our students,” DeFeo said. “You are taking our students who are 12 and 13 and putting them into a high school. I don’t care what has been said, that they’re going to be separate [from other students]. They are going to come across seniors in the high school.”

DeFeo said she was worried about the potential hiring process at Gilbert for the seventh- and eighth-grade classes.

“[Pearson teachers] will probably be finalists, but it doesn’t guarantee that we will be getting the jobs,” DeFeo said. “[Members of the association] received an e-mail from [Gilbert School Superintendent David Cressy] that said because these will be new positions at Gilbert, Gilbert employees will be able to apply for these positions. Both the teachers and the students will not be moving together to Gilbert. There will be no tenure or seniority.”

Toward the end of the public comment period, Pavlak stood up again and spoke against the move.

O’Brien tried to cut him off, but Pavlak continued to speak, which led to a shouting match between both of them.

She declared Pavlak out of order and threatened to have him removed from the meeting room.

Despite this, he continued to talk while O’Brien yelled ,“Stop!” several times.

When she could not restore order, O’Brien declared a five-minute recess.

After the recess, board member Paul O’Meara asked that the request to rescind the vote be taken off the meeting’s agenda.

“When we had a vote of yes, we basically [entered into] a contract with Gilbert,” O’Meara said. “When we sent Gilbert letters notifying them [of the decision], we entered into a contract. Under Robert’s Rules of Order, you cannot rescind a vote that is a contract where another party is notified. This is a vote that cannot be rescinded.”

This led to a contentious debate between Board of Education members of whether or not the board entered into a formal contract with The Gilbert School in the first place.

Eventually, the board voted 5-4 to remove the item to rescind the previous vote off of the agenda, which led to a round of applause from the audience.

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