Stung by criticism of its decision not to renew the contract of a popular elementary school principal and its alleged lack of transparency in reaching that decision, the East Windsor Regional School District Board of Education has responded by saying it followed all rules governing the school board.
Board members voted 6-2 at their April 30 meeting not to renew the contract of Heather Gladkowski, the principal of the Grace Norton Rogers Elementary School. Gladkowski was slated to be transferred to become the principal of the Walter C. Black Elementary School in September.
On a motion to renew Gladkowski’s contract, board members Nicole LaRusso and Jenna Drake voted “yes.” Board President Alice Weisman, Vice President Paul Connolly, and board members Pete Bussone, Erica DiRaimondo, Ram Ramandhandran and Bob Laverty voted “no.” Board member Christine Harrington was absent.
The transfer was part of the school district’s reorganization plan for its elementary schools. The two schools are K-5 schools, but the plan is for the Black school to become a grades K-2 school and the Rogers school to become a grades 3-5 school in September.
Gladkowski was recommended for re-employment for the 2018-19 school year by Superintendent of Schools Richard Katz, but a majority of the school board members voted not to offer her a new contract.
When parents and residents learned Gladkowski’s contract was not renewed and she would be leaving the district, they attended the board’s May 14 meeting to ask board members to reconsider their decision.
Nearly 100 people attended the meeting to make that request, but the board let its decision stand. About 30 people spoke during the meeting, some of whom chastised the board for its action and criticized the board for what they claimed was the board’s lack of transparency in reaching the decision.
Board members met in executive session, which excludes the public, at its April 30 meeting to discuss Gladkowski. Personnel discussions are held in executive session, but any votes must be made in open session. The board voted in open session not to renew the contract.
In response to public criticism of its actions, the board issued a statement last week that sought to address parents’ and residents’ concerns over the non-renewal of Gladkowski’s contract.
“It needs to be clearly understood that the board does its business within a legal framework which, among other things, bars it from publicly discussing personnel matters,” board members wrote in the May 17 statement.
“Nothing which has occurred relieves the board from this obligation of privacy. In other words, ‘transparency’ does not exist in the current context. The board cannot legally explain the rationale behind any personnel decision it makes to the public unless a position is being eliminated,” the board members wrote.
The board members acknowledged that “this required lack of transparency can lead to speculation and rumors of plans of various sorts. Rumors on social media to the effect that the board discussed or considered an internal promotion as part of its decision to non-renew are false,” they wrote.
The board could not vote to reverse its April 30 decision on non-renewal “because personnel decisions can only be made in the context of a superintendent’s recommendation. The action of non-renewal previously taken was not up for further action (at the May 14 meeting),” the board members wrote.
Meanwhile, district administrators have advertised the vacancy for the principal’s position at the Walter C. Black Elementary School and expect to have a new principal in place by the first day of school in September.