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Probe Sought of School Board Member

March 15, 2018 GMT

CHELMSFORD -- The school administrators’ union, by a unanimous vote, has asked the School Committee to open a formal investigation -- potentially involving the state Ethics Commission -- into what it called “unethical behaviors” of one of the committee’s members.

“It is widely believed by the CAA (Chelmsford Administrators’ Association) that our district cannot move forward with this behavior from our elected officials and that actions must be taken,” the union wrote in an email obtained by The Sun.

The administrators’ concerns come from the content of more than 1,000 pages of emails sent between School Committee member Barbara Skaar’s personal, private email address and school staff, in particular members of the teachers’ union.

School Committee member John Moses has had a fraught relationship with Skaar, who is godmother to one of Chelmsford Federation of Teachers President Jennifer Salmon’s children. On at least two occasions, he has publicly accused Skaar of working for the union.

Moses made a records request last month for all public emails sent to and from Skaar’s personal email address over a two-year period. He said he made the request because he believed Skaar “routinely works outside of the public records system for official purposes.”

The content of those emails, publicly available on the town website, has raised questions over whether Skaar overstepped her bounds as an elected official and contributed to a growing atmosphere of distrust between teachers and school administration.

Moses, outgoing committee Vice Chairman Sal Lupoli and the CAA say the emails show Skaar has interfered in school operations not in her purview, acted against School Committee policies, colluded with teachers’ union leadership and made disparaging remarks about district staff, parents and other elected officials. They also questioned the legality of emails between Skaar and teachers that appeared to show them discussing confidential student information.

“These emails show a clear pattern of unethical collaboration between an elected official and a negotiating body,” Moses said in a statement.

“With her relationship with the union, she could have influenced the confrontations of the last two years into a positive and collaborative experience for all involved,” he added. “Instead, she worked in the dark to foster division.”

Lupoli agreed, saying the messages “weren’t created to build bridges -- they were created to take them apart.”

Among the emails:

n In a September 2016 thread, a Parker Middle School counselor sent a message to two other staff members about a student (name redacted in the public records) who was dropped from reading support by parent request in order to continue band and the parent agreed to look into outside tutoring. One of the receiving teachers forwarded the email to Salmon and another teacher; Salmon then forwarded the email to Skaar, who responded, “Is his mother his legal guardian? Isn’t the ability to read more important than the opportunity to play music?”

n In a July 2016 thread, Salmon expressed concern with how a discussion regarding possible scheduling changes at the high school came about. Principal Steve Murray said teachers came to him and the deans with ideas on how to amend the “Flex Day” blocks and asked Dean Joshua Blagg to send a survey out to staff. Murray said he felt because it was a teacher-driven issue, the teachers should lead the survey effort and administration would assist if desired. Murray asked that they agree to have phone conversations to avoid misunderstandings over email. Salmon forwarded the thread to Skaar, who questioned whether what Murray said was true. “Steve’s defense of Blagg is concerning,” Skaar wrote back. “We need to work on that.” Later in her response, Skaar said, “Steve’s 19-year grievance-free streak may soon come to an end.” Salmon responded in agreement to both statements.

n In a January 2017 thread, Superintendent Jay Lang announced Assistant Superintendent Linda Hirsch was a finalist for superintendent in Franklin and asked the School Committee to renew her contract anyway because she is a valued member of the staff and he hoped she would stay in Chelmsford. Skaar forwarded the message to Salmon, who called Lang “a (expletive) manipulator” and said that he wanted to redesign Hirsch’s position for another administrator. “Call him out PLEASE,” Salmon wrote. Skaar responded, “Chill, man! I am.”

In its email to the School Committee, the CAA also alleges Skaar may have been involved in violating bargained contracts and may have failed to uphold and respect the privileged communication of executive sessions, but did not provide specific examples.

CAA President Matthew Beyranevand said its email to the School Committee was meant to be private, but the union stands behind the concerns expressed.

“We look forward to addressing these issues and then being able to move forward,” Beyranevand said. “The CAA tries to avoid politics, but we needed to address inappropriate comments that were made about multiple members in our association.”

When asked to respond to the allegations and statements made in specific emails, Skaar said she could not.

“Per SC (School Committee) policy, all communication must come from the chairman,” she wrote in a Wednesday email. “I am sorry that John chose to violate the policy.”

Chairman Al Thomas said the policy Skaar referenced pertains more to committee announcements and decisions, and does not prevent other members from speaking on their own.

He, Lupoli and Lang expressed concern that the drama resulting from the emails is detracting from the good work being done in the schools everyday, and the accomplishments of students and staff.

After hearing concerns from parents and staff about the emails, Lupoli requested an executive session to discuss the matter. The meeting was scheduled for Tuesday night, but was not held due to the snowstorm. As of Wednesday evening, the meeting has not yet been rescheduled.

Salmon requested a live, videotaped interview, which The Sun denied. Asked if she would participate in a traditional interview, she said she would get back to a reporter later in the week. Salmon also said she would contact her attorney and that she “take(s) any misrepresentations seriously.”

Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alana.lowellsun or on Twitter @alanamelanson.