The Clarkstown Board of Education received the report on the public release and distribution of a confidential district document. The six board members present at Thursday night's meeting voted to release the 31-page report and post it on the district’s website. The report can be read by clicking on “Board of Education Report From March 1, 2102 Meeting” on the district’s homepage. A motion calling for Trustee Donna Ehrenberg to resign was not carried.
The 31-page account (see attached PDF) provides a chronology of the events that led to the creation of the document and its eventual public release. The two attorneys, Donald Feerick and Dennis Lynch of Feerick Lynch MacCartney PLLC of South Nyack, interviewed 16 people, who are current and former district employees and four board members.
The two-paragraph memo dated March 9, 2011 and bearing the signature of Woodglen Principal Lisa Maher includes the names of board members Ehrenberg and Phil DeGaetano. The memo was drafted after a 30-minute meeting between Maher and Assistant Superintendent Dr. Deborah Leh. Dr. Leh took notes during the meeting and wrote the memo, which Maher was asked to review and several weeks later asked to sign it. Maher told the attorneys interviewing her that Board Member Joe Malgieri also visited the school although that was not included in the memo.
The memo was prepared after Maher had advised Superintendent Margaret Keller-Cogan by email that board members DeGaetano and Ehrenberg had visited the school. The district administration established a policy in September 2010 requiring principals to notify the superintendent when board members called or visited their school. DeGaetano visited the school on January 3, 2011 and Ehrenberg arrived on January 24. The visits took place prior to Maher receiving tenure with the district, which was awarded February 15. Soon afterwards DeGaetano called Maher to congratulate her on receiving tenure.
The report described the memo’s content.
“It was implied that two Board Members attempted to influence the Principal’s supervision of a particular teacher, Cathleen Malgieri, who was the wife of another Board Member, in exchange for securing the vote of those Board Members in favor of the Principals’ tenure.”
The report also describes numerous conversations and communications between Cathy Malgieri and Maher beginning in January 2011. It notes that Cathy Malgieri met with Dr. Keller-Cogan about the atmosphere in her school building and concerns about “being harassed by the Board members aligned with the majority…” She requested a transfer from Woodglen in June 2011 but then changed her mind. In July, Cathy Malgieri asked for a transfer after hearing “the update in the change of my position and responsibilities.”
Soon after the May meeting, the superintendent spoke to several of her staffers about Cathy Malgieri’s complaints. Dr. Leh brought up the statement from Maher that referred to Cathy Malgieri, which she forwarded electronically to Jeff Sobel and Dr. Deborah O’Connell. The original memo was also shown to Dr. Keller-Cogan. On May 25, Dr. O’Connell and Sobel met with Maher and a union representative to discuss the issues raised by Cathy Malgieri.
The report assessed the importance of the memo.
“The Memo was part of an internal investigation initiated by the Superintendent against her publicly outspoken opponents on the Board. However, no report of any Investigative Findings of Fact or Conclusions of Law was prepared during the course of or as a result of the Superintendent’s internal investigation. There was no finding at that time of any improper conduct by the two Board Members mentioned in the Memo. Accordingly the Memo containing highly confidential issues involved accusations of misconduct against current Members of a Board of Education was left in an unresolved state for any subsequent recipient of the document, but such recipient would not have the benefit of a written report to know the disposition of the internal investigation that looked into the memo.”
Copies of the memo were not part of Maher’s or Cathy Malgieri’s personnel files but were kept by Dr. O’Connell who gave her files to Sobel when she resigned from the district. The report concluded the statements attributed to Maher were accurate but that the memo does not provide a complete recap of the information she gave to Dr. Leh, who has since left the district. It is critical of how the document was stored but does not determine how it wound up being publicly distributed.
“The fundamental failure of the Superintendent who was the last person to have custody of the Memo to preserve its confidentiality allowed for the ultimate anonymous and public release of this most sensitive Memo. Proper procedures in investigating and adjudicating complaints within the district should have been but were not, adhered to by the administration.”
Originally the investigation cost was limited to $15,000; but on January 30, another $5,000 was added.