All seven Clarkstown Board of Education members attended Thursday night’s meeting at which they voted on several issues revolving around the recently released . The board adjourned immediately to an executive session with investigative attorney Dennis Lynch.
When they returned to public session, their initial discussion focused on the transcripts of statements given during the legal investigation into the public release of a confidential district document. Board member Joe Malgieri put forward a motion that board members be permitted to read the transcripts of those who provided statements.
Lynch recommended that the transcripts and index of materials not be released. He said the index of documents used to prepare the investigative report included the testimony of 16 individuals and probably more than 100 exhibits.
When Board Member Kevin Grogan said that could potentially lead to retaliation if someone did not like what he or she read, Malgieri asked what was being hidden. Malgieri also questioned why testimony from Board Members Donna Ehrenberg and Phil DeGaetano was not included in the written report. Board Member Robert Alan Carlucci felt the trustees should have the chance to read the transcripts at the law office as they had originally expected and ask questions of the attorneys.
“I really feel there is a need for some members to get some closure on this and get an opportunity to read these transcripts,” said Carlucci. “I know that there may have been some things marked confidential and I think that we need to observe that request for confidentiality.”
The motion to permit trustees to see the documents did not pass by a four to three vote.
DeGaetano made a motion for the transcripts to be sealed except for the individuals asking to receive copies of their statements and unless needed for the additional investigation or by court order. He said his action was based on protecting district employees and confidentiality reasons.
“If you have any investigations in the future what teacher would anybody come forward and do anything if they know they are going to be ‘outed’,” he asked.
“I would say the board tonight should seal these transcripts so that nobody gets to see them.”
Board President Doug Katz said he voted for sealing the transcripts based on the advice of counsel and because the employees’ statements on sensitive personnel matters should remain confidential. On March, the board received a letter from the Clarkstown Teachers Association asking that the testimony be sealed. The motion to seal the records passed by a four to three vote.
Board Attorney Warren Berbit read a resolution for Lynch’s firm, Feerick, Lynch, MacCartney PLLC of South Nyack, to continue the investigation at a cost of up to $15,000. The motion was approved unanimously. The board allowed 30 days for the expanded investigation.
The resolution contained three specific objectives. The attorneys should recommend policies and procedures to follow as part of an investigation of allegations against employees. They should recommend ways to protect the rights of alleged victims and those accused. They should provide guidelines for conducting and concluding these types of investigations.
Additionally, they were assigned to identify all potential violations of the law, policies or board regulations and to report all violations and suggest possible remedies.
The investigative attorney’s initial report concerned the December release and public distribution of a confidential document, a two-paragraph memo dated March 9, 2011 that bore the signature of Woodglen Principal Lisa Maher and included the names of board members Donna Ehrenberg and DeGaetano. That report released on March 1 was completed at a cost of $20,000.
Superintendent Margaret Keller-Cogan, who was present when the board adjourned to executive session, did not return with the members when they resumed their public meeting.