Clarkstown School Board Votes To Seal Investigative Transcripts Except To Those Who Gave Statements (VIDEO)

Board retains law firm for continuing investigation


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.

Truth Seeker March 10, 2012 at 10:21 PM
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Truth Seeker March 10, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Rhea I hope you will follow the advice of wastedmoney and dig deep and expose this connection between board members and the law firm they have hired. We all know this isn't the first time connections have come to the surface but I'm sure excuses will be made
Tony T March 11, 2012 at 12:28 PM
I quote directly from the Report....a secret investigation conducted in a vacuum buy an administrator with a possible agenda and this is the result which has caused much of the issues as well as Keller-Coogans downfall. “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.”
Tony T March 11, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Wastedmoney2012- you are 100% correct JOE MALGIERI should resign his position as well and was major part of he problem and certainly not part of the solution. If for no other reason then the PERCEIVED IMPROPRIETY and possible ethical violations.
Rhea Vogel March 11, 2012 at 02:57 PM
Tony T, this investigation is fraught with inconsistencies and it is my opinion, which is shared by many, that it had a predetermined outcome. The fact that the majority members of the board voted to deny any access to the entire board of education to the transcripts and the exhibits that are a material part of the investigation is an intentional obstruction on their part to the truth ever coming out. CLEARLY, IF THE MATERIALS SUPPORTED THE REPORT AND ITS CONCLUSIONS THEY WOULD HAVE EAGERLY SHARED EVERYTHING. Without a doubt, even someone unfamiliar with any aspect of the madness that has gripped our district for the last six years would judge that the denial of access to these materials after the un-redacted release of the report can only mean that the transcripts and exhibits have information that would contradict the report’s veracity. Tony T you can beat your chest all you want on this blog but you do so under the cloak of anonymity, which is of course your right - but, with all the accusations that you so readily hurl, why don’t you have the courage to stand up for what you believe like I do.
commonsensemom March 11, 2012 at 03:22 PM
You know what really frightens me? Doug, Kevin, Phil and Donna are going to be interviewing our next superintendant! Doug will be the one to make the final approval. I have watched his horribly failed leadership since last year and have read out here that he lacks anything more than a degree from a community college. This should make the people of our district very, very upset. He says one thing and then does another. He clearly doesn't have the best interests of our children in mind. I sure hope that the people are allowed to meet the canddiates in forums because I cannot accept that these 4 will decide the future of Clarkstown. Does anyone agree with me?
Mike Hirsch March 11, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Rhea, While it may be true that the report is not comprehensive enough, I think that it is wrong to say that the outcome was predetermined. Dennis Lynch and partners have an excellent reputation in the seeking justice department. Different people who read the same book take different things from it, which is just human nature. My personal opinion (which, granted, is alot easier for me than for you, as I don't have a dog in this fight) is that the board was correct in sealing the report. If they would now take the next step and seal their mouths and stop this insanity, I think it would be in the best interest of our community.
Mike Hirsch March 11, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Mom, I agree with you that Doug Katz is in over his head and has not demonstrated any leadership abilities. I disagree with you that the people should be allowed to meet the candidates. The board was elected to represent the community. If you are unhappy with the board, I suggest that you start working on the election campaigns of the new crop of candidates.
commonsensemom March 11, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Mike, thank you for your response. I am only looking forward and not back and your right, I need to think about the new candidates. Once they are announced I will do my best as a parent to learn all about them and what they will do for my children. But it's so hard for me to accept that this board in it's present makeup will choose my children's next leader. I know they were elected fairly but I fail to see how they have represented anyone other than themselves since they've been in office. This is just how I feel now. I'm sorry to vent. I never thought I would ever blog here but it's all so upsetting the district in it's current state.
Rhea Vogel March 11, 2012 at 03:54 PM
Commonsensemom, Yes, I too share your concern about the capability of the majority members of the board with regard to the selection of a new superintendent. What worries me most is not the lack of education or degrees possessed by some of the board members, but that they have not appropriately represented us during the entire time they have been on the board and there is no reason to believe that they will in this endeavor. I have no faith at all that these board members will be responsive to what the public’s view is. Unfortunately, the school board has the ultimate decision with regard to the hiring of a new superintendent and having the finalists meet with the community is merely a formality designed to garner support for their final choice. Fortunately they did engage a firm to assist is them in establishing criteria and to conduct the search and preliminary interviews. The firm, SCHOOL LEADERSHIP, LLC ( http://www.leadschools.us ) is a well-regarded outfit that has experience in the process of assisting boards of education with finding a new superintendent. My sincere hope is that these professionals do the lion’s share of the work and that all the finalists they recommend are candidates of such exceptional quality that it will not matter who the board ultimately selects.
Rhea Vogel March 11, 2012 at 04:20 PM
Mike, The firm was retained to do a job and the outcome was determined by the materials given to them. The law firm did not have control over the materials; the control of much of the information that was given and by who remained with the board, no doubt. I just feel it is very suspect that the board released an un-redacted document to the general public and then seals the exhibits and transcript FROM EACH OTHER!!! That leads me to believe that there is something they do not each other to know and it is not “a personnel issue.” This is a board that has completely lost its perspective and has spent three years working against each other. Doug, Donna and Phil as individuals coming into their positions never had the right focus. Their thinly veiled agendas to get rid of various administrators as well as the Superintendent poisoned our community with negativity and unchecked hostilities.
Mike Hirsch March 11, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Rhea, Sometimes it's best to say nothing and walk away from a fight. When you become involved in a brutal, no holds barred confrontation, you have to adopt those same tactics in order to win, which makes you no better than your opponent, in which case you both lose.
Sarah's mom March 11, 2012 at 05:39 PM
"all the finalists they recommend are candidates of such exceptional quality that it will not matter who the board ultimately selects." It's unfortunate that we couldn't have this same outcome six years ago.
Merlin The Mighty Wizard March 11, 2012 at 06:51 PM
7)Did you, as the attorney, even review the board policy regarding board members not being allowed to be in schools? 8)Were any board members provided advanced copies of the report or informed of its content (via phone, email, text, etc.) PRIOR to the release to the entire board in executive session on March 1st? 9)Whose decision was it not to include Donna’s testimony and why? What about Doug’s testimony? Greg’s testimony? Don’t you agree Donna’s testimony is important for the public to see? 10)Why didn’t the witnesses get mailed their transcripts to review prior to the report’s release?
Cindy March 11, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Thank you Merlin for re- posting these questions. It appears as though they have been deleted.
Phil Leiter March 11, 2012 at 07:54 PM
The inquiry (or investigation (as you and the Report call it) not only does not violate any District Policy, but Dr. K-C is authorized and required to conduct such an inquiry under sections of District Policies 2000, 5410 and 9000. If you know a policy that contradicts those provisions, I'd love to hear it.
Merlin The Mighty Wizard March 11, 2012 at 09:28 PM
Yes, Cindy, the Patch did delete them and I am re-posting them. They are very fair questions and being a taxpayer who paid this firm I want answers from them.
Merlin The Mighty Wizard March 11, 2012 at 09:37 PM
The CTA will be holding a CLOSED meeting on March 13th at 4:15pm in the South HS auditorium. The meeting is for CTA MEMBERS ONLY. Please see the agenda outlined below. We will make every effort to get through the presentation portion of the agenda by 5 pm. We will open up the floor to questions at the end of the presentation. We understand that the timing is not the most convenient for everyone, that is why we sent out the save the date notice in advance. Please make every effort to attend. Thank you. Gregory Montague, President Clarkstown Teachers Association General Membership Meeting Agenda March 13, 2012 * Call to Order at 4:15 pm * Update on Current District Events (10 min) * Payroll * Professional Development * INVESTIGATION and REPORTS – RELATED CTA ACTIONS * BOARD OF EDUCATION ELECTIONS AND BUDGET VOTE (5 min) * CANDIDATES WHO HAVE TAKEN OUT PETITIONS * The 2% Tax Cap - what it is and isn't * State Budget and Governor Cuomo (5 min) * APPR Penalty * Tier VI * APPR (20 min) * Requirements * Changes * NYSUT Lawsuit and Settlement * Implications on CTA * SLOs * Member Input - Survey * Central Labor Council Solidarity Event/Fundraiser for Scholarships (5 min) * Membership Questions
stephany March 11, 2012 at 11:36 PM
I only wish I could be at a meeting at 4:15 PM I still have 1hr and 15 mins work to do then the train to the bus ride home just got home at 7:30 PM left for work this morning at 6:15 gonna eat dinner now.
Sam March 11, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Thank you for this information Merlin you must be a teacher and a good one too. Closed meetings oh boy. This is what I am talking about here. They are ready to line up behind the ones they want to elect. Wake up people! Sorry Merlin but if the union is supporting somebody for school board that will be a person I won't vote for. Not that all teachers are bad. No I have to say that they are people with a good heart and that they love children. And what did they have to do with that report. It all stinks if you ask me. What is an SLO and APPR - is this some secret language? And what is the 2% tax cap - I will tell you that means no more padding the budget with fat and stupid stuff. About time!
commonsensemom March 12, 2012 at 12:11 AM
After what I've read in this article about the Teacher's Union making the request to seal this report and seeing how they control Katz there is no way I will vote for anyone the Teacher's Union endorses. You know what I don't get? Greg Montague is a teacher. He allows Cathy Malgirie's testimony to be released....yet demands Katz seal his! Talk about a hypocrite! He threw one of his own under the bus! Now a closed door meeting to discuss candidates? Who does this man think he is? He makes me so angry!
Yehbut March 12, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Ain't THAT the truth!
commonsensemom March 12, 2012 at 02:16 PM
Looks like they deleted Merlin's questions for the law firm again! What is going on?
The Soothsayer must be put down March 12, 2012 at 07:16 PM
The soothsayer must see the angels and hear no more
wastedmoney2012 March 12, 2012 at 08:30 PM
get a life!
commonsensemom March 12, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Great questions Merlin! How did they release a report without Donna's testimony? That makes no sense!
William Shakespeare March 12, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Caesar: The die is cast.
commonsensemom March 13, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Merlin, can you report back to us what was discussed after the meeting today? Thanks! I also noticed they deleted your questions for Feerick & Lynch again!
William Shakespeare March 13, 2012 at 04:36 PM
Caesar: As a rule, men worry more about what they can't see than about what they can.
Patrick Sarsfield March 20, 2012 at 06:25 PM
No updates on this story after the report in yesterday's LoHud quoting Mr. Freeman from the Committee for Open Government stating that the sealing of the record was wrong in this case?


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