Education ethics: Start times stoke squabble between board members

Turbulence surrounding later school start times persisted Monday night rocking the Board of Education from within, as its leadership faced ethical questions about a committee that formed earlier this month.

Board Chairwoman Fran Walton brought up the issue, which has been heavily debated at more than a dozen meetings throughout the school year, to let her fellow board members — and members of the public — know her ethics had been challenged.

“I’ve had emails from a board member questioning whether I’m fit to lead the board,” she said. “All board members need to be aware that one board member is very upset with me, and feels that I’m not acting in the best interest of our board.

“I would really like to talk about it.”

David Cordisco, the board member who voiced his displeasure with Walton, said he didn’t receive fair consideration to be part of the board’s school start times steering committee that will lead research before taking eventual action on the controversial topic later this fall.

Cordisco also took exception that Walton was using her personal email account for board communications.

“I questioned the leadership that when the steering committee came out Doug [Silver] and I were excluded for whatever reasons that were not clear to me,” he told the board Monday night.

“I was disappointed in that for all the hard work I put in the strategic planning committee and I was just kind of left out there without consideration.”

Board member Doug Silver also weighed in.

“I had the same experience, I was not made aware of the steering committee roster — I assumed I was on it because I am on the strategic planning committee,” he said. “It made sense to me, then I noticed that my name wasn’t on there as well.”

Walton said that neither Silver nor Cordisco contacted her expressing their interest.

“What was interesting to me is that board members reached out to suggest which organizations should be represented or contacted on this,” she said Monday. “No board member reached out to say they were interested in serving on the committee.”

Public vs. private

Cordisco said he had assumed he would be on the steering committee but when he wasn’t, he emailed Walton who chose to respond from her personal email.

According to Cordisco, the board chair wrote, “I’m sending you this email to avoid being public.”

The agitated board member told his colleagues Monday that he went as far as to file a personal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all emails sent to board members from Walton’s personal account.

“I’m questioning the ethics,” he said. “Because I want to find out how often that happens.”

Walton said she chose to email from her personal account so that the communication would be faster and more efficient.

“I take your point, but by putting it through personal email I felt I had more chance of people responding,” she said.

“I forwarded that email because of your FOIA request it’s now within the board system.”

Burying the hatchet

Cordisco asked Walton if she had been trying to hide anything from the public about how the steering committee was formed.

“If you tell me you’re not using your personal email to hide from the public then I will rescind my FOIA,” he said.

Walton said absolutely not, and that nothing unethical had taken place in its formation.

Other board members defended Walton.

“I think you’re doing a great job I would urge you to continue doing what you’re doing. I’d hate to see that communication stop,” said member James Keidel.

Margaret Stamatis agreed.

“You’ve taken it all very seriously on many levels — I feel we’re a stronger board because of your leadership.”

By the end of the discussion, he told the board he had decided to rescind his request.

“I’m happy to move forward,” he said.

“I think it’s best we put it behind us,” said Walton.