Embattled PVPA head’s attorney files three open meeting complaints against school’s board

  • Scott Goldman

  • The Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School is located on Mulligan Drive in South Hadley.

  • The Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School is located on Mulligan Drive in South Hadley.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

SOUTH HADLEY — The attorney for the embattled head of the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Public Charter School has filed three Open Meeting Law complaints against the school’s board of trustees.

David Monastersky, who represents outgoing Head of School Scott Goldman, alleges the board violated the law on three occasions and in various ways in April and May.

“They don’t understand how Open Meeting Law works,” Monastersky, of Hartford, Connecticut, said of the board.

On May 9, the board voted in public to place Goldman on paid administrative leave pending the results of an investigation by a law firm hired to look into three grievances and two petitions against Goldman. Broadly, the complaints assert Goldman cultivated an atmosphere of fear and intimidation among staff and students, which intensified in the waning months of his six-year tenure.

Goldman had announced last October that he planned to resign from his post in June.

James Donnelly, the school’s attorney, said the board intends to respond to the allegations under the Open Meeting Law’s procedures.

“The board will place the Open Meeting Law complaints on their agenda, discuss their response, take remedial action if necessary and notify the complaintant of the board’s response and send a copy of the complaint and the response to the Attorney General’s office within 14 days of the receipt of the complaints.”

He said a meeting to discuss the complaints had not yet been scheduled.

One complaint alleges board member James Barnhill passed a note to the trustees’ counsel at the May 9 meeting, a “blatant violation” of the state’s Open Meeting Law.

A second complaint alleges board members deliberated behind the scenes about issues related to Goldman in violation of the law.

The third complaint stems from a May 2 executive session, when the board said it would discuss “litigation.” Monastersky said the board should have provided the public with more details of what litigation they planned to discuss. If the actual topic of conversation was Goldman’s status, and not any lawsuit, then his rights under the Open Meeting Law to be notified of the executive session should have been triggered.

In addressing the complaints, Monastersky said the board should release the contents of Barnhill’s note, that Barnhill be reprimanded and that he be required to take Open Meeting Law training.

Monastersky is also asking the board to release the details of anything that could be considered deliberations that should have taken place at a board meeting and that anyone involved be required to take Open Meeting Law classes. In addition, Monastersky said the board should release executive session minutes and issue an apology if issues related to Goldman were raised at the May 2 executive session.

The investigation

Tensions have been building between administrators and a segment of students and staff in recent months, staff have said. Goldman announced last fall he would leave his post at the end of the school year on June 30.

That leaves a nagging question: Why bother with an investigation when Goldman is leaving?

The Personnel Advisory Board, which represents staff in the absence of a union, said in a statement two staff petitions — one asking for Goldman’s termination and another urging the board to pare back his hiring-and-firing powers — were made in April after the employment of two employees seemed doomed.

Lisa Cappello, Freja Joslin and Trenda Loftin, three elected representatives on the PAB, said in a statement the petitions were submitted when “all indications were that these two teachers would not have their contracts renewed.”

They also characterized filing the complaints as a “matter of conscience.”

Two grievances, with names redacted, describe heated situations in which the complainants say Goldman used imposing body language and a raised tone of voice in a way that was threatening. Another takes issue with the way one employee was denied a year-long leave.

“The grievances are a matter of conscience filed by those whose interactions with the head of school were so unfavorable that they felt moved to report his behavior to his supervisors, regardless of the fact that his contract was ending soon,” they wrote in a statement to the Gazette.

But Monastersky took aim at the investigation, in which Sanzone & McCarthy, a Wellesley law firm, will look into the two petitions and three grievances lodged against Goldman.

“They put him on paid leave just to alleviate tensions, which is really not a reason to put someone on paid leave,” Monastersky said.

He said the board should have made a decision in April to place him on leave if the controversy warranted it.

Geoffrey Sumi, the board president, said at the May 9 meeting the decision to form a committee to investigate allegations against Goldman “does not reflect any judgment on Scott’s conduct whatsoever.”

As far as what the board could do after Goldman’s employment ends on June 30, Donnelly said “in many proceedings it (the panel) would be considered moot,” but the board could still opt to complete the report “if Mr. Goldman wants it or if it serves a purpose to help the community to come together in some way — then those would be reasons to consider going forward and completing it.”

Goldman could decide whether the findings would be aired in public or behind closed doors, Donnelly said.

Donnelly said investigators are working to wrap up the probe and produce a report before the end of Goldman’s employment.

If any wrongdoing is found, he said the board could take a number of actions, including termination or censure.

“If he’s still employed they could fire him or they could impose some (other) form of employee discipline,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly said he is keeping the door open to finding a resolution between Goldman and PVPA that doesn’t require finishing the investigation.

“I can’t predict what the terms would be but it would be something that I would negotiate with Mr. Monastersky,” he said, “and needless to say it would require the approval of the board and Mr. Goldman.”

Monastersky expressed concern he or Goldman had not been contacted by the attorney conducting the investigation — or provided with two additional complaints he said were filed against Goldman since May 9. But Donnelly said the attorney is still gathering supporting documents and will conduct a thorough review, saying “absolutely” those in the school aligned with Goldman and Goldman himself would be allowed to give statements.

Monastersky also raised concerns about the cost of hiring an attorney from Wellesley, saying “they seem to be spending a lot of money.”

Donnelly could not provide a figure of how much the attorney’s services would cost, saying “I’d just be picking a number out of the air.”