GROTON -- In a formal announcement made at the Jan. 22 meeting of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee, Chairman Allison Manugian said that Chelmsford assistant superintendent Kristan Rodriguez had been chosen as the district's next superintendent.
Rodriguez was among the audience in the crowded High School library when Manugian made the announcement.
Expected to take over as superintendent from interim superintendent Anthony Bent on July 1, Rodriguez was also present for a special joint meeting between the School Committee and town officials to discuss what will likely be a major headache for her in the coming years, a budget shortfall that could result in layoffs, reduced programs and even building closures.
Rodriguez was voted in as the district's new superintendent at an emergency meeting of the School Committee held Sunday, Jan. 19, as the only candidate left standing after the unexpected withdrawal of fellow finalist Theodore Friend, superintendent of public schools in Sutton.
According to Manugian, Friend withdrew his name from consideration only a couple hours before the final vote was taken saying that he did not feel he was the right fit for Groton-Dunstable and that news reports about the interview process convinced him that committee members were leaning toward Rodriguez.
At a meeting held Jan. 17, School Committee members had planned to hold a vote between the two candidates but decided to hold off pending more background information and reference checks. Discussion had even noted that if a decision could not be reached by their next meeting, site visits to the candidates' school districts might be in order.
That all changed when Friend withdrew and it was learned that Rodriguez had another job offer. After a round of interviews last year failed to yield a good candidate for superintendent, forcing Bent to stay on as interim superintendent longer than expected, pressure had mounted on committee members to come to a decision.
Thus Manugian called Saturday for an emergency meeting on Jan. 19 to hold a final vote.
But according to state law, public meetings of elected bodies must post notice at least 48 weekday hours ahead of time in a number of places where residents are likely to see it. However, calling the emergency meeting on a Saturday left no weekday hours before the meeting itself was held on Sunday.
To satisfy the law so far as was possible, Manugian said notice of the meeting was posted in advance on a listserv web program that sent an email notice to subscribers. There, enough people saw it to crowd the meeting on Sunday.
The problem, according to Town Clerk Michael Bouchard, was that listserv did not constitute a legally recognized posting place for a meeting.
Bouchard explained that all meetings must be posted 48 weekday hours in advance except if there is an emergency meeting required then it should be posted as soon as reasonably possible. But having already met at 5:30 p.m. on the Friday before the Sunday emergency meeting, the School Committee would not have had enough time to meet the normal 48 hour requirement.
In addition, Bouchard said he did not receive any notice of a School Committee meeting for Jan. 19.
Also not notified, was Carol Skerrett, Town Clerk in Dunstable.
Both Bouchard and Skerrett said that was all right so long as the meeting was properly posted say, on the district's web site, which would have satisfied the law regarding proper notification, but no such notice was ever placed.
When asked about the lack of proper notice for the Sunday meeting, Manugian said exceptions were allowed in emergencies such as that with the Rodriguez vote when the School Committee needed to make a decision quickly before the candidate could be hired by another district.
The state's open meeting law defines the need for an emergency as "a sudden, generally unexpected occurrence or set of circumstances demanding immediate action," which Manugian said fit the circumstances of the Jan. 19 School Committee meeting.
At the emergency meeting, Manugian said that there was about 45 minutes of discussion about the candidate and some questions from audience members before the School Committee voted unanimously to hire Rodriguez as the next superintendent.