FOI complaint filed against Board of Ed

A resident who says the Board of Education should have made more room for people seeking to attend the Jan. 22 Board of Education meeting has filed a complaint with the state Freedom of Information Commission.

In her complaint received on Jan. 23, Patricia Sperling said that visitors to the Board of Ed meeting were turned away after the main meeting room at Board of Education headquarters was filled.

Sperling said she contacted Schools Superintendent Janet Robinson on Jan. 16 to warn her that there would be a larger than expected crowd. Some residents have voiced concerns about what they see as a lack of transparency from the Board of Ed and Robinson.

“The meeting room was completely packed and parents overflowed to the hall to the point that the Fire Department put up a sign that closed out the meeting to any others wanting to attend,” Sperling said in her complaint letter.

“Additionally, the public was told during the public forum that they would be shut down if any comments were directed directly to the administration. Censorship at its finest,” Sperling added. “We cannot question the administration’s decision-making when it’s our tax dollars being spent.”

Sperling said people being turned away from the meeting by the at-capacity sign constitutes a freedom of information violation.

Some residents have urged the Board of Ed to conduct an audit to review spending patterns. The previous school board voted last August to scuttle plans to spend $50,000 for a forensic audit, citing that there was no money in place without a town budget. The current Town Council voted in December to pass a budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Robinson said Friday that she did not see that anyone’s access was denied. She also said that the Board of Ed did not have another venue to hold the meeting, pointing specifically to the now-closed Center School building.

Had the meeting been moved to Stratford High School, which is next door to Town Hall, Robinson said the Board of Ed would have had to pay overtime for staff  to set up the SHS auditorium.

“That’s not a good setting for a board meeting and we’re going to have to pay people overtime to have to set it up and it’s not going to be easy,” Robinson said.

The superintendent said the board had been alerted to a possible large turnout at a finance committee meeting and the large crowd did not show up.

“We have no way of telling [how many] people are going to to come” to a meeting, she said.

An official at the FOI Commission said if Sperling’s case is taken, it will be looked over and Sperling will not hear back for about four weeks. If the case is accepted, it will be delivered to an ombudsman for mediation. If nothing is resolved in a month, the case will go to a hearing, commission officials said.

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Editor for the Stratford Star. Former reporter for the Darien Times.

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