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Concord-Carlisle School Committee renews superintendent's contract, calls for civility after contentious forum

Posted by Evan Allen  November 13, 2013 08:20 AM

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The Concord-Carlisle Regional School Committee voted unanimously Tuesday night to award Superintendent Diana Rigby a three-year contract that will boost her annual compensation to $218,545 if she receives a “proficient” performance review next spring.

The committee also struck back at critics, who showed up en masse at a community coffee meeting last month to lambaste Rigby’s leadership, and who committee members said had “crossed the line of civility” and drowned out other, more moderate voices.

“There’s only a certain level of abuse you can take as an individual,” said committee co-chair Louis Salemy. “It’s one thing to disagree, it’s another thing to disagree in a disrespectful manner.”

Some residents at the coffee were angry over the Oct. 22 School Committee vote to enter into contract negotiations with Rigby for another 3-year stint, and cited a number of issues that have plagued the district, including a 2012 survey that showed low teacher morale, the mishandling of a high school building project which caused state officials to threaten to withhold construction funds, and a perceived lack of transparency by the district.

But school officials Tuesday night defended Rigby and their decision to keep her, and said that the district’s vocal critics did not speak for the majority.

“A few attendees chose an inappropriate tone to criticize the School Committee and the superintendent in the name of the community, and to accuse the School Committee of not listening to the community,” said committee member Kathi Snook. “I am saddened that this one group of residents organized and coordinated an effort to monopolize the forum and the public dialogue in this manner.”

Co-chair Pamela Gannon urged community members now to “move forward.”

“It’s time to remember that our goal is to provide the very best education to the children from Concord, Carlisle, and Boston who are in our care,” she said.

Rigby’s new contract, which will begin July 1 of next year, includes a 3 percent raise contingent upon her receipt of a “proficient” rating in her next evaluation. Her current salary is $212,180, and her evaluation this summer rated her “proficient.” The new contract extends the length of notice Rigby must give from five months to 12 months if she wants to terminate the contract, and it also eliminates roll-over language that automatically extended the contract year to year if the school committee were to take no action on it.

Committee member Phil Benincasa, who cast the lone dissenting vote Oct. 22 against renewing Rigby’s contract, pointed to the evaluation requirement tied to Rigby’s raise as the key that allowed him to vote to support it.

“I think it underscores the fact that the School Committee has heard some of the concerns that are registered by the community and takes them seriously,” said Benincasa.

Salemy said in an interview after the meeting that no part of the contract was a response to criticism. The decision to tie Rigby’s raise to her evaluation, he said, was made simply because her evaluation has not yet happened.

The roll-over language was eliminated, he said, because it was weak and did not make sense, and the notification period was extended to give the committee enough time to locate a new superintendent in the event that Rigby decides to leave the district.

Salemy said he did not expect Rigby to leave. Rigby said in an interview after the meeting that she is currently planning to stay the full three years, but did not rule out the possibility that something could change.

“Today I’m not preparing to do anything but to stay, but that’s today,” said Rigby. “Lots of things can happen in people’s lives. My goal is to stay for three years. But we can’t guarantee what happens in the future.”

The meeting Tuesday was attended by about 15 residents, only one of whom spoke about the committee’s contract vote.

“I just came tonight to really ask you to come back from Never Never Land,” said Mav Pardee, who said she was not part of any organized group and had never been to a meeting where people were critical of the superintendent. “I think you are underestimating the mood in the community, and I think you’ve contributed to it by rushing this contract through… I think you’re dreaming if you think this is going to end.”

Rigby has cited a silent majority that she says supports her administration, and committee members Tuesday described critics as a small and organized group. Salemy said he, too, believes there is a silent majority and a vocal minority, and in an interview after the meeting described the behavior of critics at the coffee as being “like an angry mob.”

Other committee members said they had heard from some residents who attended the coffee that they felt intimidated and silenced by the people who spoke negatively.

“Every day we receive comments from parents, community members and students that are very positive, but those are private,” said Rigby in an interview after the meeting. “What you tend to hear publicly is all the criticism.”

But Benincasa said after the meeting that residents have a responsibility to make their opinions known.

“If there is a silent majority, then shame on them for not speaking up in support of her. If they are timid and afraid, then in effect they’ve abstained,” he said.

Concord, he said, is a town with a long history of civility, tolerance and openness, and when residents feel they are not being listened to, they will make their concerns known.

“In this case, a number of folks have stepped over the line of civility. The question is, what drove them to that point?” Benincasa said. “I continue to be hopeful that we will resolve these issues and be able to overcome our differences.”

The committee decided to postpone the next community coffee meeting, originally scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 19, to Tuesday, Dec. 3.

Evan Allen can be reached at evan.allen@globe.com

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