Alleged Leaks Continue to Divide Sag Harbor School Board

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The main entrance to Pierson Middle-High School.

By Christine Sampson

Specific details surrounding a potential investigation into alleged breaches of executive session confidentiality on the Sag Harbor School Board remain a mystery after the school board on Monday discussed a possible inquiry once again, but revealed no further specific details about its motivation.

During a May 31 special meeting, a measure to spend up to $10,000 to hire an investigator was voted down 4-3, after some on the board felt it was too much money and not a good use of resources. During Monday’s meeting, while some of the board members continued to insist the offense was serious in nature, no one proffered another formal motion to hire an investigator.

During the May 31 meeting, some board members requested more information from the school’s attorney, which board president Diana Kolhoff delivered on Monday. An investigation would require hiring attorneys and possibly independent administrators to conduct interviews; the “degree of evidence needs to be very high and the threshold needs to be egregious,” she said, paraphrasing the attorney’s notes. The board member or members targeted by the investigation would also be assigned a hearing officer to be able to respond to the allegations.

Board vice president Tommy John Schiavoni said it seemed like an investigation would take up too much time and money.

“We’re not quite sure how big it would get,” he said. “Where it would end, it would be hard to say, and it would be hard to put a finite number on it.”

Board member Susan Lamontagne, who voted “no” on the resolution on May 31, said Monday she was “not encouraged” by the new information from the attorney and suggested a “compromise” — that all matters be discussed in open session to avoid issues like these.

“It creates trust issues and that’s a problem,” she said. “I agree with Tommy John that it becomes a complete mess, but I do agree with the seriousness.”

Board member Chris Tice, who has lobbied for the investigation, suggested those responsible for the confidentiality breach were neither of the two outgoing board members, Sandi Kruel and Theresa Samot. “I have evidence of certain board members, and I know that they’re not the ones leaving, but I don’t know about anyone else,” Ms. Tice said.

She said Wednesday that the board previously said in open session earlier this year the alleged leaks pertained to contract and personnel issues. Along with real estate negotiations, contract negotiations and personnel matters are two of the three main reasons why executive session proceedings are kept under wraps, according to open meetings law. Ms. Tice also said on Wednesday the alleged breach “had been raised since the beginning of the year.”

On Tuesday, Ms. Kolhoff did not respond directly when asked whether the alleged breach could lead to litigation and whether the district’s attorney has directly advised the school board to launch an investigation.

“Regretfully, the details surrounding the concerns are also protected by executive privilege and I am not comfortable sharing the details of the alleged leaks,” she said. “Ultimately, the decision to start an investigation is decided by the will of the board. Last night, no one made a motion to move forward with the investigation. Hopefully, we will soon be able to put this all behind us and move forward in a positive manner.”

The school district has a policy concerning removal of a school board member that states, “A board member may be removed from office by the Commissioner of Education for willful violation of any provision of law, neglect of duty or willfully disobeying any decision, order or regulation of the Commissioner.” The policy states the board member facing removal from office “shall be allowed a full and fair opportunity to refute such charges before removal.”

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