ESSEX – CHESTER – DEEP RIVER — In August 2017, Regional School District 4 purchased the 13-acre Mislick property without an independent appraisal. The district relied instead on a seven-month-old appraisal completed for the seller, Essex Savings Bank.
That appraisal was labeled “for Estate Planning Purposes and, the only intended users are Rogin Nassau LLC and Essex Savings Bank and/or designated affiliates.”
The appraised value was for the full 38-acre property, including the buildings, of which only 13 undeveloped acres were purchased by the school district. And because the purchase was a cash transaction with funds thought to be set aside in that year’s budget, the board was not required to seek approval through a town meeting or referendum for the specific use. On August 2, the purchase was approved by a board of education vote.
Two years later, board of education members were still trying to explain at a September 25 meeting how they thought there was money in the budget for the purchase.
“It’s not unusual over a couple years for a board to have to push a reset button with turnover of members and superintendent,” said Rebecca Adams-Rieder, an attorney with the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education (CABE). “Boards need to stop and take a minute to step back and prevent themselves from going down a bad path.”
With a new superintendent this year, and several new members of the board of education since the purchase was made in 2017, that is exactly what Region 4 is attempting.
“I wasn’t here when this happened, but as we go through the years uncovering areas of concern we are going to bring them forward in a timely way and bring in outside experts to help my board understand and address them,” said Brian White, superintendent of Region 4.
Levy was superintendent of Region 4 schools when the board paid $379,000, and $14,295 in legal fees, for 13 acres of the 38-acre property valued by the seller at $456,000.
In May 2019, in an email from then facilities director Bruce Glowac to then superintendent Ruth Levy, Glowac explained why he thought another appraisal was not necessary.
“The one done by the Essex Trust was done by an CT licensed independent appraisal firm and was only about a year old so the board felt another one was not necessary,” Glowac wrote.
Because the purchase was paid for in cash, there wasn’t a bank mandating an additional appraisal.
When the purchase was first proposed by Glowac to Levy in January of 2017, the purchase was discussed as an urgent and fleeting opportunity. Levy called it, “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” in multiple emails.
“The entire parcel is listed for $525,000. We want roughly 1/3 of it. If it can be divided and we could purchase what we wanted for under 200K I think it would be a great opportunity for the school,” wrote Glowac in an email to Levy in January.
The property, owned by the Mislick Family Trust with a sole trustee of Essex Savings Bank, had been on the market off and on for years.
“It was back and forth for a while – people would not be able to get the financing to do it, so it didn’t sell,” said Gary Mislick, a member of the family who still lives in the area.
The property, which was discussed and promoted among board of education members as a potential location for new sports fields, has never been evaluated for that use and is ringed in wetlands. The property also carries several easements that continue to grant the Mislicks use and access to part of the property as well as a requirement for the construction of an access road connecting Kelsey Hill Road and Colonial Drive.
In an April of 2018 email to board chair Jennifer Clark, Leigh Rankin, former Region 4 board of education member and current Region 4 facilities director, said that she was supportive of the manner in which the purchase was made and the fact that it was made.
“As for the land purchase, which people can’t seem to move past, I will never apologize for it. I stand by the fact that, from a 10-year planning perspective, it was the absolute right thing to do,” Rankin wrote. “I was supportive of the manner in which it was done and the funds that were used to purchase it. It was a negotiation. We were as entitled to do this as we were to create a clinical program and hire an employee on the spot in executive session ONE DAY after the budget passed last year…my reasoning here is not something that I would share at a public meeting however, the implication that we mis-used the sinking fund irks me in particular because of the way it is the first thing that gets raided in budget cuts.”
CT Examiner reached out to both Clark and Rankin for comment, but both chose not to respond.