Letter: After Legal Fight Without Clear Cause, Region 4 Shows Better Judgment

Two concerns about Region 4 are raised in Julia Werth’s article about recruiting fee-paying Chinese students through SPIRAL. One will likely prove to be unwarranted; the other seems to require a more fulsome explanation.

We should not be too worried that Asst. Superintendent Kristina Martineau was reimbursed to house summer campers once the district was contractually obliged to accept them. Region 4’s contract with SPIRAL set a modest reimbursement rate that was available to anyone willing to provide a similar service. Thus far, based on publicly available records, Dr. Martineau doesn’t appear to have received special treatment, nor does she appear to have been lavishly paid. If anything, Dr. Martineau may have even made a sacrifice by taking in extra students when it appeared that too few community members were interested in doing so and it was too late to cancel the program. If you review of her receipts and find nothing, you should still cover what you learn with the same gusto as you would if you had found something.

What needs justification, though, is why the district spent so much time, money and credibility to keep secret (for no apparent reason other than perhaps a misreading of federal educational privacy law) the names of community members who provided services for the SPIRAL program. Or why the district then doubled down to appeal the decision of the Freedom of Information Commission when it ordered Dr. Levy to reveal their names. Fighting the decision of the FOIC just made it look like Dr. Levy had something to hide. It’s not clear from the document accompanying the article that she actually did.

In the recent past, the district seemed allergic to disclosure. For years, they didn’t publish attachments to public copies of meeting agendas and minutes. They didn’t always announce with enough specificity their reasons for convening executive sessions. At times, they attempted to delay, ignore, evade, intimidate or steamroll requests for information instead of providing direct answers to direct questions from the public (and even some public officials). Hopefully, as a result of recent actions by the current board and new superintendent to cultivate more openness, this has now changed for good.

If the district’s suit against the FOIC showed, at best, poor judgment and, at worst, a disregard for the public’s right to access information about their government; then, the current R4 Board’s decision to drop the suit, stop the expenses and release the information shows better judgment and an increasing regard for transparency.

We can’t un-spend the money but we can learn from the experience. Someone should finally explain why Dr. Levy and Region 4 were dug in for so long and at such expense to pursue a case that was apparently not worth fighting over.

Michael Hammond
Essex

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