Manchester's "alternate school board" gets reshuffled
By TED SIEFER New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER — School district officials have rescheduled for next Thursday a meeting of the “alternative school board” to conduct a closed-door hearing concerning a former district employee.
The board, which is to consist of nine people, will entirely replace the 14 elected members of the Board of School Committee, which has recused itself because it had already rendered a decision on the employee in question.
According to sources, the former employee is Lisa Tagalakis Fedor, a Central High art teacher arrested in February and charged with criminal liability for allegedly allowing a roommate to sell heroin and posses a stolen firearm in the apartment where she and her children lived.
The district’s attorney, James O’Shaughnessy, said the “alternative board” was necessary in order to comply with a state law requiring that teachers subject to dismissal receive a “fair and impartial hearing.”
The district scheduled a meeting of the “alternative board” for Monday, without explanation. The hearing never took place that evening because, after nearly an hour, it was determined that there weren’t enough people for a quorum.
“Two people bowed out beforehand and when we got there, two didn’t feel comfortable,” Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy, a member of the alternative board, said. “All that went on was lawyers talking in back rooms. We just sat around and waited, and then we were told we could go home.”
Monday’s meeting was closed to the public. Under the state’s open meeting law, meetings of any public body can only go behind closed doors by a public vote of a quorum, and only for specified reasons, including personnel matters.
O’Shaughnessy said on Wednesday that he believed the nine members of the alternative board have been selected for the meeting next week, which will take place at the district’s headquarters at 5:30 p.m. He said he could not identify all of the members because the list was “not finalized.” At least four of the nine members are city aldermen: Roy, Pat Long, Tom Katsiantonis and Barbara Shaw.
Several school board members contacted this week said they understood the need to recuse themselves in the current case and that they supported the decision.
The hearing involves an employee who was dismissed last spring. The board had voted to back the recommendation of then superintendent Thomas Brennan to dismiss Fedor. Under state law, teachers can only be dismissed following a “full and fair hearing.”
A hearing did not take place in the case of Fedor, who is now appealing the termination.
The identity of the former employee was not disclosed by O’Shaughnessy or school board members interviewed for this story.
O’Shaughnessy maintained that convening the alternative board was consistent with precedent and state law. He pointed to a 1994 case in which Ovide Lamontagne, then the chairman of the state Department of Education’s review board, found that the school board of the Kearsarge Regional School District violated the rights of a teacher by deciding not to renew her contract before giving her a fair hearing, as required under RSA 189:13.
He ordered that the teacher be given a “mutually acceptable hearing process” in line with another state statute, RSA chapter 43.
That law states in part that when “the whole board is disqualified the selectmen shall, in writing, so inform some justice of the superior court, who shall ... appoint a new board for that case from qualified persons who have before holden the same office in the town, if such there be, otherwise from qualified persons, residents of another town, who have holden the same office.”
O’Shaughnessy said the decision to ask aldermen, former school board members and those from other towns to form an alternative school board was based on these precedents and laws. “I know there’s a gray area,” he said. “Statutes don’t explain every situation. When you to have to find a solution, and there’s nothing spelled out for you, you look to common law, you try to find solutions guided by other legal principles, that are constitutional, that show good faith, and that have the public’s best interests in mind.”