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Updated: West High principal MaryEllen McGorry resigns

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 29. 2013 3:45PM

The school board has voted to accept the resignation of MaryEllen McGorry, the former principal of Manchester High School West, but it agreed to continue to pay her salary for another 10 weeks and her health benefits until June 30.


The vote, which was made following a nonpublic session at Monday’s full board meeting, ends McGorry’s employment with the district, but does little to shed light on what led to her suspension in September, a few weeks into the school year.


District officials said privacy laws restrict what they can share with the public, as well as members of Board of School Committee.


“I can’t share any personal information at this point,” Superintendent Thomas Brennan said on Tuesday. “Every individual has privacy rights, and they’re being exercised. I’d love to be able to tell the full story. Then I wouldn’t have to figure out ways not to tell the story.”


Mayor Ted Gatsas was joined by four other school board members on Monday in voting against Brennan’s recommendation to accept the resignation of McGorry.


“I can only say that we will be paying (McGorry) through April 30th and her health care though June 30th,” Gatsas said in explaining his no vote, adding, “I have to refer all other questions to Dr. Brennan and the legal counsel.”


The other no votes came from board members Art Beaudry, Jason Cooper, Debra Gagnon Langton and Christopher Stewart.


Voting in favor of accepting the terms of the resignation were: Vice Chairman Dave Gelinas, Sarah Ambrogi, John Avard, Roger Beauchamp, Erika Connors, Ted Rokas, Roy Shoults, Donna Soucy and Kathy Staub.


Beaudry said he was upset by what he said was a pattern of the district being generous with employees accused of wrongdoing.


“I don’t know how the district is going to find the money ... . We have zero money in our budget,” Beaudry said. “The only people who seem to make out on these deals are the attorneys. It’s attorneys one, and taxpayers zero.”


Regarding the McGorry matter, board member John Avard said, “It’s time for this district to move on.”


Calls to McGorry and her attorney were not returned.


McGorry is paid $103,700 a year. It’s not clear how much the district is paying for her health care, but it will be paying $2,166 just for her coverage after April 15 until June 30.


In addition, the district has paid the Employment Practices Group, a Massachusetts-based firm, at least $50,000 to conduct its investigation into McGorry’s conduct.


Also suspended a week after McGorry was her secretary, Denise Michael, who was placed on paid leave from her $27.80 hourly position. Her status has not changed, according to the district’s legal counsel.


The board also authorized Brennan to seek candidates for interim principal at West High. Keith Puglisi has been serving in this capacity since McGorry’s suspension.


The district’s legal counsel responded to right-to-know requests for documents connected to the investigation and resignation of McGorry by invoking exemptions in the public information law, RSA 91-A, concerning privacy and personnel matters.


“This person has her own privacy rights. If this information were released, they could sue the district, and we could run into a whole host of litigation,” said James O’Shaughnessy, an attorney with the Concord-based firm Upton and Hatfield. “We also must protect integrity of the investigative process.”


McGorry had been a popular principal at West, noted for her energy and school spirit. A former prosecutor who changed her career from the law to education, she started as a substitute teacher at West, where she graduated in 1981. She was hired as an English teacher in 2001 and became assistant principal in 2005. When she was appointed interim principal in 2007, about 100 faculty members signed a petition endorsing her for the permanent position.


The investigation into McGorry seems to have at least partly involved personal matters, based on a review of heavily redacted billing records with the Employment Practices Group, which the district had previously provided to the New Hampshire Union Leader in response to a right-to-know request.


It appears that at least 11 interviews of witnesses and others took place, according to the billing records. The longest interview lasted six hours and happened on Oct. 19 in Wellesley, Mass., where Employment Practices Group has its offices. The company was billing the district $250 an hour.


The school board’s vote on McGorry comes two months after it voted to terminate a special education teacher facing criminal charges for allegedly abusing her students. The teacher, Martine Gambale, had been on paid administrative leave since April.


New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this report.

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