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School board members question transparency over film

January 30, 2019

STAMFORD — Board of Education members have criticized central office staff for lacking transparency following a disagreement over a movie contract.

At a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night, Superintendent Earl Kim mentioned the district was in discussion with its legal team to craft an agreement to potentially allow a Norwalk film crew in to make a documentary about Stamford Public Schools.

The announcement was met with displeasure from some school board members who previously had expressed concerns over a lack of editorial control on the product and student privacy.

When the topic was first broached in November, board members asked administrators to wait on allowing the crew in until they got more information. But at the meeting this week, Kim said he was speaking with the legal team about an agreement that would account for board members’ reservations, but not need their approval.

“I’m concerned this is still proceeding,” said board member Betsy Allyn, who initially expressed concerns about the project. “My understanding at the end of that meeting was it was not proceeding. We expressed a lot of discomfort with it. I don’t even know how we’re still having meetings without the approval of the board.”

Allyn said the project proceeding — even with the board’s concerns in mind — is symbolic of a larger problem of school board members being kept out of the loop on important topics. The issue was something previously addressed in Kim’s evaluation from September in which it was suggested the superintendent be more transparent especially when it comes to finances.

“I’m very disappointed,” Allyn said. “This goes back to what I feel is a lack of transparency coming from Mr. Kim and central office. We continually get blinded by this team, Mr. Kim specifically and his central office team. It would’ve been nice to have a conversation … it should’ve just been clear.”

Allyn was not the only board member with thoughts on the contract, which isn’t official and is still open to discussion. Jackie Pioli, who had been elected to the board at the time of the November discussion but not yet sworn in, was not offered the chance to give input on the arrangement.

“My concern is I don’t know what guidance was sent to legal,” she said.

On the flip side, board member Antoine Savage said he was contacted after the November meeting and asked for his input.

“I don’t feel anything was withheld from us as a board,” he said.

This was not the first time this month board members have been caught off guard by a new school program. Earlier in January, it was announced to the board that Stamford High School and Westhill High School would be switching to four-period daily block scheduling. Once again, it was Allyn who spoke out about the lack of board involvement in the decision.

“It was disappointing to some of our board members to have you this far down the road before this came back to the board and get our feedback,” Allyn said at the time. “For any change to be really successful, you have to get the voice of those people the change is going to be (affecting) and get their buy-in. Do you think you’ve done that and do you think you’ll be able to do that by the first day of school? To me, sitting here, that makes me a little anxious.”

erin.kayata@stamfordadvocate.com; (203) 964-2265; @erin_kayata

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