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Union asks ACSU for information

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — The union representing Addison Central Supervisory Union teachers has asked an Addison County Superior Court judge to compel ACSU Superintendent Lee Sease to turn over information that the superintendent insists he doesn’t have.

At issue is an ACSU-commissioned report, prepared by Bristol-based Barash Mediation Services, intended to recommend ways of promoting a more “civil and respectful” environment within district schools.

The Middlebury Union High School Teachers’ Association (MUHSTA) has seen the report, which addresses the district broadly, but wants a look at follow up reports created by Barash for some individual schools.

Over the course of several weeks last year, consultant Phoebe Barash conducted interviews with many members of the ACSU community, who gave her their impressions of their work environment. She released a report on Nov. 22, 2005. Sease and Barash collaborated on a memo summarizing the report, which was sent to staff on Jan. 19 of this year.

In addition, according to Sease, Barash offered to meet individually with principals of ACSU schools to discuss findings that were pertinent to each school. The ACSU includes Middlebury Union High School, Middlebury Union Middle Schools, and the elementary schools in Cornwall, Bridport, Middlebury, Ripton, Weybridge, Salisbury and Shoreham.

Some principals took Barash up on the offer; others didn’t. Those that did received a written report.

It is copies of those written, individual reports that MUHSTA has been trying to obtain, according to Al Calzini, co-president of the teachers’ union.

Calzini said MUHSTA has been attempting to get the “data disaggregated by school” from Sease since January. That statement is backed up by a series of e-mails between MUHSTA officials and Sease.

Sease replied through e-mails that he had “no need for the information to be disaggregated,” and “I don’t have that material, and have never had that material. I consider that the property of Phoebe Barash.”

On April 12, MUHSTA requested access to the information under the Vermont Public Records Act. At the same time, the union made an appeal to ACSU board Chairwoman Carol Ford. The union filed the suit in court on April 26.

Calzini said MUHSTA wants the reports “to see what the results are.” He added information should be public, as the study was financed by taxpayers’ money.

“We were promised, from the get-go, that this would be a transparent process,” Calzini said, adding the difficulty in getting the reports “makes us wonder what’s in the data.”

Sease reiterated he doesn’t have the information that MUHSTA is seeking.

“The only thing I had was the (summary report) and memo,” Sease said.

That point is reinforced in Sease’s response to MUHSTA’s complaint, on file at the Addison Count courthouse.

“Upon information and belief, Ms. Barash did meet with the principals noted on the invoice, and may have prepared reports which were transmitted to the principals for those school districts,” reads the response, written by Sease’s attorney, J. Scott Cameron. “At no time were any of those reports provided to Sease or ACSU. None of the documents at issue are public records maintained either by Sease or ACSU.”

Barash, contacted on Thursday, confirmed Sease’s account of the release of the summary report and Jan. 19 memo. She also confirmed meeting with some school principals in the ACSU, and furnishing them with individual reports.

“They were written reports, only shared with the principals,” Barash said.

Sease said he would not feel comfortable ordering Barash to release the individual reports.

I stated in November, when Phoebe extended her offer, that this was between her and the principals,” Sease said. “I don't think it would be becoming of me to go back on that pledge or statement.”

Sease will now have to wait and see whether the court overrules him.

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