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Aug 12, 2009 1:59 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Police guard Tuckahoe School Board meeting

Aug 12, 2009 1:59 PM

Two members of the Tuckahoe School Board asked Southampton Town Police to post an officer at the door at Monday night’s board meeting after an angry crowd of several dozen parents and teachers accused them of forcing out the district’s popular superintendent two weeks ago.

Board President Sharon Grindle said that she requested the police presence at the meeting. Board member Susan Riccardi also said she asked that police be present. Ms. Grindle also confirmed that she called the police and asked for an escort for herself and Ms. Riccardi from the school building after the board’s July 27 meeting.

Neither woman would comment about why they felt the need to call the police then or have them present at the meeting on Monday.

The third School Board member, Robert Grisnik, said he had no knowledge of the police having been called to either meeting.

Ms. Grindle’s and Ms. Riccardi’s concern, however, was clearly rooted in the anger of many district parents and faculty at the resignation of Superintendent Linda Rozzi, which the board accepted at the July meeting after Ms. Grindle and Ms. Riccardi refused to allow a vote on whether to renew her three-year contract. More than 60 parents and teachers turned out at that meeting after learning that Ms. Rozzi planned to resign if her contract was not extended. Many shouted angrily at the two women on the board.

The tenor of the meeting was more reserved but no less negative on Monday. At the start of the meeting, Ms. Grindle stood up from the board table and faced the crowd of about 30 residents and teachers to read a letter from the school district’s attorney, Kevin Seaman, regarding Ms. Rozzi’s contract and the reasons the two School Board members would not vote to renew it.

In the letter, which Mr. Seaman said was prompted by the “incendiary remarks” made at the previous meeting, the attorney wrote that the board could not discuss in public anything having to do with Ms. Rozzi or any other school employee. The attorney did say in the letter that there would be an opportunity for public involvement in the selection process of Ms. Rozzi’s replacement.

Ms. Grindle said that board members would be happy to discuss any other subject, such as building maintenance.

The crowd did not take the suggestion to heart.

“That’s a gag order,” district resident Paton Miller said angrily. “You can’t shut the public up. This room wants answers. You stand here and shut us all up. No one here wants to talk about the building. Everyone is here to talk about Linda Rozzi.”

Ms. Grindle countered Mr. Miller: “This room, unfortunately, can’t have the answers, because Ms. Rozzi and every other teacher ... are protected by law,” she said.

Mr. Miller said that it was going to cost the district an additional $150,000 to pay Ms. Rozzi her full salary through the end of 2010, plus the cost of an interim replacement and, ultimately, a new superintendent. Parent Richard Plum asked where the additional money would come from. School Business Administrator Ed Joseph said the money needed for an unexpected contingency like hiring an interim superintendent could be taken out of surplus funds from prior operating budgets, which have been kept in reserve.

Parent Amy Plum then said she had filed a Freedom of Information Law request for copies of e-mails sent between board members in recent months and was told they were not public record because the board does not have school-supported e-mail accounts. Mr. Joseph told the audience that the public is also barred from having access to minutes of executive session meetings in which specific employees were discussed, as many had demanded at the last meeting.

Resident Richard Warren asked how the board would involve the public in the selection of a new principal. Ms. Grindle said the process had not been discussed yet. “Certainly, we trust your opinion and your input,” she said. “And certainly there will be people who are sitting here who will be on that committee.”

Many parents have said in recent weeks that the two women on the board had pushed Ms. Rozzi out to make way for former board member Theresa Grimaldi, who is the director of assessment and reporting in the East Hampton School District. The board members maintained that they have no specific candidates in mind.

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