We've been on vacation from blogging for the past few days...we just needed to "kick-back" for a while and visit some of our "friends"...
First, we decided to see how our "friends" at New Hartford Central School were progressing with our FOIL request. The last communication we received from Ms. Greico, the NH Records Officer, on June 26th indicated that our FOIL request has been "turned over to the Business Office for review".
Since 7 days had passed since our June 25, 2008 FOIL request (actually, it has been 173 days since our first request on January 17, 2008, but who's counting?) for the New Hartford Employees' Union Contract and the FOI Law only allows for 5 business days to comply, we decided to make an unexpected call to Mr. Nole's office; Mr. Nole is the current Assistant Superintendent For Business Affairs and according to newspaper accounts, he is quite possibly the next District Superintendent following Dan Gilligan's retirement. As luck would have it, Mr. Nole said he was just in the process of looking over our FOIL request when we walked in. Talk about luck!
Anyway, Mr. Nole explained that even though the Board of Education unanimously approved the New Hartford Employees' Union contract for the period July 2007 to June 2010, the contract has yet to be signed by the school and the union. All Mr. Nole had available was the UNSIGNED, DRAFT version. It takes time for the signatures according to Mr. Nole...yeah, but really does it take 6 months?
What really has us curious is why Dan Gilligan, Superintendent of the New Hartford School told us at our February 14, 2008 meeting with him and School Attorney Hallak that the SIGNED contract was at B.O.C.E.S. being printed and we would have it in a couple of weeks. The meeting where Mr. Gilligan made this statement to us was prompted by an email we received from Mr. Gilligan dated February 8, 2008. Here's an excerpt (unedited, Mr. Gilligan should learn to use Spell Check):
To begin with, the District is responding to your requests in accordance with our understanding of the law. For example, the contracts you are referring to were approved by the Board in draft form. Following approval, they are updated by the respective attorneys and sent to us for final review before they are officially published. The purpose is to enxure that any language changes that were agreed to, in principle, are corrrectly entered into the 70+ page documents. That process should be completed this month and then they will be copied at BOCES for distributiion. We will send you electronic copies when the final approval of wording is reached by all parties. Even the employees do not have copies at this time and they won't get copies until the review is finished.When we asked if school employees were being paid according to this DRAFT contract, Mr. Nole replied "yes". Since the DRAFT copy of the contract clearly states "DRAFT 4/29/08", are we to believe that changes have been made since the school board approved the DRAFT contract in January...wouldn't that DRAFT be dated sometime prior to January 8th? In response to our questions, Mr. Nole assured us that all schools work that way.
So let's see if we have the process correct...the school board approves a DRAFT of the contract on January 8, 2008. According to Superintendent Dan Gilligan, the signed contract is at B.O.C.E.S. for printing in February and would be available in two (2) weeks. Next, a DRAFT version of the contract dated April 29, 2008 is distributed to school officials and we suppose union officials also receive a copy. Yet, as of July 8, 2008 the contract has not been signed and the only thing Mr. Nole can provide us with is a DRAFT copy and they have actually been paying the employees under the terms of the DRAFT copy of the UNSIGNED contract!
Just goes to prove that one shouldn't believe everything they read in the paper. The question is just what has been changed, if anything, between the time the school board approved the contract on January 8, 2008 (as reported by the Observer Dispatch) and the time the April 29, 2008 DRAFT was produced and how many more DRAFTS will be distributed before the contract is actually signed? How is the school board doing their due diligence if the latest DRAFT of the contract is dated April 29, 2008 and the board approved a DRAFT contract at their January 8, 2008?
As taxpayers, we are curious as to how employees can be paid in accordance with a DRAFT contract that has yet to be signed by both parties. Is it even legal to pay from a DRAFT, UNSIGNED contract? Didn't the State Comptroller's office just cite Whitesboro Central School for giving employees benefits not in the current contract? According to the article in the Observer Dispatch:
“The district has to ensure that employees only receive the benefits stipulated in their contract.”Wonder what the Comptroller's Office would say about paying employees under the terms of an unsigned contract? But then again, if that is the way all school districts do it...guess that must make it right...doesn't it?
Here is a pdf copy of the DRAFT, UNSIGNED New Hartford Employees' Union Contract.
UPDATE: We just received an email from Matthew Tabor telling us that he mentioned the New Hartford Central School lack of accountability in his latest Education for the Aughts Podcast. Thank you, Matthew. It's pretty sad when a school noted for excellence fails to comply with simple requests for public documents and instead tries to threaten us with "lawyers" that are paid for with taxpayer dollars.
During our "vacation" we had some further discussions with Mr. Nole and some of our other "friends" around town, but we will save those conversations for other blogs in the very near future. Stay tuned!