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Newport Board Asks for New Ruling

District Questions Article Revotes

Newport — Instead of asking for a clarification from a Sullivan County Superior Court judge on his April 8 ruling calling for a revote on last month’s school district warrant, the school district’s attorney is asking the judge to order a revote on just three of the warrants 10 articles.

In a motion for reconsideration filed yesterday in Sullivan County Superior Court, Manchester attorney Kathleen Peahl asked the judge to “amend the order to require a revote on articles 7, 8 and 9,” because those were three with erroneous language.

Judge Brian Tucker ordered the revote after a resident sought an injunction because the town failed to make the final ballot language available to voters prior to the election as required by state law.

Peahl said articles 3, the budget, articles 4 and 5, contracts for teachers and support staff and article 10, $10,000 for a field purchase, appeared on the ballot exactly as they were worded on the warrant and no changes were made at the deliberative session so there is no need to revote them. Those articles all passed at the March 12 school district vote.

“A revote on non-defective articles creates a real possibility of differing results on the same question,” Peahl wrote. “In particular, the possibility of a different outcome on the collective bargaining agreement articles presents a real dilemma for the School Board and uncertainty for employees. If the outcome of that vote is different, the School Board will be unable to issue those salary increases for the 2013-14 school year and the parties will have to return to the bargaining table.”

Michael Shklar, attorney for resident Bert Spaulding Sr., who sought the injuction, said the board has the notion of a “phantom menace” that will defeat the contracts on a second vote.

“What they are really saying is that they don’t trust the electorate,” Shklar said.

The revote likely would be held at Town Meeting, May 14, but this most recent motion, which requires a response from the plaintiff’s attorney, throws into question whether there is enough time to resolve the issues and properly announce the vote.

“We will review this carefully and file a response early next week,” Shklar said.

The one-year teachers’ contract in article 4 passed 387-232 and the one-year contract for support staff in article 5 passed 403-213.

“…Ordering a revote on these articles has the potential to cause disruption to the District and its labor relations which is disproportionate to the error sought to be cured by the Petitioner,” Peahl wrote.

Shklar said earlier this week he had spoken with Peahl as they prepared to file a motion for clarification and they agreed to a 14-day advance notice of the vote and that the school district elections, article 1, did not need to be part of the vote.

Shklar said during those discussions he rejected recommendations to leave any of the articles from 3 through 10 off the ballot.

“It is intellectually dishonest. If voters were not properly warned on one article, then they weren’t properly warned on all of them,” he said.

School Board Chairman Leo Paquin said yesterday that Peahl’s motion is consistent with what the board asked her to do last week after Tucker issued his ruling. The most important point is the contracts, Paquin said.

“We want the teachers to get their raises. They didn’t get one last year,” Paquin said. “They passed (the contracts) and we want them to stay passed.”

Spaulding argued in his petition and in court testimony on April 5 that the school district’s failure to produce a final version of the warrant, which was amended by voters in February, at least seven days prior to the March 12 vote was a clear violation of state law. In court, Shklar said the fact there was only one article amended was irrelevant.

The amended warrant, according to court testimony, wasn’t made available until around 1 p.m. on the day of the vote.

Peahl said because the sample ballot that had been made available seven days prior was otherwise correct, the school district had not violated the law. The School District’s position was that only articles 7 and 8 should be voted on again because of they contained incorrect dollar amounts.

Tucker sided with Spaulding and explicitly stated that “the district did not provide the notice of the final ballot question as required by law.” He said the statute “mandates the final ballot questions be in the annual report at least one week prior” (to the vote) and ordered a “second session.” But he did not specify which articles would be part of a second vote.

The School Board met with Peahl last week in a nonpublic session. At the board meeting that same evening, Paquin made a brief statement, telling the public the board was going to ask for a “clarification” of the April 8 order. Right after the meeting with Peahl, board member Liz Hennig said several times they only wanted a clarification of which articles had to be voted on again. No mention was made of a motion to ask Tucker to reconsider his ruling.

Peahl said in her motion the district would agree to a revote on article 9 so it is correctly titled as the “School Facility Renovation Capital Reserve Fund.”

Article 6, allowing the school district to place a percentage of any budget surplus in an account for emergencies, does not need to be revoted, Peahl wrote, because it was not amended at the deliberative session so the language on the ballot was the same.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.