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Residents still concerned about school administration

Answers sought about fate of industrial arts equipment

December 30, 2010
LINCOLN—Though residents have had questions over the removal of equipment from the Lin-Wood School's industrial arts room, officials have determined no criminal activity took place.

They were told this during a well-attended Dec. 14 school board meeting, during which the school's attorney, Barbara Loughman, said that while school policy was broken, there was no criminal activity.

"In terms of criminal liability, I don't see any basis for that," Loughman said. She said breaking a board policy is not illegal, especially when the person who broke the policy believed he had the authority to do what he did. School officials have not said who authorized the removal, and said the matter remains under investigation. Loughman said that for legal reasons it is quite possible a name might never be made public.

The residents of Lincoln and Woodstock were there to grill the board on any progress they had made holding someone accountable for equipment missing from the industrial arts room, removed there at the end of the summer by members of the school administration. The equipment had been distributed to various people in the community without any kind of formal process for the disposal of public property being followed. It was first brought to the board's attention on Sept. 14, at which time the board and members of the administration said all equipment from the industrial arts room was accounted for. It wasn't.

During a previous meeting residents presented a petition to the board asking for the resignation of Superintendent Michael Cosgriff, or at the very least that his contract not be renewed.

Lincoln Resident Jim Spanos, who presented the petition during the Nov. 23 meeting, asked whether it had been considered yet and suggested the board hire an independent consultant to review Cosgriff's performance.

Board Chairman Judy Boyle said the board had taken the petition under advisement but that no action had been taken yet.

Resident Bonnie Ham said the board needed to put an end to the divisiveness that this issue had caused for the past several months. There is a low level of trust among community members towards the board, she said.

"We need a forum to be heard," Ham said. "…there's a perception we're not being heard and it's ripping this community apart, pitting neighbors against neighbors."

Ham said the "public spectacle" was not going to help the towns. She said many of the people present at the meeting would be willing to help out in any way they could, including serving on board subcommittees.

Boyle said the board was listening to the people and that was why Loughman looked into concerns about criminal activity, to allay people's fears.

One resident got to his feet and confronted the school board and asked whether Cosgriff's contract would be renewed, a question board member Jay Bartlett answered by noting that it was not time to discuss the contract and that it had not come up during board discussions. He said he had made no decisions yet.

"I don't know yet, it hasn't come up," Bartlett said. "I'm 56. I don't change my whole life and way of thinking for something that came up only 12 weeks ago."

Joel Bourassa, of Woodstock, spoke in Cosgriff's defense, noting he was in the minority in that room.

"People should take a deep breath, there are two sides to any story," he said. Bourassa said that Cosgriff and the board had access to all the information, which the public didn't for legal reasons, and were acting upon that information.

Bourassa said he distrusted the motives of those looking for Cosgriff's resignation, calling them a group of community activists, and said that information he received about him anonymous and old.

Maureen and Dave Polimeno also spoke in Cosgriff's defense and said they were happy with the school and felt fortunate to work with him.

As for the inventory in the industrial arts room, Boyle said most of it had been recovered and the remaining individuals with the equipment in their possession had been asked to return it.

There were differing accounts as to its condition. Loughman said that because of the age and condition of the equipment, her recommendation would be not to sell the equipment because of liability but to dispose of it so it was inoperable.

Several members of the audience disputed that condition, however, and said older shop equipment was highly sought after and good for many years.

Another issue that came up was the proposed filming of the school board meetings by students in a communications program. The recordings would be broadcast on cable Channel 3. Lin-Wood High School Principal Bob Nelson said there are only four students in the program and logistically it might be difficult to arrange on a regular basis.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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