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Gilford residents file suit against school board

August 24, 2011
As the beginning of the school year draws near, members of the Gilford School Board face a lawsuit filed by three residents over the hiring of the school superintendent.

Doug Lambert, David Horvath and Kevin Leandro filed suit in Belknap County Superior Court Wednesday, Aug. 17, seeking an order for the school board to comply with the original administrative model developed in 1998, when Gilford schools split from the Laconia school district.

"Put yourself in the shoes of a voter in this town," said Lambert. "Taxpayers and voters; I can't speak for all of them — people in this town, myself included, feel we've been cheated."

According to Lambert, members of the school board have repeatedly ignored public opinion on the superintendent issue. He said the school board should have followed the Gilford selectmen's example of not hiring a new Department of Public Works operation manager to save taxpayers money.

"The school board has always done what the school board wants to do. But they continue to get elected. Since 1998, they have never had the intention of following the plan, but they never came out and said that," said Lambert.

He suspected that if members of the school board had publicly made an effort to explore the option of operating without a superintendent, public opinion on the situation would be better.

Instead, Lambert said they acted without "minding the interests of the people who pay for that education."

The School Board has released a summary of their position on the superintendent, in which they state that "No NH school district of more than one-thousand students exists without a full-time superintendent," and both the Gilford and Gilmanton school boards recommend that SAU 73 "continue with its current organizational model."

To this, Lambert said Gilford schools were up to the challenge of operating without the typical management model.

"Let's be the first without a superintendent," said Lambert. "Ask anyone who is positive about the school, and they will say 'Gilford is the best, we're cutting edge.' Let's be the first."

Lambert urged members of SAU 73 to step aside "if they are incapable of overseeing education" and "let others in."

To comply, the school board must not renew Kent Hemingway's current contract, and must not seek replacement for the superintendent position.

According to Lambert, the date he set for the school board to notify Hemingway that he will no longer have a contract with SAU 73 lines up with the end of Hemingway's current contract.

Members of the school board have not commented on the lawsuit; however, according to their summary, they believe having a superintendent is necessary for SAU 73 to function properly, and that they acted in the best interests of the Gilford school community.

Members of the school board stated that, according to state law RSA 189:24, a standard school is described as "being directed and supervised by a principal and a superintendent, each of whom shall hold valid educational credentials issued by the state board of education."

There is one exception "for small school administrative units "with 400 or fewer total school age enrollments, and with no more than two public schools'." Gilford far exceeds the description of a small SAU.

According to Hemingway, the school board has referred the case to their attorney and insurance company, which is standard procedure.

The school board has until Nov. 3 to respond to the suit.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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