Parents seek audit, resignations after learning Concord administrators lack credentials 

Monitor staff
Published: 10/9/2019 9:25:54 AM

Parents asked school board members Monday night to contract with an outside firm to conduct a district-wide audit of staff credentials following the disclosure last week that top district officials are not properly credentialed to do their jobs.

“I think it’s important, when you consider the totality of the things that have been happening,” said Max Shultz, who is also running for school board in District B, about the need for an audit in the district. “Education is extremely important and the people that are in charge of the administration for education are extremely important and people need to be qualified, certified, and it should not be under the carpet somewhere.”

Both the assistant superintendent in the district, Donna Palley, and business administrator Jack Dunn are not properly credentialed. Palley was made acting superintendent on Sept. 27, after superintendent Terri Forsten was placed on administrative. Forsten was placed on leave following the board’s review of a report from an independent investigator charged with examining the district’s response to complaints by students in 2014 and 2018 about former teacher Howie Leung. Leung was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a former Concord student in April.

The first line of Palley’s job qualifications is to “hold or be eligible to hold NH Superintendent/Assistant Superintendent certification,” according to a copy of her job description. She lacked the certification for eight years, although she is working to complete the process now.

Parent Andrea Golen walked to the front of Monday’s school board meeting holding a red sign reading “resign” and set it up on the table in front of the microphone to face school board members as she spoke.

“It’s been eight years. I can’t work in my job for eight years and get paid $134,000 a year without taking the proper time to go to school, to learn what I need to learn to do my job properly,” Golen said directly to Palley. “Taxpayers should not be paying for your salary when you didn’t even take the time to get your credentials.”

Other parents expressed similar concerns about Palley’s lack of credentials.

School board President Jennifer Patterson said the board is in the process of seeking an interim superintendent to take over for Palley as the district’s leader. Additionally, Patterson said the board has directed the director of personnel, Larry Prince, to initiate an audit of all educator credentials.

“The board takes these certification issues extremely seriously and we will require that all DOE standards are met for all staff,” she said. “We’ve looked at our administrators and we will continue to look and make sure there are no anomalies. Thank you, we will consider the possibility,” she said of an external audit.

Deb Harris, a parent of three children, said that the district should make audits a regular, scheduled practice.

“When we’re talking about audits, I would suggest based on what’s going on, that maybe it should be biannual. Every two years we should go through some kind of audit, not just about personnel but also about any other policies and procedures. ‘Are they being followed?’ ” she said.

Darlene Gildersleeve of Hopkinton, who led a petition for the board to fire Forsten and Concord High Principal Tom Sica, also called for Palley and Dunn to resign. She and members of her group “Protect Concord Children Now” stood outside Mill Brook School, where the meeting was being held with signs reading, “resign now.” They stood at the back of the room and kept holding their signs throughout the two-hour meeting.

“It’s unacceptable that eight years has gone by and somebody that was in charge of supervising others’ credentials themselves did not have a credential,” Gildersleeve said. “If she cannot do the right thing and resign, the board should do the right thing and terminate her. You are setting an example for all the staff in Concord to lackadaisically not get their credentials because their boss doesn’t. There’s no incentive for them.”

At one point, Gildersleeve spoke directly to Palley, who was sitting in front of the room with Dunn and other members of the district’s staff.

“Donna, do the right thing: Resign,” she said. “It’s been eight years. You had enough time.”

Patterson interrupted.

“It looks like your time is up,” Patterson said, indicating Gildersleeve had been talking for more than five minutes, the time limit for public comment. “Thank you very much for your comments.”

“How convenient,” someone from the crowd shouted as Gildersleeve picked up her signs and walked to the back of the room.

Palley did not speak at the meeting, except when she was asked by the board to provide updates on work the district is doing with Concord Police and DCYF to improve its reporting procedures.

In an interview with the Monitor Friday, Palley apologized for her lack of credentials and said she has been taking action since August to obtain them.

“It’s a big mistake,” Palley said. “It’s shaken the community. It’s distracting the board and others from their work at an incredibly difficult moment in time, and I feel terrible about that.

“At no time did I ever intend to obscure or mislead anyone about my status, and I, of course, am deeply sorry,” she added. “This is painful.”

Patterson said Monday she became aware of Palley’s lack of certification when she was copied on emails from the Department of Education on Sept. 10 and 11.

“This correspondence gave me the impression that the matter was being resolved, was being worked on with appropriate staff at DOE. At the time that the board placed Superintendent Forsten on leave, I was not aware that the certification issue with respect to Ms. Palley was not being swiftly and fully resolved,” Patterson said.

“The board was not aware of the certification issues with respect to Jack Dunn,” she continued. “At the moment, that issue rests with the Department of Education and we are committed to doing what ever the Department of Edu cation requires.”

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