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Selectmen Look to Improve Communication with Schools After 'Jarring' Departure

Selectmen from both towns met on Tuesday for the first time since School Superintendent Raleigh Buchanan's departure as school superintendent last Thursday.

There may be lessons from the r that could lead to change in the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District agreement, according to Selectmen and town attorneys.

Some of those changes were discussed when the Boards of Selectmen from both towns met on Tuesday night for the first time since Buchanan’s departure last Thursday.

One of the chief concerns Selectmen had was that they didn’t understand the extent of the School Committee’s concern with Buchanan’s performance until he reached a “mutual agreement” to leave the district last Thursday.

Wenham Selectmen Chairman Molly Martins called Buchanan’s departure “jarring.”

“I don’t believe there is a communication clause in the intermunicipal agreement,” Wenham Town Attorney Paul Weaver told both boards who were meeting at .

State law has given the School Committee a great extent of autonomy, including the sole responsibility to hire and fire the superintendent, he said.

Hamilton Town Manager Michael Lombardo said he would look to establish a group that will look at the regional school agreement and areas for possible change.

“We can put together some work groups to begin discussing that,” Lombardo said.

Any changes to the regional school agreement would require approval of a majority of Town Meeting voters and approval of the commissioner of the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“The first step is to figure out of you want to do something and what it is,” Weaver said.

Wenham Selectman Patrick Wilson warned that making changes to the regional agreement as a direct result of Buchanan’s departure may not be the best idea.

“Generally, legislating from a crisis doesn’t make good policy,” Wilson said.

Selectmen said they would not question the School Committee’s decision to reach the agreement with Buchanan.

Hamilton Selectman Marc Johnson listed numerous examples of where school and town leaders meet regularly, yet nobody quite expected Buchanan to be out the door last Thursday, he said.

“This still caught us by surprise,” Johnson said.

Hamilton Selectman Jeff Stinson, who serves at the Hamilton Selectmen’s liaison to the School Committee, encouraged the town and schools to consolidate communication between the two groups into one common point.

School Committee members might have been barred from discussing concerns about Buchanan’s performance – which first began to arise in January – because of employment law, said Hamilton Selectman Bill Bowler.

Jennifer Scuteri, chairman of the Hamilton Board of Selectmen, said quarterly performance reviews could have helped avoid the situation.

“The public shouldn’t have to wait a year, or close to a year, to find out that things were not working out,” she said.

Attorneys for both towns also told both boards that there did not appear to be anything improper about the way the School Committee reached the “mutual agreement” with Buchanan last Thursday that ended his employment with the district after less than a year. The specifics of the agreement have yet to be released.

George Lamontagne of Hamilton said he was concerned that the minutes from last Thursday’s School Committee executive session may not include everything that was discussed after minutes from working session meetings earlier this year “told you absolutely nothing” – so little that the School Committee was criticized by its own attorney from the thin minutes, he said.

Other residents stepped forward to speak to the board, providing their own analysis of what transpired and speaking about their own interactions with Buchanan.

Highland Street resident Peter Britton told the boards that he met with Buchanan at one of Stinson’s coffees at where Buchanan seemed to be glad to have a welcoming audience, but Britton said he saw that “the gathering storm was clearly arriving.”

Hamilton resident Bill Dery said he regularly met with Buchanan and he told Dery he felt the School Committee was micro-managing him. Dery called transparency one of Buchanan’s “greatest attributes.”

“I’m really upset about this because I really liked the man,” Dery said. “He was an asset to this town.”

Jack Lawrence of Hamilton said it seemed to him that a “personality conflict” between Buchanan and some School Committee members led to his departure.

“I think you can only describe the current situation as a catastrophe,” he said.

Wenham Selectman John Clemenzi said it is important to celebrate the achievements of this year’s high school seniors, even amid the upheaval in the school district.

“We need to show as much support – so they can go out on a high note – as we can,” Clemenzi said.

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