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Holbrook

Selectmen question school principal’s leave

This is the ninth week of paid administrative leave for Holbrook Junior-Senior High School’s principal, Michelle McGlone, for reasons the school district has kept confidential.

The district has released no information about whether the leave is medical, disciplinary, or for some other purpose, but Superintendent Joseph Baeta told the Globe on Monday that the community could see resolution any day now.

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Baeta said he may soon be ready to announce a change in McGlone’s employment status. Whether that change might mean a return to work or a permanent departure from the district, he would not say, revealing only that the situation is a confidential personnel matter.

He placed McGlone on leave Oct. 15, and by the end of the month her name had been deleted from the administrative directory on the school’s website, fueling speculation about whether she would return. She could not be reached for comment.

The Holbrook Board of Selectmen on Nov. 27 asked the town administrator, William Phelan, to write a letter to the School Department requesting an explanation. As of Monday, Dec. 10, Phelan had not sent the letter, but he said the selectmen believe they, and possibly the public, deserve more information about what is happening with the leader of the town’s only high school.

“For parents and students, and even teachers, to have learned through the newspaper that someone is not the principal anymore is somewhat unusual,” he said. “At the best-case scenario, it was not handled well.”

But Baeta said the district did communicate with parents, before Thanksgiving, by sending a half-page notice home with students. He has not received any calls from concerned parents, he said; interest, instead, has come from selectmen and the media.

The superintendent said it was “unheard of” and “unprecedented” for municipal officials to push for details in a school personnel matter.

“It’s absurd that a board that has nothing to do with personnel matters on the school side is spending time discussing that during their open meetings,” he said. “If that’s not politics, I don’t know what is.”

Holbrook selectmen and the School Department have been butting heads this year over another issue as well: school regionalization. Holbrook Town Meeting voted in the fall of 2011 against creating a regionalization planning committee, but this year, the Holbrook and Avon boards of selectmen jointly applied for a state grant to study regionalization.

The Holbrook board never held a meeting with the town’s School Committee to discuss the grant before filing the application. Then, on Nov. 15, the School Committee voted to oppose pursuit of the grant. Members of the committee have suggested that working toward regionalization could jeopardize the district’s application for state funding to build a new school.

Barbara Davis, chairwoman of Holbrook’s School Committee, declined to comment on McGlone’s status, saying she could not discuss a personnel matter. She would not say whether she believed McGlone would return to the job; nor would she give a timeline for a decision.

Vincent Hayward, vice principal of the junior-senior high school, is serving as acting principal and is identified as such on the school website.

School districts have wide latitude to place employees on leave, according to Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. The term “administrative leave” can mean almost anything, he said, from a family emergency to behavior that requires investigation. There are no limits on how long it can last. Koocher said he has seen administrative leave last up to two years.

Terms of leave could be codified in district policy and/or an employee contract, he said, though he was not familiar with the Holbrook case.

Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents, said that by keeping mum, Baeta is protecting the town from a lawsuit. An attorney would advise a superintendent not to discuss reasons for an employee’s leave, lest the worker sue for breach of contract, he said.

Thus, keeping quiet is the norm, he said. “It’s just a rule of thumb you follow.”

Districts typically use the time a worker is on leave to plan a course of action, Scott said. They might determine whether an employee will return after a medical problem, negotiate a contract settlement, or conduct an investigation.

“Generally it’s because of circumstances where people are saying, ‘It’s detrimental for this to continue,’ ” he said.

Baeta said he would make Holbrook’s course of action public as soon as possible. “As soon as I can release the information, I will,” he said. “I have nothing to hide.”

Jennette Barnes can be reached at jennettebarnes@yahoo.com.

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