In an attempt to bring in ‘new blood’, school panel used illegal secret ballot

SHEFFIELD — During the biweekly meeting a motion was made to vote by secret ballot for the chairman and vice chairman of the Southern Berkshire Regional School District school committee.

All but one of the committee members voted yes for the ballot to be secret. But this vote was illegal, according to state law.

The only dissenting vote was Kenneth Knox, who voted against the secret ballot “in the interest of transparency,” he said at the meeting.

Since the secret ballot was illegal, the school committee will have to vote again, this time in an open meeting scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 6 at 5 p.m. at the Mt. Everett High School.

In the secret ballot  Art Battachi was elected chairman of the school committee and Tim Schroepfer was elected vice-chairman.

According to Massachusetts General Law  regarding public meeting law, section 22 explicitly states, “No vote taken at an open session shall be by secret ballot. Any vote taken at an executive session shall be recorded by roll call and entered into the minutes.” The SBRSD school committee violated this clause in MGL.

The secret votes are null and void. and it is unclear if a complaint has been filed against the SBRSD school committee.

The past few months have not been easy ones for the school district. Beginning before the start of the academic year, the district’s superintendent Beth Regulbuto was criticized by parents and community members for a reported lack of transparency. There were concerns over the work environment at Mt. Everett High School, as well. Science and technology teacher, Jim Berlstein, cited a “hostile work environment” in September.

Students were also confused at the beginning of the school year about new rules that had been implemented over the summer and without a code of conduct, or student handbook, students did not know what was allowed and what was not. The school administration issued the student handbook in October.

A few weeks after that, students were reprimanded for inappropriate posts on social media. “To me, [the post] was inconsistent with what we would deem appropriate. It was a handbook violation more than anything,” said the superintendent. Regulbuto chose not to elaborate further on the contents of the post and stressed that no one was in danger and no threats were made.

And most recently, last Friday, Nov. 30, a hoax bomb threat was called into Mt. Everett and classes were dismissed for the day. Local and state law enforcement were called to the scene to secure the school. The student body was bused to the nearby Berkshire School campus. No injuries were reported.