Hearing held on FOI complaint

Officials argued their cases Monday related to a Freedom of Information complaint filed by Beacon Falls First Selectman Chris Bielik against the Region 16 Board of Education.

The complaint centers on a vote taken by the Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, at an Oct. 14 meeting to set the sale price of Community School at $873,000.

Community School, which is located on Center Street in Prospect, was closed at the end of the 2014-15 school year. Prospect officials want to buy the building from the region and are moving forward with the process of purchasing the school.

Bielik filed the complaint in November with the authorization of the Board of Selectmen. The complaint argues that the school board violated the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act by failing to fairly apprise the public that discussion and action would be taken regarding setting a sale price to sell Community School at the Oct. 14 meeting.

The agenda for the meeting listed “Community School Update” and “Personnel and Negotiations Committee Executive Session Re: appointment of interim BOE member and a real estate issue” as agenda items, according to the complaint.

The complaint also raises concerns that the school board discussed a sealed bid from the Prospect Town Council for the school in executive session.

The complaint requests that the Freedom of Information Commission declare the action taken by the school board to set the sale price null and void, and impose a civil penalty on the school board.

A hearing on the complaint was held Monday in Hartford. Both sides presented their case to a hearing officer, who will in turn give a report to the commission. The commission makes the final decision on the matter.

Bielik said he doesn’t believe the school board acted in a malicious manner by taking the vote. However, he said, as first selectman he has a responsibility to ensure the town’s interests and rights are “scrupulously upheld.”

“We just want to make sure that everything is done according to proper procedure,” Bielik said.

According to Bielik, Region 16 officials made a motion at the hearing to dismiss the complaint, but the motion was not upheld.

Following the hearing, Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said he feels the argument made in the complaint is inaccurate. He believes the FOI Commission will see the school board’s side and dismiss the complaint.

The sale price for Community School has been a controversial issue.

At the Oct. 14 meeting, the school board discussed an offer from the Prospect Town Council in executive session. The offer, which wasn’t made public until after the executive session, was for $783,350. This offer was reached by taking the average of three appraisals for the property, which ranged from $1,225,000 to $1,510,000, and subtracting $545,000 for what Prospect officials feel are immediate repairs needed for the building.

The school board took no action on the offer, thus rejecting it, before unanimously voting to set the price at $873,000, which took into consideration some of the repairs needed. The Prospect Town Council subsequently agreed to the price.

The sale price upset some Beacon Falls officials, who feel the price is not fair market value.

The money from the sale of the school will be returned to the towns based on the student population ratio, which is about 60 percent Prospect and 40 percent Beacon Falls. Based on the $873,000 sale price, Beacon Falls would receive about $349,000.

Beacon Falls officials also argued that taking into account repairs needed to the building essentially forces the town to pay to fix a building it will no longer be connected with.

At the Oct. 28 meeting, the school board voted to sell the school to Prospect for $873,000, but it was no longer a unanimous decision. Beacon Falls board members Priscilla Cretella and David Rybinski walked out of the meeting when the vote was called, and fellow Beacon Falls board members Sheryl Feducia and Christine Arnold abstained.


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