Commission dismisses FOI complaint

BEACON FALLS — The state Freedom of Information Commission has dismissed a complaint filed against the Region 16 Board of Education regarding actions taken by the board on the sale of the former Community School.

“I am extremely satisfied with the decision that was reached,” Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said. “I would venture to say that now that the property is sold, town officials in both Prospect and Beacon Falls would concur that the sale was fair, reasonable, and beneficial for both towns, respectively.”

The complaint was filed last November by First Selectman Chris Bielik with the authorization of the Board of Selectmen. The complaint centered on actions 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 the former school at $873,000.

The former school, which is located on Center Street in Prospect, was closed at the end of the 2014-15 school year. Prospect officials showed interest in buying the school and the school wasn’t put on the open market. The sale price upset some Beacon Falls officials who felt it wasn’t fair market value. Three separate appraisals for the building and land ranged from $1,225,000 to $1,510,000.

The FOI complaint argued 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 the school at the Oct. 14 meeting. The complaint also argued the school board violated the act because it discussed a sealed bid from the Prospect Town Council for the school in executive session.

The commission didn’t see it this way in dismissing the complaint.

The FOI Commission found that the agenda for the Oct. 14 meeting “fairly appraised the public that the Community School was going to be discussed and that action with regard to the sale itself might be taken up at the meeting,” according to the commission’s ruling, which was issued last month.

The commission also found the school board discussed the sale of the school in executive session because officials were concerned that doing so in public session would have a negative impact on the sale price, which is allowed under state statute, the ruling states.

The commission advised the school board that in the future officials should indicate that they plan to discuss the purchase the purchase or sale of real estate, rather than a “real estate issue,” according to the ruling.

“Our intention was to make sure Region 16 understood that we’re paying attention to what they do and want to make sure that everything is done in the correct way for the benefit of our citizens,” said Bielik when asked his opinion on the commission’s ruling.

The sale of the school was approved by voters earlier this year, and it was closed July 8, prior to the commission’s ruling. The FOI complaint, which was never a threat to the actual sale, was the last loose end surrounding the issue.

The $873,000 from the sale of the school will be returned to the Prospect and Beacon Falls based on the student population ratio, which is roughly 60.8 percent Prospect students and 39.2 percent Beacon Falls students. The towns will receive a credit on their education expenses. According to the sales agreement, Prospect will get $530,469.72 back while Beacon Falls will get $342,530.28.