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September 13, 2013

Andover School Committee members spar over possible conflicts of interest


Forgue also argued that Birnbach’s continued communications “in your words, as a private citizen” to the School Committee also created the appearance of conflict of interest.

In response to Birnbach’s initial inquiry, the state Ethics Commission said state law prohibits him from appearing before the School Committee on behalf of the charter school team. The commission further said that Birnbach “should not sign letters, applications or any other type of submission that the team makes to the committee.”

Birnbach characterized the communication he has had with the School Committee on the charter school proposal “as a courtesy” to keep members informed.

“As a courtesy, I have sent occasional emails to School Committee members and the leadership team to keep you in the loop regarding the charter school team’s upcoming public meetings and progress,” Birnbach wrote to Forgue. “As stated several times previously, STEAM Studio Charter School would like to collaborate with the Andover Public Schools — to benefit all Andover students.”

While Birnbach was opposed to his removal from the budget subcommittee last night, he ultimately voted in favor of removing himself from it temporarily until the state decides later this month whether STEAM Studio’s proposal will advance in the consideration process. Ten applications have been submitted to create new charter schools in the state.

The School Committee also voted 4-0-1, with Birnbach abstaining, to remove him from the facilities subcommittee since it is studying space issues at Andover High, among other district needs.

“Due to the subcommittee’s review of the possible expansion of the Andover High School and the charter school’s intent to reduce the number of students at AHS, you and I both believe that a conflict of interest exists,” Forgue wrote in his letter to Birnbach.

Birnbach also sits on the calendar subcommittee, and he’s listed as a resource to the communications subcommittee. He will continue in those roles.

Meanwhile, Birnbach said “to allay any concerns” about possible conflicts of interest with the public, he requested in his letter to Forgue that all School Committee and subcommittee meetings be audio- or videotaped.

“This will ensure that there is a public record of all our discussions,” he wrote.

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