EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

September 13, 2013

Andover School Committee members spar over possible conflicts of interest

ANDOVER — Citing “potential or perceived” conflicts of interest, the chairman of the School Committee is calling into question fellow member David Birnbach’s involvement as a leading proponent of a proposed charter high school in town.

In a four-page letter to Birnbach on Wednesday, Chairman Dennis Forgue said he wants to be “clear about my concerns about possible conflicts of interests and obstacles to the efficient performance of the School Committee’s duties” as Birnbach lobbies for the creation of the STEAM Studio Charter School.

Birnbach shot back yesterday, responding in a letter to Forgue that he consulted with the state Ethics Commission for guidance shortly after the STEAM Studio team submitted its prospectus to the state Department of Education. The Ethics Commission in early August provided Birnbach with a set of guidelines, which he shared with the superintendent and School Committee, he wrote.

Birnbach told Forgue he looks forward to continuing to participate in upcoming School Committee meetings.

“I plan to follow the state Ethics Commission’s guidelines and I will continue to advocate for what’s best for all public school students in Andover,” the four-term School Committee member wrote.

At a meeting last night, concerns with Birnbach’s ability to put his School Committee responsibilities first over those of the charter school played out further when he was removed from two board subcommittees — facilities and budget.

Member Barbara L’Italien said she had “a big problem” with Birnbach serving on the school board’s budget subcommittee in light of the loss in funding for Andover public schools that would result if STEAM Studio gets the go-ahead from the state.

Under the funding formula, $15,000 per student of town education funds would be redirected to the charter school, which is proposed to enroll a maximum of 450 students from ninth through 12th grades.

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