EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

September 13, 2013

Andover School Committee members spar over possible conflicts of interest


“If $15,000 per student walks out the door and goes to the charter school, depending on 100 students to 400, we’re talking about an impact of $1.5 million to over $6 million to this school budget,” L’Italien said.

Forgue, meanwhile, said he isn’t alone in his concerns about Birnbach’s dual role. He said the questions he raised in his letter to Birnbach — which he called a follow-up to a discussion the two had last week — “came from a range of different sources.”

“They weren’t just mine,” he said.

School Committee member Annie Gilbert last night echoed some of Forgue’s concerns.

“While I believe completely that you have the best interest of the Andover Public Schools’ students in your heart, I don’t question that, I think that there is an inherent conflict in the duality of the roles,” Gilbert told Birnbach. “I’ve heard from an enormous number of people who have said, ‘This doesn’t make sense to me.’”

In his letter, Forgue requested that Birnbach go back to the Ethics Commission to seek its opinion on several specific issues — including serving on various school board subcommittees, advocating for the charter school in communications to the School Committee and contacting Andover High faculty to discussion his team’s proposal.

However, Forgue’s allegations that Birnbach contacted high school faculty on school premises “to discuss the charter school proposal, solicit their support and possible involvement” drew a heated response from Birnbach.

Birnbach denied he acknowledged contacting faculty at the high school to advocate for STEAM Studio — as Forgue asserted.

“I have not solicited AHS faculty support, nor have I sought out their involvement. Your claims are inaccurate,” Birnbach wrote. “Given my role as a School Committee member, I have consciously avoided having interactions with Andover High School faculty.”

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