Attorney defends actions during turmoil
By Jeff Simms
In their quest to hire a new superintendent, the members of the Board of Education of the Beacon City School District will review four sample requests for proposals (RFPs) from neighboring counties before they potentially draft one of their own.
An RFP — if the Beacon board chooses that route — would be used to solicit search firms to find candidates for the position.
The samples did not arrive in time to be reviewed prior to the Feb. 22 board meeting, but board member Anthony White proposed placing the discussion on the March 7 agenda. Several members have indicated they would like to use a search firm to locate candidates.
White also suggested posting the RFP samples at boarddocs.com for public review.
Other options for identifying candidates would include using the Dutchess County Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) or hiring from within.
On Monday, Beacon Teachers’ Association President John Burns urged the board to retain interim superintendent Ann Marie Quartironi during the 2016-17 school year.
“We need a people person,” Burns said, adding that teacher morale has rebounded since Quartironi, who he said has provided “stable leadership,” was named interim chief on Jan. 21, following Barbara Walkley’s resignation.
At the close of the Feb. 22 meeting, school system attorney Michael Lambert spoke about accusations that have been swirling for months.
Lambert is a partner at Shaw, Perelson, May & Lambert, whose attorneys represent 60 school districts throughout the Hudson Valley.
A petition filed with the state Department of Education in December by Beacon parent Melissa Rutkoske called for Lambert’s dismissal due to his alleged “failure” to protect the district from “incompetent, unethical, inappropriate and illegal behaviors.”
On Monday, Rutkoske criticized Lambert again, accusing him of favoritism, fraud and corruption.
“This is exactly what we have been rallying against, but our legal counsel has refused to take part in the rally,” she said, asserting that Lambert had not fully investigated the “irrefutable” evidence of wrongdoing by Walkley and former teachers’ association head Kimberly Pilla.
“Who does counsel think he represents?” Rutkoske asked. “Does he represent the superintendent, the former BTA president or the school district? Policy states that he represents the school district.”
Lambert fired back later that evening, saying, “I’ve worked extremely hard to establish my professional reputation, and I value it.” He confirmed that last year he reviewed emails and conducted interviews on behalf of his client, the Board of Education, and advised that no action be taken against Walkley or Pilla.
“I did not believe there was a basis for recommending that the board bring action against either of those individuals,” he said.
Lambert said that while the public may want to see “action,” he must consider the rights of those involved, the merits of a case and the likelihood of success when advising any client, including the school board.
“My job as a representative of the school district,” he said, “is not to advise them to initiate litigation against individuals that does not have a likelihood of success. My advice was informed by those principles and I continue to believe that the advice was, in fact, appropriate.
“This position was informed by my 30 years of practicing law and 20-something-odd years representing school districts,” he said.