SCHENECTADY — Schenectady school board members and district officials are refusing to release or comment on a report prepared for it by a Rochester law firm that apparently concludes former Superintendent Larry Spring engaged in a “pattern” of pursuing younger women working in the district.
The district’s lawyers, the Harris Beach law firm, delivered its findings to the school board shortly before Spring abruptly resigned and the board approved a non-disclosure agreement barring members from discussing the reasons behind Spring’s departure, according to the Albany Times Union, which reported the existence of the report earlier this week.
Board members, including three running for re-election next month, have continued to remain mum on Spring’s departure. School board President John Foley on Monday refused to answer questions about Spring’s departure or accusations that he sexually harassed female employees.
“Anything related to the superintendent’s resignation is confidential and we don’t comment on personnel matters,” Foley said.
The Times Union in its report cited an investigative report from the Rochester-based law firm Harris Beach, which was prompted by a sexual harassment complaint against Spring; the investigative report was delivered to the school board in March just before Spring resigned abruptly from his post, according to the Times Union, which said it had reviewed the report. The TU reported that the investigation found Spring’s behavior toward the woman who filed the complaint was “part of a pattern” of Spring targeting younger female employees and that the investigators uncovered photographs of Spring partially or completely nude, including some that appeared to be taken on school grounds
Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers, the union representing over 1,000 district employees, on Wednesday called for the school board to review the district’s sexual harassment policies to ensure employees weren’t deterred from reporting harassment at the hands of people in positions of power within the district.
“Going forward I think our district needs to take a long look at what policies we have, particularly sexual harassment, so we can prevent and situation in the future where someone might feel they are unable to bring a claim forward because the perpetrator is in a position of power,” Benaquisto said. “This is the time for the board of education to consider revamping policies in light of that.”
District spokeswoman Karen Corona on Tuesday said neither she nor Acting Superintendent Aaron Bochniak were aware of or had seen the law firm’s investigative findings.
The Daily Gazette has not independently confirmed the existence of the law firm’s report or its findings.
The board accepted Spring’s terse resignation letter at its March 25 meeting. The school board and Spring also signed a departure agreement that barred the school board and individual members from making “any statement to any person or entity, whether oral or written, that disparages Mr. Spring.” The agreement also included language that Spring would not disparage the district or file a lawsuit connected to his departure. Following his resignation, Spring would not detail the reason for his departure but said he wished the district well.
Spring joined the district in June 2012, leading the district of around 10,000 students until his resignation. During his tenure in the district, Spring built a profile as an advocate of education equity, often citing his missions that “race, economics and disability are never predictors of students achievement.”
District officials have initiated the beginning stages of a search for a new superintendent, engaging Capital Region BOCES District Superintendent Anita Murphy to lead the search effort. District officials are planning a public survey and virtual community forums to solicit input into what kind of superintendent the district wants to hire.
Three board members who approved the terms of Spring’s departure are seeking election to new three-year terms on the board next month: Dharam Hitlall, Bernice Rivera and Katherine Stephens. None of them responded to questions on Wednesday about the Times Union report or how they handled Spring’s departure. Three challengers have also filed to run for the board’s three open seats.
Samuel Rose, a Schenectady High School graduate running for a board seat, on Wednesday said it was still difficult to react to the board’s handling of Spring’s departure because of the limited public information available but noted he favors “public accountability” for school district officials.
“I support full public accountability and its members and district administrators,” he said. “Voters should take into account what they want in a school board member and whether they want to know more of what happened and what they think is in the best interest of the students and the teachers and workers of the district.”