Norwich superintendent: South Kingstown report 'retaliation' for leaving

Norwich — Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow released a 23-page response Friday sharply criticizing a South Kingstown School Committee investigative report that found she had mishandled notices of possible staff cuts in her previous position.

Stringfellow had been placed on paid administrative leave April 26 by the South Kingstown School Committee, three days after she had been named new Norwich superintendent. The school committee last week released a 28-page report by Providence attorney Charles A. Ruggerio that said Stringfellow did not follow proper procedures in sending out dozens of notices to teachers that their positions could be cut by the committee.

In her strongly worded response, Stringfellow said she was “stunned” to learn of the report from newspaper reporters and never received it from the committee. She said the investigation — she put the word in quotes throughout her response — was undertaken in retaliation for her taking the Norwich position. She said the report contained numerous factual errors and false accusations that she did not follow state law or the South Kingstown collective bargaining agreement with the teachers’ union.

“I categorically reject the SK Report as being politically motivated,” Stringfellow wrote. “I complied with all laws, applicable policies and the CBA (collective bargaining agreement) when I sent Open Meeting Act (OMA) Notices to certain teachers on April 19 consistent with past practice.”

Stringfellow contended the letters were not “layoff notices” as described by some in the attorney’s report but were sent to 69 teachers to inform them that their positions were set to be discussed by the School Committee at an upcoming May 14 meeting. State law required the notices to be sent April 19, prior to the committee’s review of the positions to be potentially cut. She said she did not have the authority to issue layoffs, which was the responsibility of the School Committee.

Stringfellow questioned why the committee spent taxpayer money to hire an outside attorney to investigate her actions, when the issue could have been handled through the normal union grievance process.

Her response includes detailed chronologies of the issuances of the notices, a listing of similar notices sent to teachers in each of the past 10 years, emails and text messages she had exchanged with school officials, union leaders and School Committee Chairwoman Stephanie Canter before and after the notices were sent April 19. She pointed out discrepancies between her records and the attorney’s investigation report.

Stringfellow's response also included a brief autobiography, comparison lists of conditions in the South Kingstown School District prior to her appointment as superintendent in 2009 and during her final year in the town. For example, she wrote that the high school graduation rate ranged from 80 percent to 85 percent in 2009 and had improved to 90 percent to 95 percent in 2018. Stringfellow was named Rhode Island Superintendent of the Year in 2017.

On Friday, Stringfellow said she felt she had to respond to the attorney’s report, which she said she still has not received directly. She said she does not plan to take further action against the School Committee or district.

“There are so many inaccuracies, I felt I had to respond,” she said. “I wanted to make sure the record accurately reflected the facts. That’s all, that my truths and facts are accurately depicted.”

South Kingstown School Committee Chairwoman Canter said the committee would have "no further comment on this matter."

c.bessette@theday.com

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