School board probe has cost Stamford $375,000 so far; city has to dip into contingency fund

Photo of Brianna Gurciullo
Stamford Government Center

Stamford Government Center

Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media

STAMFORD — The city is seeking approval from elected boards to dip into its contingency fund to cover legal costs associated with a probe of the Board of Education.

The Board of Finance this week signed off on a request for the city to use $350,000 from its multi-million dollar reserve. The appropriation also needs to be approved by the Board of Representatives.

Earlier this year, the city hired the law firm Day Pitney to investigate a complaint by Superintendent Tamu Lucero alleging that the Board of Education had intimidated and bullied her as well as members of her cabinet. The investigation resulted in a lengthy report that supported many of the allegations.

Stamford’s director of legal affairs, Kathryn Emmett, told the Board of Finance Wednesday that the city hadn’t anticipated such an expense, which was incurred after the budget for fiscal year 2021-22 had been adopted.

“That expense was an additional several hundred thousand dollars beyond anything we had expected to spend and has to be paid out of this fiscal year budget and wasn't budgeted for,” Emmett said. “We believe the $350,000 is sufficient to make it through the year.”

Asked for an estimate of the total cost to the legal department’s budget, Emmett said roughly $375,000.

“I recognize it's incredibly expensive — clearly it is. But it's an obligation,” Emmett said.

She said that when an employer — in this case, the city — receives a complaint about a potential hostile work environment, it has “an absolute obligation to investigate it and to identify if there were, in fact, problems and to address them and resolve them. And that is a matter of protecting the city and the Board of Ed to do that.”

She added that the “magnitude” of the complaint against the Board of Education “was such that it was beyond our in-house ability to address.”

While Emmett said she believes the Day Pitney report “will and has made a positive contribution to how the Board of Education functions,” Board of Finance member Kieran Ryan was skeptical.

“It’s water under the bridge at this point — the money's been spent. But I wish it were otherwise,” Ryan said. “It seems to me that the Board of Ed and its relationship to the staff is going to continue the way it always did in the past, and I doubt this report or this expense will really change all that much. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I’m wrong.”

In response to Ryan’s comment, Board of Finance member David Mannis, a former president of the Board of Education, argued that “what we observed in recent years is not what always happens.”

“I think it was rather exceptional and exceptionally bad,” Mannis said, referring to the Board of Education’s behavior.

The report was handed to the Board of Education in July and prompted a mixed reaction. Members of the board who have been critical of the administration called it one-sided. Others said the complaint was a much needed wake-up call.

Two Board of Education members, Jackie Pioli and Mike Altamura, sought the services of a lawyer in the wake of the report. An attorney has been representing them at the city’s expense.

Spokespeople for the school district did not return a request for comment.

Includes prior reporting by staff writer Ignacio Laguarda.