AUBURN — Superintendent of Schools Katy Grondin responded Thursday to direct criticism that she received from mayoral candidate Jason Levesque,who told a debate audience Wednesday that Grondin “has been less than honest with the people of Auburn time and time again.”
Levesque was addressing a question about a perceived disconnect between Auburn school officials and parents, and he didn’t hold back his feelings about how the School Department has handled communication with the public.
He specifically targeted Grondin’s handling of additional state revenues and a controversial early-release proposal earlier this year.
Grondin said she saw a video clip of the debate exchange Thursday.
“As superintendent, I’ve always maintained a high degree of integrity, and to do what’s best for our students, staff and the community at large,” she said in response. “I’ve always worked hard to communicate and be transparent and up-front with information, and I will continue to do so. I look forward to working with the new mayor.”
During the debate, Levesque said the School Department’s actions on the state subsidy, which caused a back-and-forth with city officials that still is not resolved, amounted to an “attempted withholding of excess state revenues that were earmarked specifically for property tax relief.”
“I was astonished,” Levesque said.
Referring to the early-release plan, which was ultimately tabled, Levesque said, “trying to force certain action without parents’ consent or knowledge breaks that level of trust.”
The debate question was posed by a resident, who asked, “Currently there seems to be a disconnect between the Auburn School Committee and the residents of Auburn. It seems like this has been the case for many years, and has increased over the past few months with the issue of early-release days. As mayor, how do you feel you could help bridge this gap?”
Mayoral candidate Adam Lee said the issue comes down to relationships.
“We need to cultivate relationships so we can trust each other,” he told the audience.
Following Levesque’s criticism of the School Department and Grondin, Lee hit back, “Beginning the discussion by calling someone dishonest is not a good way to build a relationship.”
“You can’t build a relationship when that person lies,” Levesque responded.
On Thursday, Grondin said, “I always welcome feedback,” adding that she believes the department has done well to boost communication with families.
She said the controversy surrounding the early-release days was simply due to it being a controversial topic.
“As superintendent, I need to look at educational programming that meets our students’ diverse needs,” she said. “And when you do that, you bring issues forward that may cause some controversy.”
The early-release days were pitched as a way to increase professional development time for teachers in grades seven through 12. Grondin said the School Department recently sent out surveys to teachers and parents about the issue.
“Will there be 100 percent consensus? There will not be,” she said. “I can’t always avoid controversy when it’s in the best interest of students.”
Superintendent of Schools Katy Grondin, right, sits with Auburn School Committee Chairman Tom Kendall.