Thursday, May 30, 2024

Osunde Investigation Expanded by the Board of Education

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Investigation Costs Mounting While Budget Cuts Still In

By Barbara Heimlich
Editor

The seven-member Board of Education voted 4-3 along party lines Tuesday to authorize attorneys to widen the scope of their investigation from the original intent – that of Dr. Osunde being charged on November 25th with second-degree breach of peace in New Haven in connection with a domestic incident.  “The single misdemeanor charge against Dr. Osunde was dismissed on January 31, 2024, in New Haven Superior Court (Baio, J.). In summarily disposing the charges, the State questioned the actions of the purported victim who admitted she was not afraid of him and did not want him arrested. Ultimately the State agreed with Dr. Osunde that the misdemeanor charge should not have been brought, in light of the true circumstances. In an unusual statement, Dr. Osunde was complimented about how he handled the matter that evening, which he has maintained throughout. Dr. Osunde has been an outstanding and impactful education leader in the State of Connecticut for a long time and he is eager to return to serving the students, faculty, and members of the Stratford community.”

Ray Hassett, Esq.

Following the incident, Dr. Osunde immediately contacted the Stratford Board of Education. The BOE placed him on leave following a 4-3 vote by the Stratford Board of Education in December.

Despite the outcome of the criminal case, BOE Chairman Mike Henrick stated that Superintendent Osunde remains suspended from his role pending the board’s own investigation, being conducted by its lawyers.

The BOE has now authorized Attorney Floyd J. Dugas, Senior Partner with Berchem Moses PC, to expand the investigation. Attorney Dugas was hired to investigate the circumstances that led up to the November 25th arrest, but that did not give the him the power to look into other matters concerning Osunde.

Speculation is that this move by Henrick and the BOE is overstepping protocol and possibly might be illegal. Henrick has proposed the investigation be expanded after he discovered district records suggesting Osunde spent thousands of dollars on professional development trips that were not approved by the board. No documents have been released to the Stratford Crier, or shared with the public supporting this allegation.

According to an article in the Connecticut Post by Richard Chumney, Henrick provided copies of financial documents detailing the travel expenses between 2021 and 2023, which show the district spent more than $7,300 on at least ten trips Osunde took to education-related conferences and professional development workshops around the country, including in Boston, San Francisco and Phoenix.These documents were not published in the Connecticut Post. Henrick noted that Osunde’s contract states that the board will cover the cost of the superintendent’s professional development trips, but only after they are approved by the board.

Legal Fees in Question Considering BOE Budget Cuts

“There was no information brought back to the administration or shared with the board,” Henrick said. “It seems odd. So instead of us digging into it and trying to make sense of it, we just asked our attorneys to look into it.” 

Attorney Dugas said lawyers are still reviewing the circumstances surrounding his arrest, but have obtained police body-worn camera footage from the incident. According to published accounts, these videos constitute over 8 hours. Attorney Dugas indicated that the video footage has been heavily redacted by police, and that the attorneys are now working to fill in the gaps by conducting interviews with individuals involved in the arrest, though he did not specify who the attorneys hope to speak with. “I would expect that it’s going to take another couple of weeks to complete that process as a result,” Dugas said.

The board also gave the attorneys the authority to broadly investigate how Osunde performed his job, including how much time he spent in the office, how he delegated responsibilities to subordinates and how he shared information with the board.

The decision to expand the investigation was opposed by the board’s three Democratic members, who have all previously expressed skepticism about Osunde’s suspension. Christopher Cormier argued that it was inappropriate to abruptly broaden the probe’s scope.

“I don’t think that these items that you’ve mentioned should be lumped in with the issue with Dr. Osunde,” Cormier told Henrick at the meeting. “At this point, I believe that the issue with the arrest should be set aside, addressed and let go.”

Cormier’s comments were echoed by several community members who called on the board to immediately reinstate Osunde.

Public Comments

Janice Cupee, a former board member, said Osunde should be allowed to resume his duties since the criminal case has concluded, calling him a committed and competent administrator. She also suggested the board’s decision was made to divert the public’s attention from budget cuts the panel is weighing.

  • “Contrary to what they may wish to convey to the public, Dr. Osunde has been exonerated of any misconduct, rendering it unjust to prolong his administrative leave,” Cupee, a Democrat, said. “This investigation is not only unnecessary, but also detrimental to the reputation of our school district and Dr. Osunde himself.” 
  • Kenneth Pugh, a Stratford resident and a member of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP, which has publicly questioned Osunde’s suspension, suggested the decision to expand the investigation was motivated by “bigotry and racism,” and warned the board to not discriminate against the schools chief, who is a Black man. “This is an abuse of power and authority,” said Pugh, who described Osunde as an accomplished professional. “This process has not been fair, nor has it been just.” 

Henrick later disputed that claim. He argued the board has a responsibility to look into potential irregularities involving the district’s administration in order to protect the school system. 

Osunde also made reference to the issue of his race.

“To the public eye, it’s hard not to agree that this is about race,” he said, before suggesting that the board was moving toward a predetermined outcome.

“’Every system is perfectly designed to get the result that it does,’” he wrote, quoting 20th century economist and statistician W. Edwards Deming. Henrick has previously said the board will make a decision about Osunde’s future with the school system after the investigation ends, but it is still unclear when that will happen.

In an emailed statement, Osunde disputed the suggestion that he committed any wrongdoing during his tenure, and said he is disappointed that he remains suspended while the board works to develop a budget for next school year. He noted that he intends to cooperate with the investigation and said he looks forward to the outcome of the probe. 

Attorney Dugas heads up Berchem Moses PC’s Municipal Labor & Employment practice. He represents towns, cities and boards of education throughout Connecticut, often as General Counsel. Mr. Dugas is a member of the firm’s Labor & Employment and Education Law departments. He represents both private and public sector employers.

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