CHATHAM – It wasn't unusual for Monomoy Regional School Committee member Karen Ryder to find herself in the minority in discussions and votes. At times she was even criticized for asking questions and not accepting the recommendations of the administration.
To Ryder, one of four Chatham representatives on the committee, that's what a school committee member should do. A rubber stamp was not to be found in her briefcase.
“I didn't want to be a person who sits there and doesn't prepare for meetings and just votes yes on everything,” she said. “That's not the role of the school committee.”
But that took time and cut into her professional responsibilities. She felt she was no longer able to “properly and responsibly” carry out her school committee duties and resigned from the elected position last week.
“It's a difficult decision,” she said in an interview. “I tried. I really tried my best. I put a lot of time into it.” But for the self-employed single-mother of a third grader, “it takes too much time and energy.”
Ryder joined the committee in 2015, filling an unexpired term. She was elected to a three-year term in 2016.
In her two-and-a-half years on the committee, Ryder gained a reputation for extensively researching issues and pushing for transparency. When she joined the committee, she said, subcommittee meetings were not posted as required by the Open Meeting Law. “Now they are,” shes aid. Other committee members didn't seem to understand the requirements of the law, she added.
Last year, Ryder and fellow committee member Sharon Stout came under fire by other committee members for apparently violating the group's norms and protocols by questioning and criticizing a decision to drop a government course at the high school. Ryder said that and other instances where she questioned administration decisions or recommendations earned her a reputation for being negative.
“That's not true,” she said. “I don't want to be a negative person. I got into this to make a positive contribution.”
“I see looking at options of real value,” said Stout. “I think Karen liked to look at options.” Ryder is an independent thinker who did her homework, Stout added; on the group's policy subcommittee, Ryder did “most of the heavy lifting,” she said.
Ryder's resignation is a “loss of diversity on the committee,” Stout said. “We're all interested in supporting the Monomoy schools. Karen saw her role as bringing community and parent concerns forward.” Even though Ryder may have been seen as a dissenting voice on the committee, Stout said 90 percent of votes are unanimous.
Current chairman Nancy Scott of Chatham declined to comment, saying she had only seen Ryder's official resignation letter. “It would be inappropriate for me to speculate or comment beyond that regarding her resignation,” she wrote in an email.
In a letter to the community published as a letter to the editor in this week's Chronicle, Ryder offered “helpful tips” to the remaining school committee members. She stressed knowing the requirements of the Open Meeting Law, treating colleagues with respect and persistence in getting answers to questions, “even if those in the receiving end of the questions do not want to be questioned. That is part of doing the job.”
The school committee's job is to provide oversight, she wrote, to “ensure that policies are being carried out and the budget is being managed” as established by the committee. “That does not mean blindly approving everything presented by district administration.”
Ryder said she hoped whoever stepped forward to fill the vacancy created by her resignation will be a “voice for the people” and “someone who will put the best interests of our children and our town first, above any and all other interests.” She offered to help with the transition.
“I really hope somebody else with a conscious with the best interest of the town at heart will step forward,” she said.
She added that she is “not done” with serving the town, and that she intends to do so again “in some capacity in the future once my situation allows.”
On Tuesday selectmen said they wanted to set an aggressive schedule to get a new school committee member on board; Chairman Cory Metters said Scott indicated the school committee would like to have the vacancy filled by its Oct. 26 meeting. Selectmen decided to set a three-week period for interesting residents to apply, but at Tuesday's meeting did not set a specific deadline date. Those interested should send a resume and letter of interest to the town manager's office. After interviews with the candidates, selectmen and remaining Chatham school committee members will hold a joint election to fill the position through the May annual election, when a one-year term – the balance of Ryder's term – will appear on the ballot.
There could be two vacancies in the ballot. Chatham representative Stephen Davol had announced that he would not run again when his term was up in May. But he said this week he may run for the remainder of Ryder's term, in the hope that whoever is appointed to that position will run for his vacant three-year term.