September 05. 2018 11:34PM

Bedford's Dean of Student Services placed on paid administrative leave in wake of testimony for molester

Union Leader Correspondent

BEDFORD — Zanna Blaney, the Dean of Student Services at Bedford High School, has been placed on paid administrative leave, according to the interim superintendent.

Blaney is at the center of an investigation for possible misconduct after providing glowing testimony in support of former Exeter High School guidance counselor Kristie Torbick at her sentencing hearing. Torbick pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student earlier this summer.

“Effective last Friday, Aug. 31, she was put on administrative leave,” Superintendent Mike Fournier said of Blaney on Wednesday.

Several local parents are calling for Blaney’s resignation, as well as the resignations of two Bedford High School guidance counselors, Alison Mattson and Christine Mulcahey, who were among 23 people who wrote letters of support for Torbick.

Fournier explained that he has the authority to place Blaney on paid administrative leave under the scope of the bargaining agreement, meaning the school board did not need to approve the action since it is not a dismissal or long-term paid leave.

“Action has and is currently taking place, but much of that action falls into the category as personnel matters,” Fournier said.

Attorney Debra Weiss Ford, the managing principal and office litigation manager for Jackson Lewis PC in Portsmouth, was recently retained by the district to complete an investigation into Blaney, Mattson and Mulcahey.

The final report on the investigation was handed over to Fournier last week.

“This is an integral time right now, so the school board does not have the report, but I have shared with them the contents of the report,” Fournier said.

If the report is disseminated to the three employees, which would only happen if disciplinary action takes place, he explained that some parts of the report would need to be redacted since the information is contained in one document and not separate reports for each of the three employees.

Fournier said if he decides to make a recommendation involving disciplinary action outside of his authority, he anticipates making that formal recommendation to the school board, likely during a non-public session on Monday.

In light of the Torbick controversy, former Superintendent Chip McGee resigned in July.

On Wednesday, details of McGee’s severance package were released following a Right To Know request by the New Hampshire Union Leader. According to the mutual general release and severance agreement, McGee will receive one year’s salary, $145,000.

The district will also pay its current share of McGee’s health and dental insurance premiums through July 31, 2019, and contribute up to $12,000 in matching funds to a tax-sheltered annuity or 403(b) plan, states the agreement.

“No party will disparage any other party. If employer receives any request for a reference from a prospective employer, it will provide only dates of employment, compensation and position(s) held,” according to the agreement.

Fournier acknowledged on Wednesday that the remaining personnel matters are complicated and could have significant legal ramifications. The district is doing its due diligence to make sure it is done correctly, which Fournier said takes time.

Although Fournier noted in a previous statement that Blaney, Mattson, Mulcahey and McGee were all cooperating in the investigation earlier this summer, the interim superintendent said this week that he later learned that McGee did not participate in the investigation.

“The former superintendent was asked and provided opportunities to participate in the investigation. He did not,” Fournier said. After several attempts were made to reach McGee, Fournier said McGee’s attorney contacted the independent investigator to explain that McGee will not be participating.

“I am still working with employees to get to a resolution,” Fournier said, adding that once there is a resolution, he intends to issue a press release providing as much information as possible without violating the employees’ privacy.