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Words Fly Over
SW Board Decision

By Dan Hust
JEFFERSONVILLE — October 23, 2001 – Since the Democrat first reported the issue a week ago, more Sullivan West board members have now expressed their feelings regarding the controversial decision to make Jeffersonville High School Principal Margaret “Margie” Tenbus the principal of the coming high school in Lake Huntington.
The October 11 decision split the board nearly in half and caused Assitant Superintendent David Rowley to look for another job.
According to board member Donna Sauer-Jones – who was one of the four to vote against Tenbus – Rowley may not be the last. She indicated Superintendent Michael Johndrow, Business Manager Betsy McKean and Head Guidance Counselor Regina Wagner are all seriously pondering their futures at Sullivan West – all because five members of the board did not agree with Johndrow and Rowley’s recommendation to promote Narrowsburg Principal Rod McLaughlin instead of Tenbus.
(McKean and Wagner declined to comment about their future at Sullivan West, and Rowley has yet to tender a formal resignation. Johndrow said he is not currently considering resigning, but that could change “depending on how things go in the future,” saying he wants to see if this will be the first or the last time the board chooses to overrule his advice.)
“It’s the responsibility of the board to follow the recommendations of the people we pay . . . to supervise the district,” said an angered Sauer-Jones in an interview last week. “These are people of high moral standing and integrity. For the board to blatantly disregard what the superintendent and assistant superintendent said is devastating.”
Sauer-Jones was also the first board member to publicly state that one of the issues over Tenbus’ fitness for the new job is her prior arrest and conviction for drunk driving.
According to public documents obtained by the Democrat from Town of Cochecton Justice Steven Sauer, Tenbus was arrested on June 16, 2000 on Route 52 in the Town of Cochecton by the New York State Police and charged with driving with .10 percent or more of alcohol in the blood, driving while intoxicated, and driving to the left of pavement markings.
Tenbus subsequently pled guilty in Town of Cochecton Court on July 18, 2000 to every charge except driving while intoxicated. She was fined $500 plus a $125 state surcharge and required to attend a county victim impact panel regarding drunk driving. Tenbus’ license was also revoked for six months.
Although it is not required by law, for unknown reasons police never submitted an arrest report to the area media which print blotter items.
It also could not be learned if Tenbus, a 17-year educator at SW and the former Jeff-Youngsville district, faced any disciplinary actions within Sullivan West.
However, Sauer-Jones said that the board and administration deliberately did not make Tenbus’ arrest public “because we didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the people in the Jeffersonville area. The board felt the timing was terrible.” The arrest was just prior to Sullivan West’s graduation ceremonies.
Evidently, some board members never anticipated Tenbus would be considered for this new principalship, but when it was brought up, the four dissenters and the administration advocated for a formal search process before making a final decision.
Board President Carol Nearing, Vice-President Jeff Nober, Bill Erdman, Tim Lanese and Jerry Triolo disagreed and voted for Tenbus to be transferred into the newly created position.
Board members Rick Lander, K.C. Garn and Rich Sandler joined Sauer-Jones in voting against Tenbus, but only Sauer-Jones commented on why she voted the way she did.
“Is this the person we want as our moral leader?” she asked about Tenbus. “Can she be an effective leader?”
Sauer-Jones made other charges about Tenbus’ job performance that could not be independently verified by the Democrat, but she did say that Tenbus’ husband built Nearing’s new home in Lake Huntington, calling it a clear conflict of interest.
Nearing confirmed that Tenbus Construction and Terry Tenbus, Margie’s husband, built her new home but stated that it was a decision solely made by Nearing’s husband, Dennis.
“I had nothing to do with it,” said Nearing. “There’s no improprieties here. I checked with the school attorney.”
Sauer-Jones went further, however, saying Nearing “is an ineffective leader.”
“If I wanted to, I’d have a lot to say,” shot back Nearing in an interview last week, “but I’m not a tit-for-tat person. I’m not going to go that low.”
As for Tenbus, Nearing said, “We don’t need the superintendent’s approval for this. I don’t happen to agree with it [their recommendation]. Margie is an effective leader, her staff respects her, the kids respect her, and she’s an effective disciplinarian. I feel she’s here for the long haul.”
Sauer-Jones, however, also took aim at Triolo, who said last week that he felt the administration had erred in prior personnel and project decisions and therefore might also be wrong about Tenbus.
“Has he joined forces with Noel van Swol and the anti-merger people to serve his own selfish, egotistical needs?” she stated. “This is about politics and power and micromanaging, and I hold him [Triolo] responsible as the ringleader of it.”
Sauer-Jones said the decision was a slap in the face to the administrators and smacked of small-town political power plays.
“We have rendered them [Johndrow and Rowley] powerless,” she said. “I can’t believe this! Why aren’t we interested in what’s best for the children? That should be all of our goals.”
“I don’t really have much to say to her,” said Triolo when contacted for a response. “My record speaks for itself. I’m still pro-merger. I fight for education and still keep the taxpayers in mind.”
Triolo clarified his earlier statements by saying that he, too, was at fault for the errors he felt were made by the administration regarding personnel and project issues.
“Obviously, I was wrong [too]. It shows that people are fallible,” he explained. “The buck stops with the board. I’m just as responsible [as Johndrow and Rowley].”
He added that he’s still working with all involved parties because he has faith in them.
“I don’t think anyone deliberately gave us false information. No one was trying to be dishonest,” he remarked.
As for his vote for Tenbus, Triolo still believes it was the right decision, as does fellow board member Bill Erdman.
“I’ll stand by my vote,” said Erdman – but not at the expense of McLaughlin. “I think that Rod will eventually make a very good high school principal for anyone.”
“As far as Margie goes, I went with the best person I felt for the job,” added board member Tim Lanese. “She’s proven herself over and over. [The drunk driving arrest] was taken care of by the courts. I don’t think that should be drawn up into it.”
But the fact remains that Lanese went against the administration’s recommendation – recommendations based in part on formal evaluations conducted by Rowley.
“It’s not that I have no confidence in Mike or Dave. Their recommendation does stand high, but I didn’t agree with them,” said Lanese, adding that no disrespect was intended. “I’d hate to lose Dave. I helped hire him [at the former Jeff-Youngsville district] because he has good skills, but that doesn’t mean I have to rubber-stamp everything he says.”
Although voting exactly opposite to Lanese, K.C. Garn echoed Lanese’s desire not to lose Rowley.
“In my opinion, Dave Rowley’s resignation as assistant superintendent would be a substantial loss to the Sullivan West district,” he explained.
“We have a great administrative team,” added Rick Lander in an interview last week. “I think Dave had a huge job in bringing Narrowsburg over [to Jeffersonville], and I think he did a fabulous job.”
As for the decision itself, Lander was none too pleased with the five board members either – even going so far as to hint that Tenbus was a shoo-in for the aforementioned five.
“It was done behind closed doors. I know I wasn’t called by Carol and let in on this decision,” said Lander, who also faulted the 12:30 a.m. vote, made after a lengthy executive session when no members of the public or press remained. “The four of us didn’t know this was going to happen. It was backdoor politics. It wasn’t fair.”
“For the board not to take his [Johndrow and Rowley’s] advice is crazy,” agreed Rich Sandler. “But we’ll move on. [The merger] is still good.”
“We’ve got a wonderful thing here to accomplish,” agreed Supt. Johndrow. “I hope this isn’t going to derail that.
“I think there’s some emotion. There’s some hurt feelings,” he added. “But we need to get this back on track.”
And that, said Erdman, is what truly needs to happen now.
“For the benefit of the merger and the children of the district, we should move on from this,” he said.

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