By Dan Hust
CALLICOON October 30, 2001 Nearly 300 people turned out Thursday evening for the regular Sullivan West board meeting at the Delaware Valley campus in Callicoon, many of whom aired their views on one of the most divisive issues to face the struggling district in recent months.
The controversial decision to hire SW/Jeffersonville High School Principal Margaret Margie Tenbus as the new Lake Huntington high school principal has become so divisive, in fact, that the day after the meeting, SW Board President Carol Nearing told the Democrat that she resigned as president at the tail end of the board meeting on Thursday. She added that she plans to remain on the board but will no longer serve as president, saying things have become too personal.
(A new president will be elected at the next board meeting this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Jeffersonville campus.)
Nearing is the latest casualty in a war of words that has pitted board members against each other and the administration. Even a decision to go into executive session for an unknown reason on Thursday caused division, as board members K.C. Garn, Rich Sandler, Donna Sauer-Jones and Rick Lander voted against it while Nearing, Jeff Nober, Jerry Triolo, Bill Erdman and Tim Lanese voted for it the exact same split that occurred over Tenbus hiring two weeks ago. In addition, Garn removed himself from the session before its completion and remained in the gymnasium, though he would not comment on why.
But when all the board members returned, it was the publics turn to comment.
I was appalled to hear board members discussing personnel issues with the press, said Cochecton Center organic farmer John Gorzynski, beginning what would become a series of rebukes to various board members. You should be ashamed of yourself for breaking that confidence.
Gorzynski called for Sauer-Jones resignation based on the fact that she spoke with the Democrat about Tenbus fitness for the job specifically, about personnel issues normally reserved for non-public executive sessions. (Of the various charges Sauer-Jones lodged against Tenbus, the Democrat could only independently confirm Tenbus July 2000 DWI conviction in the Town of Cochecton, which Sauer-Jones said played a part in her vote not to approve Tenbus transfer to the new principalship.)
Gorzynski also commended the five board members who voted for Tenbus and broke rank from the administrations recommendation, which was to hire Narrowsburg Principal Rod McLaughlin instead.
That 5-4 decision two weeks ago, however, caused Assistant Superintendent David Rowley to look for another job and Superintendent Michael Johndrow to ponder his own future at the school.
And their loss, said Jeffersonville resident Liz Bucar, would truly be a loss to the district.
I have nothing but good to say for the administration, she stated, adding that at least some of the five pro-Tenbus board members had used intimidation and fear to get their way.
I have not for one moment regretted the hiring of Johndrow, said former board member Angela Daley of Narrowsburg. I firmly believe that without his leadership, . . . we would never have come so far, so fast, and with such efficiency. I applaud the conviction of four board members to hold fast to the administration.
Daley added that if certain board members dont trust the administration, they should step down from the board instead of trying to push the administration out the door.
But, pointed out Obernburg resident Bernadette DeSantis, if the board simply rubber-stamps everything the administration says, then we dont need a board.
DeSantis joined several others in calling for Sauer-Jones resignation, because by saying what she did, she compromised her own position.
The executive session [about Tenbus] was not meant to be interviewed with the Democrat or any other media, she continued. If she [Sauer-Jones] wants a resignation, she should start the ball rolling herself.
It is appalling that this information was released by a board member after a vote in which Tenbus got this appointment, agreed Long Eddy resident Noel van Swol, who challenged a silent Sauer-Jones to publicize the other charges she made about Tenbus. Miss Sauer-Jones, Im ashamed of you. You should resign from this board immediately.
As was the case with virtually every speaker, approximately half the audience applauded after van Swol completed his comments. Indeed, it seemed the public, as much as the board, was split right down the middle as to whether or not Tenbus should have gotten the nearly $80,000/year position.
Joan Henry, a librarian at the Jeffersonville campus of Sullivan West, was one of the many who supported Tenbus, who said shes known her for 17 years.
Ive never met anyone so committed to education, she said and then confirmed a rumor about Tenbus. She does yell. I went to Catholic school . . . and I call her Sister Margaret. Some students may sometimes be hurt by that [yelling], . . . but a lot of us get over that.
Shes come through. Shes really been there for us.
Tusten resident Carol Wingert, however, said Nearing should have abstained from the vote due to her home being recently built by Tenbus husband.
You clearly did not make this decision based on the best interests of the children, she said, questioning how Tenbus could be effective in lecturing children on the dangers of drinking.
Wingert also confirmed what Nober said in an interview with the Democrat recently that at least three of the five board members who voted for Tenbus had initially wanted to do a formal search for a candidate, but because at least three of the four who voted against Tenbus did not, they decided not to conduct a search.
According to Nober, when the aforementioned four board members realized that the other five were going to vote for Tenbus, they changed their minds and advocated for a search. The other five declined to do the search, and the vote was held.
When things dont go your way, you compromise you dont bully, said Wingert. People are asking if theyre being well-represented, or are personal interests taking the front seat?
Wingert also brought up Laneses prior DWI conviction years ago, saying that he had admitted to her that Tenbus position includes being a role model to students. (Later in the evening, Laneses son defended his father by saying he has done a great job in raising us, adding that he hopes to be like him when hes older.)
Several SW/Jeff students, however, got up and told the board that Tenbus is the perfect role model because her prior DWI conviction allows her to identify and better work with students who have difficulties with alcohol. They added that her reputation amongst students is of the highest caliber.
They are all happy and content, confirmed parent Linda Pomes of Cochecton Center. And a lot of it is due to the administration in that building. We need to look at the young people and how they accept change.
Having a split decision is not a bad thing, she continued, as long as you walk away from the table without being disagreeable.
You should put aside all your animosity everyone, said Narrowsburg resident and teacher Barbara McPhail, turning to look at the crowd as she spoke. This community will not stand for division any longer.
Although people like Jean Klaber of Fremont Center advocated for a reversal of the decision not to search for a candidate, the board made no move to change the decision on Tenbus that evening.
However, a few did speak publicly.
It is time to put our differences aside and to move on to be productive board of education members, said Nearing in a prepared statement. We dont always have to agree with each others opinion, but we should be mindful that respect of ones opinion is of utmost importance. At a time when there is so much tragedy in our world and who knows what lies ahead of all of us, I think it would be so much more productive to turn our energies into helping our neighbors rather than hindering them.
Hopefully, we can move on, remarked Lander, observing with irony that the newly merged Narrowsburg and Jeff high-schoolers get along better than the board. We all need to change our patterns of working together. We need to have a board that talks to each other. We need to work together . . . to do whats right for the kids.
Were in this for the kids, seconded Triolo. This board has been excellent in that respect.
He added that he hoped Rowley and others considering resigning would reconsider.
Weve supported the administration 99 percent of the time, he said.
Garn agreed that Rowley should remain, but he added that Sauer-Jones has a right to her opinions. Under no circumstances should she consider resigning.
I support everyone [on the board], said Sandler. I would caution the public not to let some use this disagreement to divide the district.
Even Sauer-Jones spoke, saying she supports the administration 150 percent and hopes that none of the administrators leaves.
I personally dont know Rod or Margie, said Sauer-Jones of her vote. There is nothing personal about this. Its not about popularity.
Perhaps the one quote which resonated with the entire evenings host of speakers, however, was from Fremont Center Bill Klaber (who is not a board member).
The real capital we have here is trust, he said. If we blow that, we have nothing, and all the state aid in the world wont help us.