By Dan Hust
JEFFERSONVILLE November 20, 2001 What started as a disagreement over a Sullivan West high school principalship has mushroomed into an intense controversy that has now resulted in the resignation of the schools head guidance counselor, a formal appeal by some board members to have the principal decision declared illegal and a new question over whether or not there is even an existing principals position to be filled.
Head Counselor Resigns
On Thursday, for unspecified reasons, the board tabled a resignation request by SW Head Guidance Counselor Regina Wagner but regardless of whether or not the board accepts it, Wagner said that she is headed out at the end of the calendar year.
I think the foundation of the school system has been shaken, she said in an interview yesterday. I think people need to reflect on what happened a few weeks ago.
Wagner was referring to the October decision by five board members to make Jeffersonville High School Principal Margaret Margie Tenbus the new Lake Huntington high school principal. Four other board members disagreed, as did Superintendent Michael Johndrow, who had recommended Narrowsburg Principal Rod McLaughlin. The decision caused a deep rift between board members and resulted in Assistant Superintendent David Rowleys decision to search for a position in another district.
Wagner said she was leaving her year-old job because of the board majoritys refusal to take the administrations recommendation on probably the second most important decision since the merger took place.
They [SW administrators] probably have the hardest school administration job in New York State, she said. They need all the support they can possibly get.
This merger was a very, very large effort. It was crucial that all staff members keep their eyes on the goals, she continued. This merger . . . required a willingness [for board members] to keep our eyes on those goals . . . and that has not taken place.
Wagner, who has children in the district, said her decision to resign was not made lightly.
It was heartwrenching, believe me, she remarked. I put many hours of thought into it.
She added that she has no future employment plans in place currently, and Supt. Johndrow said no one has been tapped yet to replace Wagner. In fact, he said the decision of who gets the job which oversees four other guidance counselors in Sullivan Wests three campuses will ultimately be a recommendation he and Special Education Committee Chair Carole Krantz make to the board.
This will be a great loss for our school district, said Johndrow of Wagner. She probably is one of the best guidance counselors in a three-county area and probably one of the most respected individuals in our school district. Shell be greatly missed. Shes just a quality person.
Commissioners Appeal Filed
It was also made public on Thursday that board members Rick Lander, Rich Sandler, K.C. Garn and Donna Sauer-Jones had filed an appeal with the state education commissioner to have the Tenbus principal decision rendered illegal.
Named as defendants in the appeal are the five board members who voted for Tenbus in October Board President Jeff Nober, Vice-President Jerry Triolo, Carol Nearing, Bill Erdman and Tim Lanese.
After it was announced, Lander asked Nober, Is there a reason Michael Johndrows not included in that [list of plaintiffs]?
Youll have to ask the attorney, was Nobers reply, but later Johndrow told the Democrat that he is listed solely as an interested party.
According to a copy of the appeal obtained by the Democrat from the school district, both Tenbus and Johndrow are listed as necessary parties.
Signed by Lander on November 13, the appeal asks Commissioner Richard Mills of the state ed. dept. to do the following:
1. Nullify the October 11 vote transferring Tenbus to her new position;
2. Determine that the superintendent has the sole authority to make such a decision;
3. Grant a stay of the transfer until a final decision is made by the commissioner; and
4. Grant any other relief as the commissioner may deem appropriate.
In summarizing its claims against the board members and in making a case to temporarily halt Tenbus activities as high school principal, the appeal states, Failure to issue a stay may result in irreparable injury to the district based upon the decisions that will be made by Ms. Tenbus in the interim period that a final decision from the commissioner is pending.
According to Johndrow, the boards ability to disregard his position recommendations is a gray area of the law and that Mills final decision likely to be rendered in four months, said school attorney David Shaw could possibly create a new law.
Lander and his three fellow appealers hope Mills will rule in their favor.
We feel the decision was made illegally, he said in an interview after the board meeting Thursday. Youre setting a precedent where the board can move people at will.
However, he added that its not us against them.
Were not talking about people here, he said. Its about procedure.
Shaw, who is legally bound to represent the majority of the board in this matter, said on Friday that he was preparing a response to the appeal but that this action would result in no additional legal expenses for the district.
Is There a High School Principal?
But Shaw is not only advocating for the upholding of the boards decision regarding Tenbus. The appeal also states, according to him, that there was never a public decision made by the board to create the high school position that was given to Tenbus an allegation that Johndrow confirmed yesterday.
Its a matter of opinion, said Johndrow. In my mind, its a new position, so it should have been created, but it wasnt.
Nober, when asked about it at the board meeting, referred the question to Shaw, who said on Friday that the legal theory to be presented is there is neither a net increase nor decrease in the tenure area.
In other words, since the consolidation of grades 9-12 at the new Sullivan West high school in Lake Huntington will also result in the consolidation of high school principals in the district (and Tenbus chairs the transition committee overseeing such), there will be no increase in tenured positions, and thus no new position needed to be created by the board.