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By Dan Hust
NARROWSBURG — December 25, 2001 – In a noticeably calm, congenial and cooperative meeting, the Sullivan West school board spent Thursday evening determining policies, personnel and plans.
Although Cochecton resident Ruth Finn took Superintendent Michael Johndrow to task for not answering questions to her satisfaction, there was little public comment during the sparsely attended meeting in Narrowsburg.
There were, however, many issues to discuss, and the first proved to be a highlight for board members and an administration weary of the year’s many battles.
Turner Construction Company representatives Luis Rodriguez and Scott Brodie, along with Hillier architect Mark Lippi, told the board that the Narrowsburg campus renovation bids had come back within budget – and within the cost allowance cap set by the state so that the project can receive 95 percent building aid.
Thus, the seven board members (Rich Sandler and K.C. Garn were not present) unanimously approved the awarding of the $4 million in bids to begin converting the 70-year-old Narrowsburg building to a K-6 elementary school. Significant construction should begin next year, said officials.
“It’s been a long time in coming,” said Angela Daley, a former school board member and a longtime Narrowsburg resident. “Tonight’s awarding of bids should make front-page news!”
“I’d like to congratulate you on a job well done,” board member Donna Sauer-Jones said to Turner and Hillier.
Rodriguez was not done yet with the good news, though, saying that the state had increased the regional cost difference status for Sullivan County, meaning state officials had revised the potential amount of available aid due to increased construction costs in the area. The jump in the difference, said Rodriguez, could translate to as much as $1 million more in potential aid for the Lake Huntington high school project.
“We’re feeling pretty positive about this,” he said. “Things are turning around.”
Johndrow agreed, adding that he felt part of the turnaround in the district was and will be due to the Narrowsburg high schoolers who have successfully integrated with their fellow students at the Jeffersonville campus.
“I know this was a tough transition,” he said to a group of seniors sitting in on the meeting. “I think you’ve made the adjustment beautifully, and I appreciate your cooperation. I think the whole thing has come together very well.
“I’m excited the people of Narrowsburg will see this building finally being refurbished and the things we said we’d get done we got done,” he added. “We all should feel very good.”
That said, Johndrow was not particularly happy about the state’s decision to draw bond repayments out over 30 years instead of 20, meaning an increase in interest and smaller amounts of aid annually – both of which are likely to add taxes to an already strapped local populace.
There was similar bad news from Assistant Superintendent David Rowley, who informed the board that nearly half of all the principals in New York State will retire in the next four years – and there’s precious few people to replace them.
Reasons for replacement difficulties, said Rowley, ranged from suburban teachers’ salaries that are higher than rural school administrators’ to a lack of qualified candidates (one out of nine are usually fit for the job).
“I think the bottom line is districts need to cultivate their own administrators,” said Rowley, who himself is looking for another job outside Sullivan West.
Though not technically part of administration, another upper-level employee, Head Guidance Counselor Regina Wagner, is also leaving the district at the end of this month due – like Rowley – to concerns over the board’s decision to overrule Johndrow and Rowley’s advice and hire Jeff Principal Margaret “Margie” Tenbus as the Lake Huntington high school principal. Her resignation was approved unanimously, but with regret and a hope she would return, on Thursday.
In other business, Business Manager Betsy McKean pitched the idea to board members to consider hiring Sodexho, a facilities management firm, to oversee the maintenance of the school’s three (and soon, four) campuses, instead of hiring a buildings and grounds supervisor.
“They know it, they do it, that’s how they make their money,” she explained of Sodexho. “I don’t have to learn it.”
McKean expressed concern that any person the district hired – based on a recent interview process for the buildings and grounds position – would have to be trained to handle not just one school, but four, during a time of constant changes due to the merger.
“If we try to learn the job as we go and we try to change,” she said, “I’m afraid it’s not going to work. We’ll set someone up to fail.”
The board took it under consideration and asked McKean to follow up on how much control the district would retain regarding a facilities manager provided by Sodexho (which would also provide all necessary maintenance supplies and equipment).
Since the meeting was at Narrowsburg, Narrowsburg Principal Rod McLaughlin updated the board on that campus’ activities, including the writing of letters by students to his nephew who is serving in the Army in Afghanistan, the creation of a 5th-8th grade student council, and the shifting of the library to its new home in the old cafeteria – done with volunteer help from teachers and staff.
“The attitude and climate here, although it is different, has been very positive,” said McLaughlin.

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