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Liberty District
Breaking the Law?

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — December 17, 2002 – Liberty’s school system may be headed toward another battle over its principal positions.
Last summer, the district dismissed White Sulphur Springs Elementary School Principal Lucy Smassanow, a move the longtime district administrator called foul.
But no replacement was ever found for Smassanow after her dismissal. Instead, the district has been running both White Sulphur Springs and the Liberty Elementary School on Main Street in the village with a shared administrator.
Jeri Finnegan, originally the head of the Main Street school, has been splitting her time between the two buildings – spending several days at each.
But a petition filed by Liberty resident Larina Henderson, a known Smassanow supporter who has children attending district schools, has sparked the attention of the NYS Education Commission.
According to a press release issued Monday by the School Administrators Association of New York State (SAANYS), the assignment of one principal to oversee two buildings violates “the ‘one principal-one school’ rule mandated by the NYS Commissioner of Education.”
“The district caused its own problems when it illegally terminated Lucy Smassanow,” said Arthur Scheuermann, director of legal services for SAANYS. “With one principal managing two schools 6 miles apart, the children will continue to feel the negative impact of this shortsighted and illegal action.”
Reached at home, Smassanow said she was aware of the case but not responsible for the petition.
“I was aware that a petition was filed by a very upset parent,” she said. “Apparently parents weren’t told and much of the staff wasn’t told until after school started that there wasn’t going to be a full-time principal.”
During Smassanow’s time with the district, she added, there was always a principal on duty at the White Sulphur school.
Because of a snow cancellation, no one was available for comment at the school’s administration building Monday afternoon.
Board of Education member Matthew Frumess said the district is aware of Henderson’s petition, but there is currently no lawsuit or litigation in effect.
“I will say nothing was done with intent to circumvent the law,” Frumess stated. “We’re trying to do what’s best for the district and the kids.”
Finnegan, he added, “is a very devoted principal,” and the White Sulphur Springs school, “by everybody’s account, is a school with wonderful teachers, an experienced staff as opposed to a group of neophytes, who really need less supervision.”
When Finnegan is not on campus, administrative needs at White Sulphur Springs are filled by Laurie Burke-Maier, head of the district’s special education programs. At the Liberty Elementary School, there is an assistant principal to man the helm when Finnegan is away.
The petition is still under review by the SAANYS and the NYS Education Department.
According to Sharon Ryan, appeals coordinator for the state education department, the petition has been received and will take about four months before the commissioner makes a decision on the case.
According to state education law, the commissioner has the power to grant the school a waiver on the one principal per building rule. The ramifications to the district on the case are in the hands of the commissioner.

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