By Dan Hust
NARROWSBURG March 14, 2003 Sullivan Wests snow-postponed board meeting, held on Monday at the Narrowsburg campus, brought out nearly 100 residents and students.
There were a range of complaints about the proposed budget cuts and the punishments meted out to those who walked out of school last week to protest the coming war in Iraq. But the large crowd also had some things to say about the board majoritys recent decision not to renew Superintendent Michael Johndrows contract.
(For coverage of the walkout situation, see the related story on the front page printed version only. For coverage of other issues unrelated to the walkout, see Tuesday's issue.)
On the heels of two Democrat stories which broke the news that six of the nine board members opted not to renew Johndrows contract (which expires in June of 2004), members of the public voiced their concern over Johndrow and the future of the district.
I was distressed and disappointed to read Michael Johndrows contract would not be renewed, said Lake Huntington resident John Reggero.
Saying he felt that Johndrow was a talented, courageous and dedicated asset to Sullivan West, Reggero added, I was a vocal and constant supporter [of the district], but my own enthusiasm . . . has waned with time as I saw infighting, a factious board and politicism.
Reggero lamented the loss of Assistant Superintendent David Rowley, Business Manager Betsy McKean and Head Guidance Counselor Regina Wagner, all of whom left the district last year for various stated reasons.
Although Wagner was the only one who said she left because she felt the board did not adequately support the administration, Reggero indicated the board may be to blame for it all.
We were very fortunate to have the administration we had, he said. Now the last person is Michael Johndrow. . . . Who are you [board members] going to point the finger at in the future?
All of us should regret this day, he continued. Were going to look back and say we let some very talented people go.
As was the case with several speakers that night, Reggero sat down to applause from the crowd.
Sharon Fife, who is a teacher in the district, joined Reggero in being concerned about the schools future.
How can we guarantee the building plans and the vision of the merger will be carried out [without Johndrow]? she asked Board President Jeff Nober.
Nober responded that, if Johndrow leaves in 2004, the new high school which is scheduled to be opened by September would already be up and running, and renovations to the three existing campuses would be complete.
In response to another question from Fife, Nober also stated that one of the reasons the board hired former Narrowsburg Interim Superintendent Charlotte Gregory as Sullivan Wests interim assistant superintendent is that they intend to have her replace Johndrow on an interim basis, if necessary.
Fife then asked if the board also intended to keep the assistant superintendents position.
No, there has not been a commitment by the board to do that, said Nober. Mr. Johndrow is looking at methods of dispersing those jobs to other administrators.
However, Nober did remind all that state law says each building must have a principal.
Fife then returned to her praise of Johndrow, recalling the good impression he made on the search committee that hired him to oversee the former Delaware Valley Central School in Callicoon.
Obviously, he made a great impression, she said.
Nobody stood out like Mike Johndrow, agreed Jeanne Leewe, a member of that search committee.
Angela Daley of Narrowsburg, a former Sullivan West board member, was also upset about the situation, saying that residents need to know better reasons for Johndrows contract non-renewal than what she had read in the Democrat.
The people of Sullivan West deserve to know why his contract is not being renewed, other than a few peoples comments, said Daley, who blamed the board, like Reggero did, for recent administrative departures. I really hope everyone will reconsider what their thoughts are on this. Mike is the only one whos hung on. He has a lot of integrity and perseverance.
Daley said she was concerned about a lack of continuity in the district, and she urged the board to include the public in a search for a new superintendent.
I dont know how you sleep at night, added Jean Klaber of Fremont Center, speaking to the board. You know what? The kids love him [Johndrow]. To let him go is a real loss.
There was one lone voice against Johndrow that evening, coming from the districts most frequent critic: Noel van Swol of Long Eddy.
I want to compliment the board majority for taking the position they did, he said. Mr. Johndrows leadership . . . has been found wanting.
Van Swol added that the ongoing mold situation at DV, which he claimed Johndrow has known about for 18 months, is just one glaring reason why he is not the man for this job.
When it came time for board members to comment, only Rich Sandler and Rick Lander approached the issue.
Sandler, who wants Johndrow to stay, all but admitted the likelihood that Johndrow will be gone by 2004 (despite the possibility that board members could change their minds anytime between now and June of next year) by saying that the board needed to start discussing the search process for a new superintendent.
Lander, who was the only absent board member the night an unofficial vote was taken about Johndrows contract, lashed out at fellow board members for various reasons.
Theres no sense for us to have an executive session if someone runs to the press and states things, he said angrily. Youve got a year and a half [till Johndrows contract runs out]. I think it was totally inappropriate to make a decision like that.
I cant understand where were going, he continued. This is a poor decision that shouldnt have been made in executive session. We had a retreat on this issue obviously we didnt listen to our attorney.
And because the decision was made when he was absent, I feel offended even more, said Lander, who expects repercussions to reverberate throughout the district for some time.
In the meantime, Board President Jeff Nober asked each board member to come back to the next meeting (March 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Narrowsburg campus) with a list of priorities for the next six months or a year to give [the administration] some direction.