Sullivan County Democrat
Callicoon, New York
January 22, 2010 Issue
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Sullivan West fires cafeteria worker

By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON — Under the watchful eye of a state trooper, Sullivan West’s school board ended up firing only one of four cafeteria workers allegedly accused of poor performance, insubordination and fraud.
The workers, their union and the district itself will not discuss the charges or the disciplinary actions, citing legal advice.
But the matter – which originally included firing all four workers – has generated heated comment at the past two board meetings, including Wednesday’s in Lake Huntington.
“You’re going to let this farce continue?” angrily questioned Joe Giordano of Narrowsburg, whose wife Patricia was terminated from her food service job that evening.
“It’s not the way to treat people,” he said to SW Superintendent Ken Hilton, “and you should know better.”
Hilton replied that the law and “courtesy” forbids him from discussing personnel matters in public.
But it was his recommendation to the board to fire Giordano from the position she has held for the past nine years – a recommendation all but board member Noel van Swol approved.
In fact, van Swol voted “no” on the three other resolutions, too, even though those were to impose a three-week unpaid suspension on Lois Long, Bonnie Krum and Irene Ward. Those cafeteria workers will be back at work on September 28.
Van Swol said he, too, could not elaborate on the matter or his vote, but Hilda Monfredo, the vice president of the workers’ union, thanked him for “showing these women someone is on their side.”
The issue now goes to arbitration, per the union’s agreement with the district.
“I’m very confident these women will see justice once we go through the grievance process,” remarked Monfredo, adding that she feels that will include a restoration of pay and full employment.
Board President Anna Niemann did not directly address the issue but concluded Wednesday’s meeting by telling the crowd, “This board deliberates very heavily about all our decisions.” She thanked her fellow board members “for the endless time that we spend doing this job.”
Survey raises questions
Once again, SW engaged LifeTrack Services to survey graduating seniors, and the results – culled from a survey given to 103 seniors this past June – were presented at Wednesday’s board meeting.
On the positive side, half of them planned to pursue a four-year college education after graduation, up from last year. Nearly 80 percent credited their guidance counselors with offering helpful advice, a dramatic jump from the 55 percent who said the same the year before.
Nearly 74 percent were confident they could easily find a living-wage job, though that was down from the 82 percent who said the same the year before.
Seventy-five percent said they had a positive learning experience, the same as last year, while 58 percent – also the same as last year – agreed teachers held them to high standards.
District officials weren’t so happy to hear that only 44 percent of respondents felt SW made learning exciting, compared to 47 percent the year before.
And deep concern was generated from 29 percent saying they had experienced significant harassment on campus, up from 23 percent the year before – and mostly a complaint from female respondents.
Only 25 percent of those surveyed felt the campus was drug-free and a safe learning environment, with 34 percent acknowledging a need for improvement.
A majority of respondents also criticized teachers’ knowledge and the fair enforcement of rules, an increase of between two and 19 percent from the year prior.
A mysterious result was that only 38 percent felt there were enough electives, compared to 57 percent the year prior.
“We didn’t change our elective offerings,” remarked Hilton, pondering if “senioritis” had affected the results.
A clue was offered by student board member Gabriel LaGrutta, who said he didn’t think the seniors took the test seriously.
That, plus the fact that LifeTrack refused to provide Hilton with comparable data from other schools, led board member Ken Cohen to question the efficacy of the results.
“To be honest, until we get some context, I wouldn’t vote to do this again,” Cohen remarked.
Hilton said he’d try to get some data from the state’s 700 other public school superintendents.
Enrollment may have bottomed out
Hilton was cautiously pleased to announce that SW’s falling enrollment may have hit bottom.
“For the first time in the 10 years since the merger,” he said at Wednesday’s meeting, “it looks like our enrollment has gone up.”
Since 1998, the district has suffered a net loss of 442 students – 72 just this past year. The unofficial count for this year, however, shows a total student population of 1,335 – 22 more than last year.
And since most of that gain was realized in the 84-student kindergarten, it’s given district officials cause for hope.
‘Extra’ money being used
About $1 million in federal stimulus funds is coming the district’s way, said Hilton, and it will be used to hire two teachers’ aides, pay part of a dean of students’ salary, increase programming and professional development, purchase student tracking and security software, replace seven-year-old PCs, fund the summer school and summer AP programs, and obtain 25 Smartboards.
Clerk earns award
District Clerk Peg Luty will be the recipient of the Mid-Hudson School Study Council’s annual Excellence in Education Award at its annual awards dinner in October, Hilton was proud to announce.
Luty has served SW and its former component district, Delaware Valley, for 22 years and also currently aids Hilton as the superintendent’s secretary.
She was nominated for the award by the administration and board.

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