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Dan Hust | Democrat

Jennifer Mann

SW Board Wrestles With Key Decisions

By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON — June 1, 2007 — Major changes are ahead for the leadership of Sullivan West, but the “who” and “how” remain uncertain.
Three administrators are leaving at the end of June.
The board president has resigned.
Another board member will be resigning.
And three newly elected board members will be taking office in July.
The potential ideological shift could be enormous, and in as polarized a district as SW, the resulting power struggles are reaching a feverish crescendo.
That fact wasn’t lost on either the public or the board at Wednesday’s board meeting in Lake Huntington.
“I’m dismayed by this attitude of ‘us vs. them,’” complained board member Rose Crotty. “I find that really unsettling.”
“Everyone is tired of ‘us vs. them,’” agreed audience member Lisa Layman. “[Change] needs to start with the board modeling that there’s no ‘us vs. them.’”
Crotty, however, felt the public was to blame as well, not giving credit to a board that has done much for the district, including reducing 10 high school construction lawsuits to 4 and unanimously deciding upon a new superintendent.
Speaking to the relatively small audience, Crotty lamented, “That’s pretty sad that you all should feel we’re having a tug of war… I’d really like to see everybody working cohesively to move us forward.”
But a tug of war is what ensued as the board passionately debated whether to appoint two board members or allow the public to vote them into office.
No decision was made that evening, and several issues are complicating the situation.
The First Complication
Firstly, only former Board President Arthur Norden has officially resigned.
Board member Jennifer Mann confirmed her pending resignation at the meeting, but she is waiting to officially do so after completing the gigantic board policy book she and other board members and staff have been working on for the past year.
Mann said she is moving out of the area and stressed that her resignation has nothing to do with any dissatisfaction or anger.
“It’s a wonderful, positive thing,” she said, declining to detail the personal family reasons behind the move.
But that’s not due to happen until later in June or even July.
According to Superintendent Alan Derry, Mann is only a few pages away from finishing what is in essence the board’s bible.
“She’s the one who knows it the best,” he said of the policy book. “She wanted to finish it.”
“On June 8,” Mann explained, “Mr. Miller, our attorney, has a very large bunch of work for [District Clerk] Peg [Luty] and I, and that’s when I’ll know how much work we have left.”
Though it is Mann’s decision when to resign (she still has a year left on her term), the board seemed unanimously in favor of allowing her to continue, praising her for her dedication to an important task many would find boring and tedious.
However, until Mann resigns, the board cannot act on replacing her.
The Second Complication
Therein lies the second complication: while a board can appoint as soon as the resignation is received, it cannot schedule an election until at least 45 days after a resignation, so as to give ample time to publicize the election.
Also, an election costs $3,000, said Derry, and the board and administration seemed in agreement that it would be better to have two seats open in one election than to have two different elections.
But as board member Shaun Sensiba pointed out, that puts a two-seat election off until at least August.
The Third Complication
Yet another complication arose from Board President Shawn Bailey’s recent directive to Luty to publish a request for board candidates.
The deadline for such applications – which would only be relevant should the board decide to appoint rather than elect – was set for June 4.
Although board member Rick Lander complained that the board did not officially decide to advertise, he and other board members agreed that it would be fairer to wait to make a decision until after all applications were received.
(They can be mailed to Luty at the Jeffersonville campus of Sullivan West, ZIP code 12748.)
Those who have applied thus far, according to Derry, are Peter Pierce and three former board candidates who lost in May’s election: Ken Uy, Jeffrey Gangel and Tom Prendergast.
If the board chooses to hold an election, however, any candidates will have to pursue the standard petition process.
The Real Question
At the heart of the matter, of course, are two deceptively simple questions:
What should the board do?
What can it do?
According to BOCES District Superintendent Martin Handler, who was in the audience that evening, the board can (1) appoint someone, (2) set a public election, (3) leave it up to Handler, who can make a decision after 90 days past the resignation, or (4) have NYS Education Commissioner Richard Mills choose, which is rarely exercised.
Should the board appoint someone, that person serves until next May’s election, at which point they must run for the seat. Whoever wins immediately takes the seat.
Should the board choose a public election, the winning candidate serves until the end of the original seat-holder’s term, which for both seats is June 30, 2008. However, they still have to run for the seat in May should they wish to serve beyond June 30.
Audience members like Rose Joyce-Turner, Walt Sipple and Richard Tegnander advocated for a public vote.
“The people feel it’s time for a change, and the people should be allowed to make that change,” said Tegnander, who was chosen by voters in May to serve on the board come July.
Supt. Derry also encouraged a public vote, mainly due to the ideological divisions amongst the board.
“Or the board can show unusual unanimity on a candidate everyone’s in love with,” he said, agreeing with most board members that that was an unlikely proposition.
Handler, speaking after the meeting, didn’t advocate for appointment or election but did say he’s not eager to make a decision for the board.
“I really hope it doesn’t get to that point,” he said. “I don’t anticipate nor do I want that to happen.”
So what do board members think?
“I’m electioned out,” said Sensiba. “… I would like to see a consensus [appointed] candidate.”
Without such consensus, Sensiba thought the open seats should go to the next highest vote-getters from May’s election – a fairer solution, he felt, than forcing people to run twice for the same seat, once later this year and then again next May.
“The problem here is it’s not the next guy down,” replied Lander, pointing out that voters last year rejected at-large elections, instead authorizing candidates to run for specific seats.
And the three seats up for election in May will soon be filled by Tegnander, Ken Cohen and Rich Sandler, who will be replacing Bailey, Lander and Catherine Novak.
“I think we have a torn-apart community that deserves the right to vote on the situation,” said Lander. “… We’re elected by the people. What gives us the right to decide the next direction of the school district?”
Mann felt precedent should be followed, citing the vote several years ago to appoint Jerry Triolo to a vacated seat. (Until she resigns, Mann is able to vote on appointment vs. election, and should the board choose to appoint, she can help determine who replaces Norden.)
Novak pointed out that the Triolo vote was 8-0 and was for one seat. She also referenced the fact that the board deliberately voted 8-0 (with Anna Niemann absent) earlier this year to appoint new Supt. Kenneth Hilton, who takes over from Derry in July. The reason, she said, was to demonstrate unity.
“I don’t see this situation as any different,” she remarked, using the likelihood of board division to advocate for a public election instead of appointment.
Noel van Swol, however, pointed out that only a quorum is needed to appoint someone, which in this case would be five people.
“It’s an impossible standard to expect an 8-0 vote [in this matter],” he explained.
Niemann felt that decision should be left up to the new board that will take office in July.
“Those are the people who are going to have to work with them for the next year,” she said.
“We’re the sitting board at this moment… and we do have to decide,” remarked Bailey, basing his comments on state education law. “We’re not talking about something that is the next board’s problem.”
However, Bailey did say he hopes to avoid “any 4-4 votes.”
Crotty advocated for extending the application period, although she didn’t take a public stand on whether to appoint or elect, urging the public to let the board know its wishes.
In the end, the board decided to wait till sometime in June to determine whether to appoint, elect or not do anything at all.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting is set for Wednesday, June 27, at 7 p.m. at the high school in Lake Huntington, although Bailey said a special meeting could be called before then, “if something changes in the situation we discussed tonight.”

SW Business Administrator Out, Principal Coming In

By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON — Though other resignations took precedence, Assistant Superintendent for Business Bob Miller’s coming departure was not ignored at Wednesday’s Sullivan West school board meeting.
“If we don’t accept it, will you stay?” asked board member Catherine Novak, half-jokingly.
Ultimately, Miller’s resignation was reluctantly accepted by the board that evening. The Orange County resident is leaving July 2 for what he termed a “more stable” district: Goshen.
The chief business official at SW since December of 2005, Miller said his reason for leaving was twofold – Goshen is just 10 minutes from his home, and the pay is better.
Board members, even those who had sparred with Miller in the past, wished him well.
“Bob, you’ll be missed,” said Shaun Sensiba.
“Goshen’s gain is our loss,” agreed Board President Shawn Bailey.
“I want to thank him for hanging in there and putting up with us,” said bd. member Rick Lander.
“Bob’s been a right hand man to me,” added Superintendent Alan Derry, who will be retiring two days before Miller to attend to family health concerns at home in New Paltz.
Miller’s departure continues a nearly annual trend of arriving, then departing business managers at SW. Half a dozen people have held that post since SW merged at the turn of the century – a revolving-door situation considered problematic, according to last year’s audit by the NYS Comptroller’s Office.
While Dr. Kenneth Hilton will be replacing Derry in July, the board has yet to interview candidates for Miller’s coming vacancy.
However, the board did welcome (and officially approve the hiring of) new Elementary Principal Rebecca Green, who will oversee the approximately 800 students at the Jeffersonville campus. She will be paid $90,000 a year.
Replacing retiring Principal Jacky Robisch, Green will begin July 1 and bring with her experiences that span 10 years in public education – 7 as a teacher and 3 in administration.
Though never a principal, Green is currently the Director of Special Education Services for the Perry School District near Rochester.
She holds an associate’s in science from Genesee Community College, a dual-degree bachelor’s in special and elementary education from SUNY Geneseo, and a master’s and certificate of advanced study in educational administration from SUNY Brockport.
“I’m just ecstatic,” said the mother of three (daughter Sydney and sons Kevin and Patrick) and wife of Lorne. “This is one of the biggest events in my life since the birth of my children.”
Derry indicated the board wouldn’t regret its unanimous hiring of Green.
“I think you’re very fortunate,” he told members.
Noel van Swol, a former school administrator who perhaps is the hardest board member to impress, agreed.
“I’m very pleased with our new principal,” he remarked during board comment. “She made a tremendous impression on all of us.”

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