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Dan Hust | Democrat

THE SULLIVAN WEST Board of Education honored board members who ended their board service this month, as well as the outgoing superintendent. From the left: Retiring Superintendent Alan Derry, and board members Rick Lander, Catherine Novak and Shawn Bailey.

SW Approves New Board Elections, No Vote Scheduled

By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON — June 29, 2007 — There will indeed be an election to fill two vacant seats on the Sullivan West school board.
The question now is, when?
The current SW board decided to save that decision for the next board, which will include three new board members, at its reorganizational meeting on July 3 (7 p.m. at the high school in Lake Huntington).
Amidst a raging thunderstorm Wednesday evening, board members realized they would likely not come to an agreement on the proposed August 21 election date.
Richard Tegnander, who will become a board member next month, kicked off the debate by advocating for a September election so as to allow summer vacationers to return and head to the polls. (Absentee ballots, however, will be part of this election.)
Otherwise, agreed board member Anna Niemann, “you’re going to have a very low voter turnout.”
She was joined in that sentiment by fellow board member Catherine Novak, but board member Shaun Sensiba argued that waiting until school starts would leave the board without two members for a longer time than necessary.
Acting Board President Shawn Bailey added that a seven-member board would be less likely to agree on a new board president than the full nine-member version, leaving board leadership in question from July to September.
Superintendent Alan Derry said he didn’t feel strongly either way but recommended a compromise: simply voting for an election and letting the new board hash out the date at its July 3 meeting.
Considering the board must set an election at least 45 days in the future to allow for proper notification, the new board would still be legally able to set an August 21 vote.
Since any motion must be approved by a minimum of five board members in order to pass, the board realized Wednesday that one way or the other a vote on the date that night would result in a 4-3 split, so they unanimously approved just the election itself.
Interested candidates can now start gathering signatures for their petitions to be on the ballot. Like the previous May vote, candidates will have to determine for which seat they wish to run.
Youth Program Funding Cut
There were several 4-3 votes Wednesday evening, the most notable of which sunk a three-year agreement with the Town of Callicoon and Village of Jeffersonville to fund a summer youth program in Jeff.
Novak, Rose Crotty and Noel van Swol voted against the agreement for various reasons.
“I have a problem with favoring any one town,” said Novak, who felt other municipally-offered youth programs in the SW district were being overlooked (although Niemann pointed out that this program is open to all the youth of the school district).
Crotty liked the program but not the current agreement.
“I’m reluctant to go with that agreement… unless somehow it was either worded or funded differently,” she said, referencing the fact that – like what happened last year – the district stops contributing its $2,500 share during an austerity budget, leaving the program in the red.
“I would have voted ‘yes’ if the agreement was year-to-year,” she explained.
Van Swol did not publicly state his reason for opposing the agreement at the meeting, but when contacted afterwards, he said he agreed with Crotty.
Town of Callicoon Supervisor Gregg Semenetz was displeased with the news.
“We still haven’t gotten paid for last year,” he said.
Semenetz stated Novak, van Swol and Crotty were inaccurate in their reasoning, adding that the program has had to pay school facilities’ use fees for several years now, since most of the activities are offered on school property.
But the program will continue, he said, “no matter how not children-friendly the school board is,” he remarked angrily.
And, he lamented, if the district continues to choose not to help fund the program, it will likely have to once again show preference in registration and participation fees to Town of Callicoon and Village of Jeffersonville youth.
Other Votes of Note
Most of the huge agenda Wednesday contained items unanimously approved by the board, including transferring Tim and Malcolm Crawson’s properties (per the owners’ request) to the Hancock Central School District, resulting in a tax loss of less than $1,800. Hancock had already consented to the change, which involves parcels contiguous to the Hancock district (and far closer to their school facilities than SW’s).
Van Swol was the lone opposing vote to approve a slew of transfers to reserve funds, totalling more than $1.5 million for items such as workers compensation, employee benefit accrued liability and unemployment insurance.
He questioned why the information had not been brought to the board sooner, and Derry and Asst. Supt. for Business Bob Miller responded that it had been by having been incorporated into the 2007-2008 budget approved by voters in May.
“I feel this is an illustration of Alan Derry’s foot-dragging… and double-talk,” said van Swol when contacted afterwards. “All of these items should have been brought up and discussed before the budget vote.”
Van Swol said he would ensure the new supt. (as of July 1), Dr. Kenneth Hilton, would be made aware of the matter and asked to review it.
Van Swol was also upset with one of the first votes of the night – based on a motion he made to officially name Bailey as the school board president.
Bailey, the vice president, has been acting president since Board President Arthur Norden resigned in May, though the board only realized Wednesday that Bailey cannot officially be president unless members vote on it.
Although only in force until the reorg. meeting on July 3 (at which point Bailey will be off the board and a new president possibly chosen), the title would be well-deserved, van Swol said.
“I don’t want Shawn Bailey to leave here… without formally being conferred the title of president,” he said during the meeting. “… This should be a kudos officially on your record.”
Sensiba seconded the motion, saying, “I think it would be a nice recognition.”
Novak, Niemann and Rick Lander, however, disagreed, evidently still stung over searing disagreements with Bailey over the past year (though none gave their reasons).
Thus the 4-3 vote did not gain the five-member minimum and failed.
“It was political retribution,” remarked van Swol. “This was the thanks they gave him.”
The End of a Year and an Era
Thanks, however, was in great supply that evening, mostly because it marked the last board meeting of the fiscal year – and, for some, forever.
The board reluctantly accepted Jennifer Mann’s resignation (who left for personal reasons) and thanked her for her service with a plaque.
“She did amazing work while she was here on the board,” said Bailey just before the board approved the final revisions to the massive policybook which Mann helped revise. “We are, as a district, indebted to her.”
Thanks and plaques were also given to outgoing board members Rick Lander, Catherine Novak and Shawn Bailey (and Arthur Norden, who was not present).
“It’s been a rough ride,” mused Novak, who joined Lander in leaving the board voluntarily. “… In some ways I regret it, and in other ways, I’ve been blessed.”
She decried the politics of the past year and urged the new board to implement the necessary committees early.
“You don’t get into it to be thanked,” she concluded, “but it’s refreshing to be thanked.”
“I thank the district for allowing me to serve for so many years,” said an emotional Lander, who has served continuously on both the SW and Narrowsburg school boards since the ’90s.
“We are the lighthouse district,” he continued. “What we offer our kids is so far ahead of what we could have as three separate districts… If people would just sit back and see where we were three years ago and just compare, it’s amazing!
“… I’m just proud to leave this district a better district.”
So was Bailey, who joined with Lander in praising SW’s staff and faculty.
“We are blessed to have that sort of dedication by people to educate the children of our own district,” he said.
“It’s been an absolute honor to serve the community on this board,” Bailey continued, adding that it wasn’t always the most enjoyable job but was recently offset by the opportunity to personally hand graduates their diplomas. “I’ll tell you I’ve never had a greater honor in my entire life.”
Derry also was thanked, as he is retiring to attend to family matters and cap a three-decade career in public education, three years of which were spent at SW.
“He challenged us to be better than we were,” said union president Carol Slotkin, likening her relationship to Derry to the movie “Clash of the Titans.” “And we rose to meet that challenge.”
“Thank God you guys have moved ahead without us,” said Lander, referring to both the faculty and the administration as opposed to the board, “because otherwise we’d be in such craziness.”
“It wasn’t an easy ride for you,” Niemann acknowledged to Derry – also thanking Miller, who is moving to the Goshen district, and Jacquie Robisch, the retiring elementary principal. “I just hope the new board members… and those remaining will work to unify the district and concentrate on the education of our children.”
Derry expressed confidence that would happen.
“Culturally, we’re ready to take the next step in solidifying the merger of three communities,” he said.
“I leave with many warm and good feelings,” Derry concluded. “… It’s been a challenging and interesting experience… but I think… we as a district are much stronger financially and academically.”

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