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Dan Hust | Democrat

SULLIVAN WEST'S NEW Superintendent, Dr. Kenneth Hilton, and his wife Annie, were welcomed at Tuesday's first board meeting of the new fiscal year. The couple have already relocated from Rochester and are in the market for a new home.

SW Board Gets Slightly New Look

By Dan Hust
LAKE HUNTINGTON — June 6, 2007 — Sullivan West board members said Tuesday’s reorganizational meeting in Lake Huntington inaugurated a new era for the district.
Whether that will bear out as the school year progresses remains to be seen, and the dozen spectators inside the high school’s auditorium that evening could easily have left with high hopes or deep pessimism.
New leadership arrived in the form of Dr. Kenneth Hilton, participating in his first official board meeting as school superintendent.
But the board itself couldn’t agree on a permanent board president and vice president, finding themselves locked in a 4-3 stalemate in a vote that required a 5-member majority.
Noel van Swol nominated Shaun Sensiba as president, while Anna Niemann nominated Rich Sandler. When the vote was taken, van Swol, Sensiba and Rose Crotty voted for Sensiba, while Niemann, Sandler, Ken Cohen and Richard Tegnander chose Sandler.
“And here we are,” said District Clerk Peg Luty, doing little to hide her frustration and disgust.
But Hilton pulled his first rabbit out of the hat, offering the board a way out by suggesting they vote for a temporary president and vice president.
At one point, that seemed destined to also fail, as Tegnander nominated Niemann for president, followed by van Swol’s nomination of Sensiba and Niemann’s nomination of Sandler.
But then Sensiba and Niemann withdrew their names, and the board subsequently agreed to return Sandler to the post he once held in a prior stint on SW’s board.
Van Swol, however, was not willing to hand the reins back to a man he had long criticized, and thus he became the sole dissenter in the 6-1 vote.
The vice president’s seat was first offered to Crotty, who declined, so van Swol quickly nominated Sensiba, and the board unanimously agreed.
Both Sandler and Sensiba will serve for the next two regular board meetings, and then the board will vote on the permanent (year-long) president and vice president at its September 20 meeting (7:30 p.m. at the high school).
Why then? Because at the same meeting Tuesday night, the board unanimously agreed to schedule a special election on September 18 to fill the seats vacated by Arthur Norden and Jennifer Mann.
A full 9-member board will thus better ensure the 5-member majority needed to pass any vote.
The election will be held from noon to 9 p.m. at the Delaware Youth Center in Callicoon, the Tusten-Cochecton library branch in Narrowsburg and the Jeffersonville Elementary School.
Niemann indicated a desire to have just one polling place at the high school in Lake Huntington, but Sensiba and van Swol disagreed based on the distance some would have to travel.
Sandler liked Niemann’s idea but considered it wishful thinking.
“I don’t think we [as a district] are ready for that yet,” he said.
Neither was the board ready to choose a law firm, with Niemann advocating for someone other than last year’s counsel, Bond, Schoeneck and King.
“We paid an astronomical amount of money to [them] this year,” she related, pointing out that the school’s old firm of Shaw and Perelsen cost the district $40,000 a year, while Bond, Schoeneck and King racked up $56,000 in legal fees in just three months.
“I thought the quality of work done was very good,” remarked Sensiba. “… We caught up on six years of policies that cost us money.”
Sandler wanted a firm other than the two just mentioned, but taking the cue from Hilton, he suggested hiring Bond, Schoeneck and King on a per diem, temporary basis and seeking bids from every interested law firm.
The board agreed unanimously.
The board also unanimously agreed to let Hilton negotiate an agreement with the Town of Callicoon and Village of Jeffersonville to participate in those municipalities’ youth program.
At the last meeting, the board had rejected a three-year agreement that would have required the district to pay $2,500 a year to fund the program. While this was not a change from a prior such agreement, some board members didn’t like the fact that the district had defaulted on the final year of payments to the township and village.
Another member felt the program, though open to all children in the district, should not be the sole one supported by the 200-square-mile district.
Hilton said the school’s attorney agreed in that (1) children who don’t live in the Town of Callicoon or Village of Jeffersonville must pay $5 more to participate than those who do, and (2) the district cannot legally fund such a program, according to state education law.
Hilton informed Callicoon Supervisor Gregg Semenetz of these concerns, so Semenetz offered a possible solution: let the program utilize school facilities for free instead of the district ponying up $2,500 every year.
Hilton suggested and got permission to negotiate that very thing.
“Our only real cost is overtime for the custodians,” he remarked to an approving board.
Indeed, the 35-year educator (though this is his first superintendency) seemed to be scoring points with every board member that evening.
“I think tonight’s an indication there’s a new breeze blowing in Sullivan West,” remarked van Swol, speaking both of the board’s “respectful disagreement” and of Hilton. “I have high hopes for Dr. Hilton.”
Ditto, said every other board member, who had already had frank conversations with Hilton in the days prior.
Those discussions, said the new superintendent, led him to identify the following key issues in SW: the need to establish a common vision in a district that is intensely proud of its schools and communities; the need to study academic achievement, present and future finances, and enrollment and community demographics; the need to establish and maintain civility and respect; and the need to provide for and preserve equity in access to school resources for children and parents.
Hilton said board members discussed many other issues like the unfinished athletic fields, litigation, administrative functions and dropout rates.
Most of all, the board told him to “be yourself – don’t bend to the political breezes.”
“I’ve heard you,” he responded. “… I’ll do my darndest, I promise you.”

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