Jan 11, 2011 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
Members of the Jordan-Elbridge community have repeatedly asked school board members to resign since the paid suspension of tenured Principal David Zehner just days into the 2010-11 school year.
According to Frank Miller, attorney for J-E schools, all they can do is ask.
In his 32 years of experience in school law, Miller has witnessed multiple petitions filed with the New York State Department of Education Commissioner for removal of school board members – all of them unsuccessful.
“I have yet to see a circumstance where a petition of that nature was actually upheld,” Miller said.
Any orders to have board members removed must come from the Commissioner of Education David Steiner, Miller said. He added that removal would require “very serious misconduct, malfeasance in office, or violating a law in some manner,” none of which he feels the board is guilty of.
“The commissioner knows and the law recognizes that these folks are going to be involved in making very difficult decisions,” Miller said.
Residents have been upset by multiple personnel decisions made by the board, such as the paid suspension of tenured assistant superintendent for business and finance Bill Hamilton in July, the firing of district treasurer Anthony Scro in September, the forced early retirement of Superintendent Marilyn Dominick in November – all of which have been contested publicly by the affected employee or administrator – and multiple violations of open meetings law. The board’s closed-door appointment of Sue Gorton, the district’s assistant superintendent of instruction, to interim superintendent in July was taken to court by suspended principal David Zehner and ruled void.
Zehner has asked board members to resign at public board meetings since his suspension. He said the commissioner only removes board members at persistently low achieving schools.
He said about 12 schools in New York State are labeled “low achieving” – and J-E is far from one of them.
Zehner cited one case where board members were removed from within, but the Jordan-Elbridge school board has stuck together through the controversy – requests for removal have come from the public.
“There’s really no remedy for the public to say ‘we’ve completely lost trust in you,'” Zehner said.
Zehner said he would like to see board members that have been asked to resign come forward and do so.
“My biggest concern right now is that these are the people that are picking a new superintendent, and no matter who they choose … this new superintendent is going to have to live with the stigma of being picked by them,” Zehner said.
Maureen Doyle, who owns the community information website JordanNY.com, started a letter writing campaign in October using her contact list of about 10,000 people. The letter, addressed to Commissioner Steiner, said the entire school board must be removed from office and asked the commissioner to intervene.
In the letter, Doyle addressed the possibility of wrongdoings that might warrant removal.
“Are we talking fraud, waste, criminal malfeasance, abuse, misuse or mismanagement by the Jordan-Elbridge School Board? Has the board violated procedures or laws?” the letter reads. “I, and most residents, believe so; however, as ‘just’ residents, and/or taxpayers, how can we be sure?”
Those who wrote to the commissioner received letters back.
“It’s just a template response,” Doyle said. “It didn’t really say anything.”
Doyle feels that all board members, not just a few, should resign.
“Many will say in June, ‘We can elect three new board members,’ but you still have six old members, so the old thinking will be the majority,” she said.
Mary Jo Wick, who organized a committee of concerned citizens following the Zehner’s suspension, is looking ahead to the school board election.
“They’re not gonna budge until they’re voted out is my opinion,” she said.
Jeanne Pieklik, Diana Foote and school board president Mary Alley are all up for reelection in June.
“If they chose to run again .. I highly doubt they would get reelected,” Wick said. “That means we need to find three good candidates who have the best interest of the school district at heart for the better education of our children.”