Feb 02, 2011 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
The Jordan-Elbridge school board voted to appeal two State Supreme Court decisions at Wednesday night’s meeting in the high school cafeteria. This following a tremendous show of resistance from a roomful of community members, who stood silently holding signs inscribed with the message “VOTE NO” as both votes took place.
Many urged against a vote of “yes” during the public comments session, where around 25 people spoke. Among them was Tim Schutt, who has a daughter in ninth grade at J-E.
“I am standing here tonight to appeal to the six board members whose terms are not ending this year,” Schutt said. “My appeal to you is based on my belief that despite all that has happened, we are still more similar than we are different. I stand here to encourage you to make anew this very evening, and to make a break from this horrific state of affairs that we find ourselves in.”
Schutt spoke on the court decisions as well as interim superintendent Larry Zacher’s decision on Monday to bar suspended principal David Zehner from attending board meetings and activities on school property without his written permission.
“Tonight, you are voting on two recent rulings from Judge Greenwood, then you need to decide whether to retain the status quo and allow a fellow taxpayer to be singled out and banned from a meeting because the powers at be disagreed with what he said. You may not be able to address this tonight, but you need to weigh it very carefully,” Schutt said. “You are attempting to hold water in your fist, and the tighter you grip it, the more it’s gonna slip through your fingers.”
Schutt said the appeal of the case won by Zehner appeared, “to the lay person, to be little more than a pointless war of egos. You’re poised to gamble again with taxpayer money, and for what purpose? To prove you were right? To avoid taking a class on open government? Frankly, I think that both the board of education and the community would benefit from a better understanding of open government and as a taxpayer, I ask that you please stop taking money out of the classroom and handing it to lawyers.”
Lee Badman, a parent of children in the district and village of Jordan trustee, asked if the district’s lawyer, Frank Miller, would wave the costs associated with the appeal of the case won by Scro if the district were to lose again.
“There are no guarantees offered by attorney Miller, nor does any attorney ever offer to guarantee the outcome in any litigation,” board president Mary Alley responded. “This is generally the case in any litigation.”
She added that the board had also received advice to appeal from Matt Fletcher, general counsel for Cayuga-Onondaga BOCES, and from staff attorneys with the New York State School Boards Association.
Alley told residents that appealing would cost the district an estimated $7,500.
The board voted unanimously to appeal the court decision ordering that the board reinstate Anthony Scro, fired in October, as district treasurer. The appeal will likely not be heard until July 1 at the earliest, in Rochester state court.
“It’s disappointing, to say the least,” Scro said following the meeting. “I view it as strictly a stall tactic by the district.”
Scro was surprised by the vote, but not by the community’s show of support.
“I’ve had them right along,” he said.
During the public comments session, village of Elbridge trustee Fred Weisskopf spoke highly of Scro’s work for the district. Weisskopf worked alongside Scro in the district office as a part-time account clerk before resigning in October.
Weisskopf said Scro went above and beyond his job requirements as treasurer, which attributed to outstanding external audits received by the district.
“In fact, at the exit interview of a six-month New York State Office of State Comptroller audit, the auditor said that Jordan-Elbridge was one of the best districts the OSC had audited, and Mr. Scro deserves much of the credit,” Weisskopf said. “Area school district treasurers and building officials routinely called the district office looking for Mr. Scro to answer difficult questions and for guidance and advice, and he always responded gladly.”
Weisskopf believed Scro was fired because he spoke up when he saw wrongdoings within the district.
“He raised concerns with the external auditor, the state auditor and the superintendent about matters he felt were incorrect, inappropriate and in some cases, illegal,” Weisskopf said.
Before the board’s vote to appeal the court case won by Zehner, in which the board was found to have violated Open Meetings Law and ordered to commence Committee on Open Government training within 90 days, board member Brian Richardson offered some advice that echoed some of Tim Schutt’s comments.
“I would like to make the suggestion that, although I am in favor of appealing this … that we look at other mechanisms for getting the Open Meetings Law program brought to the board and the public,” Richardson said.
The majority of the board voted to appeal the Zehner case, while board member Michael Jorolemon was the only one to vote “no.” His vote was met with thunderous applause from the audience.