Superintendent Leslie Ford was absent from the meeting, the second in a row that she had missed and speculation on her future with the district arose from the fact that the board had failed to offer her a contract extension by the June 30 end of the school calendar year. Following the board meeting Osmond said there was nothing to report on Ford's future. Ford has a contract that runs until July 2011, but to two former school board members, the failure to offer a contract extension is a clear expression of no confidence. "When the BOE chooses not to act there is no vote taken," said Osmond, when asked if there was any news on Ford's future.
In a phone conversation, past board president Marino D'Orazio, who served under superintendents Dr. Hal Rowe, who retired and Justine Winters, who passed away, said any contract purposely allowed to lapse sends a message to look for work elsewhere. "The way I would read it as a past school board member," said D'Orazio, "is this kind of inaction sends a message of no confidence." D'Orazio served one year with Ford and supported her as superintendent.
Former board member Rita Vanacore seconded that notion. "When you go to school board training sessions, and they talk about hiring superintendents and negotiating contracts, the precedent is that each year a contract should be reviewed and possibly extended," said Vanacore. "Usually the board will try to keep the contract at the three to five year level. This board chose, when they got elected, not to do what they were taught to do, they chose to ignore the precedent. They made her (Ford) ineffective and impotent in the last years. That's the message to the superintendent, it's been pretty clear."
Vanacore, a staunch supporter of Ford and a persistent critic of the current board, also said that she believed a decision has been made. "As of August 1, to my knowledge, Dr. Ford will no longer be superintendent. From what I understand, the board bought out her contract. There's no reason that I can see why her contract shouldn't be renewed. That's my opinion - it's because Dr. Ford was involved in the long term fiscal plan to close one elementary school. I believe this board held that against her."
Ford emailed only that her "contract extends to June 30, 2011."
It was recently reported in the upstate newspaper The Saratogian newspaper that Ford had been one of the finalists for superintendent for the South Glens Falls School district and rumors have continued to swirl about her actively seeking employment elsewhere. Osmond said she is not aware if Ford has found another job or is looking for work. "It is all heresay on my part," said Osmond in a recent phone interview. "All I know is what I read in the papers." Osmond said Ford informed her that she would be absent, but no reason was given.
Two Kindergartens or one in Phoenicia?
The source of a previous clash between the board and the superintendent was on display when Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Katie O'Brien said, based on a previous request by the board, that the administrative decision to merge the two Kindergarten classrooms at Phoenicia Elementary School was put on hold until student numbers came in. O'Brien said there were 19 students currently enrolled in Kindergarten at Phoenicia with possibly two more coming in and that by September more could arrive. Approximately 50 percent of that group has some type of disability, she said, and an unusually high number of students cannot speak English.
At the June 15 school board meeting teachers and parents came out in protest, because the plans called for some students to be transferred to Bennett Elementary. Currently, though, only one child will be transferred, according to O'Brien, because the parent recommended a more restricted special education setting only available at Bennett.
"I just want to clarify this based on letters to the newspapers and calls from parents," McGillicuddy said, "that at the last meeting the board had consensus to ask the administration not to make a final decision yet, and that is what I am telling people...because we don't want to discourage people from coming to our schools. We have heard from parents who said they may take their kid away to another school."
O'Brien said, "As far as we see things, the board asked to extend time because we don't know if children will be moving in."
Trustee Tony Fletcher said that this represented a different approach. "(This reflects) a change to three weeks ago when we had one teacher assigned and that was where we were at...and now what I am hearing is we are looking at the numbers before making a final decision."
O'Brien assured Fletcher that they were following the board's desire to watch and wait.
Woodstock Elementary principal Bobbi Schnell had a different opinion and asked the board to consider alternatives. She said if the classroom has approximately 20 students, even if they are broken up there would continue to be an equal population of kids with various disabilities. "There are a million things you can do, (such as) have classrooms within a class," said Schnell. "What I hear is making a class of ten and ten with 50 percent of special education in each class so you are creating the same thing."
Trustee Dan Spencer asked to hear more about the administrative approach to making the decision that would cause teachers and parents to react so vocally. "I heard the results of your discussions and the way you were achieving to move forward with this one class, but I don't think I heard some of the whys, so if it's possible to keep this discussion open, I am really interested in hearing some of the logic behind the choices the administration made." Osmond said they would take up the topic again at the next board meeting in August. Gabriel Buono principal of Bennett elementary said that a decision needed to be made soon for teachers to do their planning before school begins in September.
Middle school options, building discussions again
During this past 2010/2011 budget discussions, several public pleas were made demanding that the board address the aging district facilities, declining enrollment and Middle School options. As a result the board discussed holding community forums over the summer, but decided the summer months would not draw enough of an interest. The end of September was penciled in as a target to begin discussions. The board plans to contend with recent arguments about whether an additional elementary school should be closed. Osmond said, "I'd really like to get across that we are not reinventing the wheel here, there has been a lot of work done by a lot of people before us and it needs to be brought fourth and brought into consideration as we are having this conversation."
In 2004 West Hurley elementary school closed amid district wide protest. The reason given was declining enrollment and expanding budget. Community members demanded that district plans be put in place for the future of the remaining buildings and West Hurley School. The board of education at that time promised to find ways to make use of the West Hurley building, but a plan has never surfaced. It remains unused at a cost of approximately $40,000 per year, in fuel and other expenses. To completely shut the building may make it less marketable and also fall further derelict to State requirements.
In 2005 the school board at the time and newly hired Winters created the Future of The District Committee. Their responsibilities included examining the viability of reopening West Hurley School. After lengthy research, four recommendations were made; hiring a firm to recommend facility upgrades, redistricting to level out student population, creating a separate middle school and continuing with three elementary schools (instead of four). A middle school steering committee also recommended a separate middle school. In 2005 KSQ Architects was hired and based on several community forums, by 2006, a recommendation was made that would keep the remaining three elementary schools open and create a grade six-through-eight middle school. This was rejected by the Board of Education that chose a plan (also designed by KSQ) that would close an additional elementary school. Public protest followed and then the election of a school board that promised not to close any more schools. Buildings continue to require upgrades, state funding and enrollment is apparently on the decline, the budget increases, and the board will once again seek to revisit ways to balance community infrastructure.