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The Telegram
  • OESJ board to begin negotiations with superintendent

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  • OPPENHEIM — A second consecutive meeting of the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School Board of Education ended with audience members pointing fingers and shouting at the commissioners after board President Susan Sammons pounded the gavel to signify the session had been adjourned.
    The board of education voted Monday evening to begin negotiations with Superintendent Laura Lawrence concerning her employment status with the district.
    The vote to direct the district’s law firm - Gentick, Livingston, Atkinson and Priore - to begin negotiations with Lawrence, who was placed on paid administrative leave for undisclosed reasons by a split vote on Nov. 6, was 4-3. Board members Cindy Breh, Neil Clark, William Lints and Susanne Sammons, the same commissioners who voted in favor of placing Lawrence on leave, voted in favor of beginning the negotiations. Board members Keith Handy, Lee Quackenbush and Renee Swartz voted against.
    While the community members, faculty, parents and students who attended the special session in the OESJ Elementary/Middle School gymnasium were not granted permission to make public comment to the board, they were able to voice their displeasure by yelling comments and questions to the commissioners as the meeting closed.
    “Are we going to hire a new superintendent,” asked Wendy Snell, a parent. “Is this a personality conflict or is there a true issue? Are we spending merger money for this?”
    “Don’t make this an Oppenheim versus St. Johnsville issue,” said Patricia Christensen, who was a member of the former St. Johnsville Central School Board of Education. She added the board should be “ashamed” of themselves as they exited the gymnasium.
    “It’s dividing our community and our school,” said Snell.
    “People need to realize that when an administrator is put on leave there is an investigation and the board cannot comment on it,” community member Mary Mosher said after the meeting adjourned. “The Oppenheim-Ephratah district went through this before with Mr. Russom and the St. Johnsville district went through this with Mr. Fatta. The boards weren’t allowed to talk then, and the board isn’t allowed to talk now.”
    Former Oppenheim-Ephratah Superintendent Dan Russom and former D.H. Robbins Elementary School Principal Christopher Fatta were placed on administrative leave in February. The reasons why the two men were placed on leave were not disclosed, except to say the action was not related to students or financial improprieties. Russom later retired and Fatta later resigned from the St. Johnsville district.
    By a 6-1 vote in June, the OESJ board approved a three-year contract with Lawrence, who served as St. Johnsville Central School superintendent during the 2012-2013 school year, and served as deputy superintendent and D.H. Robbins Elementary School principal before that. Breh cast the no vote and Lints was not a member of the board until July.
    Page 2 of 2 - While Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES District Superintendent Dr. Patrick Michel will continue to serve as acting Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville superintendent until further notice, Lawrence’s contract currently remains in effect.
    As it is a personnel matter, Michel, who is required to assume the responsibility of superintendent in any Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES component district when the position becomes vacant, said board members’ reasons for placing Lawrence on paid administrative leave would not be discussed publicly.
    Before the vote to enter into executive session to discuss a personnel matter, Handy made a motion to amend the agenda to allow for public comment. Sammons responded by saying “no,” however, since it was an official motion, seconded by Quackenbush, a vote took place with Handy, Quackenbush and Swartz voting in favor of amending the agenda. Breh, Clark, Lints and Sammons voted against.
    After exiting executive session, and prior to the vote to adjourn, Sammons reiterated to the audience public comment would not be allowed because it was not on the agenda.
    The board of education will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 20 in the middle school.

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