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More questions than answers in board move

Saturday, November 09, 2013 - Updated: 4:08 AM

A decision made Wednesday by the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville School District Board of Education to place Superintendent Laura Lawrence on leave has raised several questions about the move.

Unfortunately, the district is able to hide behind the oft-uttered "personnel matter" excuse, which gets officials out of having to explain their decision.

School board members are doing a disservice to the teachers, students and parents who send their kids there by not explaining themselves. They're also showing no consideration to the people who pay to keep the district in operation.

We agree that not every personnel decision made by a public board has to come with a full explanation. If a district decides to part ways with a janitor or teacher's aide, the reasons behind the move are no one's business.

The standard, however, is different for someone in Lawrence's position. School superintendents are paid a lot of money and are ultimately responsible for everything that happens in their districts. Being a leader of a public entity like a school district can and should come with extra scrutiny.

This especially holds true in the OESJ school district.

For starters, it's clear the community was already uneasy about how this new school district -- which has only officially existed since July 1 -- would function. In fact, it took two tries to convince voters to even agree on combining the Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville schools. And this is only in recent history. These two districts have looked at -- and shot down -- this question on numerous occasions in the past several decades.

Getting rid of a superintendent who has only been on the job for four months does nothing to ease those concerns -- especially when a board can get away with simply saying "it's a personnel matter, so we're not going to talk about it."

Also, four of the seven school board members voted in favor of placing Lawrence on leave. That means three members of the board didn't think whatever reasons placed before them warranted such a move.

If the decision was unanimous, it would be clear that the district believed it had a solid case against the superintendent. The 4-3 vote only serves to further cloud the issue.

OESJ officials need to come up with some answers. No, the public isn't entitled to every little detail -- after all, we are talking about a person here.

But the public deserves to know a lot more than what district officials are willing to offer -- which is next to nothing. The public should demand answers from their elected board members and not allow them to hide behind the "personnel" excuse.

     

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