Saturday March 16, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- For the second month board members at Cambridge Central School failed to agree on the terms of a series of proposed retreats, evidencing a continued inability to work together that left members of the public frustrated.

Two consecutive motions to hold board retreats failed to garner support on Tuesday, meaning the topic will be brought up again as board members and the public brought prepared statements this week responding to contentious remarks from the month prior.

The board also accepted a request from school administrators to have building principals and the business administrator sit at a table apart from the board of education; a physical move board member Tom Wolski likened to putting them out of the "firing squad."

"I'm very sick to my stomach at what I've seen here tonight," said Brent Dupras at the end of Tuesday's meeting. Identifying himself as a former CCS board member and president, Dupras said board members were circumventing the role of the school superintendent. "Board members do not call and get estimates on building projects or call and arrange board retreats. That's how this board of education functions."

"This is very dysfunctional," Dupras continued. "Everybody's going in their own direction and it's not helping."

In February, a proposal to hold two formal retreats to address ongoing issues failed to receive majority support. That motion called for involving the district attorney and the local BOCES superintendent.


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On Tuesday, two members of the board said they had made inquiries about retreats facilitated by the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA). Board member Peggy McLenithan, who had questioned the cost of the retreats proposed in February, said in her motion the NYSSBA retreats would cost $1,800 for two sessions.

"I, too, have many concerns with what I consider to be ongoing strife. I will say the tenor of the board has been unsettling," McLenithan said before making the motion. While an expense, she said the benefits of the NYSSBA retreats would outweigh the cost. She said a positive with the format was that members would provide self-evaluative assessments beforehand, but otherwise the NYSSBA facilitator would not have "prior knowledge" of the board.

Wolski said he was not willing to support the cost after participating in past NYSSBA retreats he called "unproductive" and basic. "I'm not sure we should be spending $1,800," Wolski said, faced with the lesser expense of district attorney Jeff Honeywell on retainer, or free NYSSBA sessions.

After placing her own call to the statewide association, board member Lillian Herrington said she had been told the board could participate in retreats free of charge if they were willing to travel to Albany.

Wolski said he thought it was beneficial to have facilitators with some knowledge of the board.

Board President Kerri Brown said she supported having the "neutral party."

"It might be better to have someone completely not in the mix," said Brown.

"I wouldn't consider our attorney a non-neutral party," responded Wolski.

Board member Paul Baker-Porazinski said Honeywell had "repeatedly advised (the board) to have a retreat with him present."

Contacted Friday, Barry Entwistle, director of leadership development for NYSSBA, said his association provided 60 to 80 retreats per year for school boards statewide, at a cost of $1,100 for a "half-day" four-hour workshop or $1,800 for a "full-day" workshop over four hours, plus travel expenses.

Entwistle said the workshops, or "Custom Improvement Programs," were tailored to the issues and guidance needed for the specific school board. If a formal retreat is not necessary, as in for guidance on a particular issue, Entwistle said NYSSBA would sometimes teleconference with school officials and that that service would fall under membership benefits and be free of charge.

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