Monday March 25, 2013

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- Underscoring the divisiveness at recent meetings, charges of bullying and sexism have been made against some Cambridge Central School board members.

But while members of the public have said they’ve witnessed the ill-treatment firsthand, the claims may be a red herring. When contacted individually by telephone, board members denied feeling discriminated against based on their sex -- or, alternatively, of being misogynists.

Board President Kerri Brown declined to comment when asked if she felt sexism was at play. "My comment is that I want to move forward," she said, calling it "inappropriate" for her to comment. Brown said she would be happy to talk about positive things at the school, but said responding to whether she felt bullied was "not productive."

At February’s board meeting, Brown indicated she had felt ill-treated, saying she and her family had been "dragged through the mud." While opposing a motion to hold two board retreats for conflict resolution, Brown questioned the sincerity of that motion made by a fellow male board member, and said she had "been through enough" during two past retreats.

Board member Peggy McLenithan, who was elected to her first term last May along with Brown, said she didn’t feel mistreated because she’s a women, but "I do feel ill-treated because of some specific (past decisions)."

"I don’t think it’s a ‘boys versus girls’ thing," she said. McLenithan referred to a statement she read at the most recent board meeting in which she expressed concern with strife and too much negativity on the board.

Board member Lillian Herrington said she did not feel comfortable speaking to the press.

Paul Baker-Porazinski and Tom Wolski, the two men currently serving on the board, denied being misogynists or bullies. "I’m not bullying anybody," said Wolski, who called the sexism claim a "bogus charge" that anyone who knew him would know was false. Identifying himself as a curmudgeon, "being blunt is not being a bully," he said.

"Let’s be real."

Baker-Porazinski said "categorically" that there was no sexism playing a role. "The gender aspect here is purely coincidental," he said, citing instead inexperience on the part of the majority of the board. (Wolski is the only member to have served a complete prior term.)

"The two new board members could have been males and we could still have had these issues," Baker-Porazinski said. "To me, I’m more frustrated by the claim (of bullying)."

During public comment at their regular meeting March 12, Fred Peters said men on the board were "picking" on the women. "I feel that you gentleman are trying to put these ladies down," he said. In between comments from parents who said their children had been bullied at school, Peters, a little league coach, said the female board members were "getting treated just like the girls that go to this school."

Don Herrington, the husband of Lillian Herrington, said it was time board members set aside their differences. "This is moral decay and this must stop," he said, indicating the board was setting a poor example for children.

The month before in February, Sharon Morrison, identifing herself as a relative of Brown’s, said she’d seen "nitpicking."

"Let’s just persecute Kerri Brown; let’s just persecute the women on this board," Morrison said. "The men board members roll their eyes at almost everything the women board members say and do."

In September, Morrison lodged similar charges of bullying.

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