Thursday May 16, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- There was a strong show of support for the Cambridge Central School superintendent following word that his contract won't be renewed and discussion of an early buyout.

Residents and recent graduates, past and present staff, a building principal, and this year's graduating class valedictorian were among more than a dozen who spoke in favor of Superintendent Vincent Canini at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Hired in July 2009 following three predecessors over the span of three years, the superintendent's contract expires in June 2014. Two board votes over the past year have failed to extend that term despite positive evaluations.

An executive session May 7 for personnel matters found Canini had on average met or exceeded expectations laid out in the board's evaluative rubric, according to board member Paul Baker-Porazinski, speaking at Tuesday's meeting.

"However, talking with Mr. Canini, he has indicated to me that he was subsequently contacted by (district Attorney Jeff Honeywell of Girvin & Ferlazzo) and he was informed that his contract was not going to be extended, that he would soon be receiving a letter, and additionally he was asked -- and I quote -- ‘I have been authorized by the board to ask you how much it would take to get you to leave early,'" Baker-Porazinski said. He said a "buyout" was not something he or board member Tom Wolski were consulted on or informed of prior to the district counsel's phone call to Canini.

Baker-Porazinski said he had been unable to attend the private session, while Wolski "walked out" before the meeting concluded according to board member Lillian Herrington.

An early buyout would require board approval in public session as an expenditure of funds. Minutes from the May 7 meeting show no motions to that effect, and the four board members in attendance Tuesday said they had not authorized a buyout.

The executive session did include an informal poll whether to extend the contract. Baker-Porazinski said the public wasn't owed just a vote but an "honest, open deliberation of how we each arrived at our vote."

"We have the power to do what we feel is the appropriate thing to do, but we also have the responsibility to be accountable for our decisions," he continued.

Tuesday's meeting and budget hearing was standing-room-only with board President Kerri Brown conspicuously absent, recent graduate Chris Crucetti noted in public comment.

Brown did not return phone calls Wednesday.

"I hope the board notices how many teachers are here tonight, because we as a faculty association are deeply disappointed in the actions of the board in not renewing Mr. Canini's contract," said the president of the Cambridge Faculty Association, Donna Phinney. "We're proud to work for him and we want to continue to work for him."

"You've basically slapped all your employees in the face."

Teacher Colleen McDonald said she was "deeply disturbed" by the direction of the board. "I have a history in my head of the people we have lived through -- some of whom we've had to endure," she said, continuing to add the superintendent had since brought stability. "He has been fiscally responsible to district taxpayers while successfully working to maintain the quality of education."

Through 26 years of employment at the school, McDonald said a buyout of a superintendent had been discussed once before, "I will add, at high cost. The decision had the full support of not only the board of education but the community and the CFA in their action. That is not currently the case."

Resident Katherine Kelleher said she had Herrington visit her residence opposing this year's proposed budget. "My question is why would a board member support the budget at meetings and then campaign out in the community against it?"

"We here at Cambridge can now say we are now in very good fiscal shape," Kelleher said later during the meeting. "If you think Mr. Canini isn't the best person for this job, then you don't know much about school budgets."

Elementary Principal Colleen Lester said she had come to rely on the superintendent for stability. "Whatever happens in this district, this man deserves a positive reputation," she said.

"I just want to say this is unfortunate, this is stressful, this is unstable, and I hope that whatever business has to happen, it happens quickly and it doesn't affect the children," Lester continued. "It's permeating things. It's palpable right now."

"This past year has been like a bad movie -- I would go as far as to say a bad reality show," said physical education teacher and Athletic Director Deb Lauver.

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