The Oysterponds Board of Education is getting a marriage counselor. After three successive volatile meetings since three new members took their seats on the seven-person board, new president Deborah Dumont has asked Eastern Suffolk BOCES chief operating officer Gary Bixhorn to intervene.
Mr. Bixhorn has suggested a board retreat on Oct. 5, but the date needs to be adjusted to accommodate various board members’ schedules.
On Tuesday night, some 20 residents attending the meeting were shaking their heads in wonder as they watched board members conduct business. Two members — former board president Walter Strohmeyer and newly elected member Thom Gray — spent hours sparring with each other and trading insults.
The lack of respect and trust between the two members has led to prolonged arguments over practically every resolution. The actual work accomplished by this board in more than three-and-a-half hours would have been done by other boards on the North Fork in less than an hour.
In addition, the wrangling resulted in a lack of clarity about whether or not resolutions on some issues had passed, failed or been tabled or withdrawn.
Ms. Dumont and the other four board members appeared helpless to stop the blood-letting, and audience members characterized the meeting as “shocking” and “embarrassing.”
“This board is a travesty,” said former member Carl Demarest, who was defeated in his re-election bid in May, as he strode out of the room after being stonewalled when he asked about the cost of an audit and who had authorized it. Traditionally, other boards, lacking immediate answers, have told questioners they would get answers at the following month’s meeting. This board made no such offer.
“You guys are all crazy,” member Krista de Kerillis told her colleagues, abstaining from a vote over whether to admonish four board members who had voted in August to roll back the contract with Greenport for educating Oysterponds secondary school students. She equated it the resolution to asking her young daughter if she should be given a time out when misbehaving.
That resolution, proposed by Mr. Strohmeyer, failed. Another resolution he proposed would have admonished Superintendent Stuart Rachlin for not having advised the board that it had acted illegally in rolling back the contract. Mr. Strohmeyer withdrew the resolution after the new board attorney, Warren Richmond, advised members that publicly criticizing the superintendent could violate his contract. Mr. Richmond also advised board members against admonishing any members for their votes, explaining that there’s no mechanism in school law that allows a board member to be reprimanded.
As for the contract rollback, it still stands because the board has 20 days from last Thursday, Sept. 16, to respond to an objection Greenport filed with the state seeking to overturn the board’s action.
The final decision on whether the contract rollback was proper will then fall to the State Education Department.
In the only comment on the issue, Ms. Dumont said, “I can understand why Greenport did that.”
Board members turned back a resolution that would have put Mr. Richmond at every meeting at cost of $210 an hour. Instead, after much wrangling, they agreed that a board member could request his presence to deal with specific issues at upcoming meetings by notifying the entire board of the request.
Another issue over which board members wrangled was whether to authorize a shared decision-making team, mandated by state law as a way to involve community members and students in district operations. Every other district in the state has such a group, which traditionally is asked to tackle specific issues and to make recommendations to the board, which has ultimate decision-making responsibility.
But Mr. Strohmeyer said he feared that the shared decision-making team would take away board power on such issues as budgeting. Board member Linda Goldsmith argued that she didn’t want the team involved in anything dealing with special education, fearful that confidential information would reach too many people in the small community. Again, Mr. Richmond jumped in, advising members that final approval would always be up to the elected board. The resolution finally passed.