Mattituck school board elects new president; Diffley resigns

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07/10/2015 6:00 AM |
From left, Doug Cooper, Jeff Smith, Laura Jens-Smith and Jerry Diffley. Ms. Jens-Smith was elected president at Thursday's Mattituck school board meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

From left, Doug Cooper, Jeff Smith, Laura Jens-Smith and Jerry Diffley. Ms. Jens-Smith was elected president at Thursday’s Mattituck school board meeting. (Credit: Jen Nuzzo)

The Mattituck school board has elected Laura Jens-Smith as its new president and long-time president Jerry Diffley is leaving after serving on the board for 16 years.

During the Mattituck Board of Education’s annual reorganizational meeting Thursday night, two people — Ms. Jens-Smith and vice president Charlie Anderson — were nominated to serve as president.

Mr. Diffley, who has served as president for several years, nominated Mr. Anderson but the measure failed with only three votes after they both voted in favor along with board member Doug Cooper.

Ms. Jens-Smith received the majority vote on the seven-member board, with Bill Gatz, Jeff Smith and newly-elected board member Barbara Wheaton voting in favor of her nomination.

Ms. Jens-Smith was first elected to the board in 2011. The Laurel resident works as a project coordinator for North Fork Alliance and is currently running as a Democrat for a council seat on the Riverhead Town Board.

After the meeting, Ms. Jens-Smith said she has been interested in serving as school board president because she believes a change in leadership is important to gain different perspectives.

“It’s really important for us as a board to set our goals together,” she said. “It’s going to be hard. Jerry has been president for a long time and he has a wealth of knowledge. We’re going to have to work together to fill that void.”

After the vote, Mr. Diffley announced he’s decided to resign from the school board effective Aug. 1 and cited challenges he’s had since his work commute changed to Garden City about three years ago. He said he’ll work with Ms. Jens-Smith this month with the transition.

“I’ve been somewhat distracted here with the board as of late,” he said. “I think that’s a disservice to both the board and the community and therefore I didn’t seek nomination for president.”

When asked for comment after the meeting, Mr. Diffley added: “It’s been a pleasure serving the district. I hope I’ve contributed something to the district. My kids were born and raised here and I’m grateful to all the teachers and employees.”

Mr. Anderson said he while he was sadden to learn about Mr. Diffley’s decision prior to Thursday’s meeting, he’s grateful for Mr. Diffley’s teachings and guidance.

“The best thing is we became friends — I appreciate that,” Mr. Anderson said.

He was re-elected as vice president in a split vote.

Mr. Diffley had nominated Mr. Cooper, but Mr. Cooper declined the nomination and nominated Mr. Anderson instead.

Mr. Gatz had nominated Mr. Smith, but the measure failed after Ms. Wheaton broke from the pack.

At last year’s reorganizational meeting, the school board failed to elect a president after a heated argument between board members over accusations of breaking the state’s open meetings law. During that meeting, Mr. Diffley and Mr. Smith each received three votes and the board had to hold a special meeting for the absent board member, who had skyped into the meeting but wasn’t allowed to vote, to break the tie. Mr. Diffley was ultimately re-elected.

There are two years remaining on Mr. Diffley’s term. The school board has three options: hold a special election, appoint someone or remain as a six-member board until the May election.

The school board is expected to announce its decision at next month’s meeting.

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