Editorial: Rushed vote to hire next Mattituck superintendent

01/23/2014 9:00 AM |
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Mattituck-Cutchogue School District assistant superintendent and elementary school principal Ann Smith.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Mattituck-Cutchogue School District assistant superintendent and elementary school principal Anne Smith at a previous school board meeting.

There was no mention on the agenda for last week’s Mattituck-Cutchogue school board meeting that the district would consider entering into contract negotiations with assistant superintendent Anne Smith. That means the public didn’t know about the move ahead of time and residents weren’t aware they should attend the meeting if they wanted to speak for or against the possibility that Ms. Smith might take over for James McKenna when he retires this summer. The taxpayers who could end up paying Ms. Smith were completely shut out.

But it wasn’t just taxpayers who were disrespected. The surprise resolution was introduced and passed over the protest of three board members who cast “no” votes, arguing they’d been cut out of the process. Two board members said they wished to at least get to interview Ms. Smith. A third suggested the district go through the BOCES applicant selection system — standard protocol for school districts — to feel absolutely confident with the choice.

Board president Jerry Diffley explained after the vote that there “were two schools of thought” on the subject of appointing Ms. Smith. “One is that we should do a global search and another that we had a very highly qualified candidate that was interviewed,” he said.

Mr. Diffley exaggerates the minority opinion by using the term “global search.” It would seem the dissenters simply wanted to take the basic steps involved in hiring a new superintendent — one of the biggest decisions a school board member has to make. Even if the other board members were fighting a losing battle, certainly the majority could have made more of an effort to address the minority’s legitimate concerns.

In addition to teaching a lesson about closed government, the majority’s tactics could also hurt Ms. Smith.

The move resulted in a split vote on an important resolution — and a premature public announcement — that might have otherwise been unanimous, given a bit of extra time and cooperation. Instead of being celebrated as the first woman named to lead the district, Ms. Smith, after almost two decades of service, is being anointed under a cloud of controversy and discord, which could make an already challenging job that much tougher.