Walter Tice in his letter (“Don’t Be Distracted,” The Sag Harbor Express, March 21, 2013) charged that your paper’s reporting on Gregg Schiavoni’s recent resignation from the school board was deficient. He wrote that because of this ”there is a danger that the general public will be led to question the quality of the school board and the school district.” Questioning this board’s quality is exactly what all of us should be doing.
A past board member Anne Mackesey who served the district for 23 years wrote a thoughtful letter to the editor (“Expect Professionalism,” The Sag Harbor Express, March 14, 2013). She wrote “My decision not to run for a seventh term was based on many of the reasons Gregg expresses in your article”. She went on to offer a number of wise and constructive suggestions for how to improve a board’s performance. Points that this board should be considering.
Her letter was quite a contrast to Mr. Tice’s, who himself is a veteran of our board. I cannot blame Mr. Tice for judging Gregg Schiavoni’s resignation harshly. Many folks are shocked and disappointed by his decision not to serve out his term. However, Mr. Tice is wrong to insist that Gregg’s reasons for stepping down are invalidated or untrue simply because they were never brought to a public session.
At the start of last Thursday’s very well attended board meeting, Theresa Samot, the board’s president, chose not to acknowledge Schiavoni’s resignation. There was no statement offering anything reassuring nor was there any response to the Express editorial and the many letters in your paper calling for something constructive to come of all this. Instead, she allowed one of the board members, Ed Drohan, to set a very strange precedent and speak during Public Input Number One. He took to the lectern and read a lengthy diatribe claiming that he was speaking for only himself. His criticisms of Gregg were strong and unequivocal. “The board was being attacked from within!” he said. He showed an unwillingness to entertain anything that Gregg had said in any way. Like Mr. Tice, Mr. Drohan apparently believes that the only thing that is wrong here is Gregg Schiavoni.
When he finished, Mr. Drohan, who had another engagement, left the meeting. The board carried on without comment. It was hours later that the public pressed the issue. Susan Kinsella made it clear that she agreed with Mr. Drohan, leaving the impression that he was indeed the de facto spokesperson for the board. This was anything but reassuring!
Mr. Tice rose to speak and once again argue that we should ignore Gregg’s concerns because he failed to raise them in public. He also attempted to discredit Walter Wilcoxen. Only here, Mr. Tice said nothing about past board member Wilcoxen’s use of public sessions to move his views onto the public record. Nor did he mention that Wilcoxen served the district for six effective years or that Wicoxen’s problems with the board were nearly identical to Schiavoni’s. None of this should be considered, said Mr.Tice, because Wilcoxen refused to serve his third term. This is logic designed to steer the public away from any substantive debate. It is not helpful. Anyone who attended Wilcoxen’s board meetings knew where he stood and saw him to be a dedicated, thoughtful public servant doing his best.
To make matters worse, Mr.Tice and Mr. Drohan completely ignored one board member, sitting in the room, Mary Anne Miller. She has publicly stated that she shares Gregg’s concerns. How could the other seated board members allow such blustering to go unchallenged knowing as they do that she holds the same legitimate concerns as Mr. Schiavoni? Why could they not set a respectful tone? Many members of the public came to that meeting expecting thoughtful leadership not stonewalling.
Finally, in Mr. Tice’s letter he asks us to judge our current board “by the quality it maintains in the schools”. However, he knows full well that the many important decisions that were made by him and by others on past boards, years ago, have helped to get us where we are now. This board will be judged in years to come by the decisions and the best practices that it does or does not employ today. That is why all of this is so worrying.
There are problems that are persisting. Problems that threaten to turn back the many advances that the district has taken years to achieve.
Bryan, in your editorial, you wrote, “It’s incumbent that we take a closer look at how we do business to ensure we are truly doing so in the best interest and full view of the public.” This seems reasonable and wise. So what are we to think of a board that appears to disagree with you and chooses to allow such strident and defensive voices to speak on its behalf?
Questions for Board
I was concerned and upset to have read about Greg Schiavoni’s resignation from the Sag Harbor School Board. Regardless of what the majority of the existing and previous board members indicate publicly in The Sag Harbor Express over the past few weeks or at last Thursday night’s public meeting, this is not an insignificant event to be disregarded in a defensive manner.
Greg Schiavoni received the highest electoral vote in the board’s history indicating the value and respect he has in our community. He is now the second resigning board member in the past nine months to site a host of concerns that made it impossible for him to continue.
In the coming year the board will be deciding upon and choosing the next superintendent to head up the school system. The last thing we want to do is to have a board that ignores important professional practices and operates with discord.
My second concern is with the budget that was presented last Thursday night. The bottom line is that the board has gone over the budget from the mandated limits of the State, which requires a special election to approve the increases.
After sleeping on what transpired at last Thursday’s board meeting I woke up thinking “Why didn’t anybody ask if the board had examined the budget with the consideration to keep it within the state’s required margins?” Did the board really go over the budget line by line to see if they could have “No New Taxes?” I don’t think so.No one really even brought that up. And, if I’m not mistaken this was the first time some of the board member as well as the public even saw the budget in its entirety.
Something clearly is going on when two board members resign within the past nine months. That’s a fact. The public needs and wants to be involved and have access to the inner workings and decision making process of the board…. if I’m not mistaken, it’s required by law.
The BOE is expected to “adopt” the proposed budget on Monday, April 8, after having only reviewed it once, in its entirety. However, April 26, 2013 is the last possible date that a BOE can adopt the budget, according to NYSEd Dept.
I have a number of questions that should be addressed before the budget is approved:
-Wouldn’t it make more sense to spend a bit more time reviewing the overall budget with the community?
-Did we really work hard to trim the fat and make prudent choices?
-Did we review any possible changes to the status quo, so that we are responsive to the taxpayer and overall community?
-Do new programs need to be added, and if so have they been appropriately included in the current proposal?
-Furthermore, did the district offer any early incentive retirements for the staff members this year? (These types of options have been used to keep programs intact while allowing long time employees an opportunity to consider early retirement without losing benefits.)
-How does the current budget proposal set the district up for next year in terms of the fiscal health and the tax cap? (We know that each year, it will get harder and harder to sustain and maintain the status quo.)
-Was the budget created with a long-term view in mind?
Enough is Enough
My name is Ed Drohan and I am a member of the Sag Harbor Board of Education. I requested this time to address the meeting regarding my feelings on Gregg Schiavoni’s resignation, the events surrounding it, the aftermath, what lies ahead and a serious request to reach some insightful solutions to the unfair and tarnished reputation this board has received. I represent myself with my own views and I do not represent the board of education, or any other members.
Greg Schiavoni’s Resignation Letter
I was saddened and shocked by Gregg’s letter. He never identified his position on these issues publicly or privately to the board as a group prior to his decision to resign. I personally like and respect Gregg. If I had known I would have gladly met with him, discussed his grievances and apologized, or refuted them based on facts as they pertained to me.
Words hurt and the situation is hard to handle when criticisms and accusations are made to a group as a unit and not individuals.
Going beyond open and honest positive discussion of an issue there are many legitimate forms of disagreement.
My feeling is that criticizing a group when discussing an issue without identifying the members in alleged violation of the rules or policy in question is a very unfair practice. In its most dangerous form it can be a blanket indictment of a group, but only meant for a limited amount of people within a group. This type of criticism, and possibly slanderous commentary, has an undermining effect. It destroys the confidence and trust people have for each other, and it undermines the credibility of the group as a whole. It usually has very few facts which are not applied to specific people. Words like dysfunctional, micromanaging, blindsiding, grandstanding, disrespectful conduct, etc., put forth in a random manner condemning the board as a unit and not identifying specific facts and people involved, can be devastating to a group of hard working dedicated people trying to do a difficult job. The effect it has on the community that follows this kind of leadership and is influenced and driven by it, eventually not only destroys the board as a whole, but it can seriously damage the education process.
Sag Harbor Express (SHE) March 14, 2013 Issue
In responding to the editorial, the letters to the Sag Harbor Express, and the article quoting both current and past board members in last week’s paper, I will only address a few glaring differences I have with the presentations. The comments are my opinions alone, and are meant to address the Sag Harbor Express.
- In regard to the article quoting board members and presented as a prominent theme in your editorial, I may be on a similar but different planet. Carl Bonuso and Theresa Samot are the spokespeople for the board in a very general sense; out of respect for their leadership the majority of the members look to them to represent the board to the press in a nonexclusive manner. Three weeks ago I wrote a letter to the Sag Harbor Express, disputing a letter from the previous week that was challenging Dr. Bonuso’s contract extension by the board. I did not undertake this effort under the direction and permission of the board or its leadership and I was not reprimanded by anyone for it. The board may be guided by its leadership but we are not directed by it. No one on this board is, or ever has been, restricted by any sort of a gag order as the interview and the editorial implies.
- • Your editorial states the necessity for diversity on a school board. I have been a very diverse member of the board and have been outspoken in my opinions in public and I have been transparent regarding my views. You need only to check your records of my letters to the editor to verify that. I have never been part of any click or cabal and I have always voted independently on the issues put before me.
- This so called “dysfunctional” board, labeled so unjustly by its internal critics, has served this school district through one of the most difficult economic times since the Great Depression. It oversees and approves budgets, handles confidential legal issues, endorses programs, and has renewed the contract of one superintendent and hired another and extended his contract. It has endorsed the International Baccalaureate (I.B.) program and oversees the monitoring of its cost. It supports and approves athletic programs, clubs, and performing arts activities. It has refined this process of monitoring these costs to be more transparent to the community. It sets goals and objectives for the operation of the school district and tracks the progress. It is staffed by people that work hard and don’t always get along, but are all well intentioned in the work they do without salary or remuneration of any kind. Unfortunately, this board has been attacked from within and suffers from the community’s erroneous interpretation of its efforts, based on irresponsible and undocumented criticism from its internal detractors. As I stated earlier, words are harmful and the trickledown effect these undocumented, sensationalized and, possibly, slanderous comments have had on the community relationship with this board has been devastating. It has its problems, but it is not without accomplishment and it is not dysfunctional. I don’t believe it is a ship that cannot be righted. It is not a sinking ship. With some internal reform, its problems can be corrected.
What Lies Ahead?
- In the upcoming short period of time the board will have to be involved in major projects and negotiations. I.B. needs to be continuously monitored and its progress needs to be tracked. I believe Jeff Nichols will continue to do an excellent job in that area. He needs the board’s continued support.
- APPR (Annual Professional Performance Reviews) have to progress as a program and Carl Bonuso needs the support of the board and the union to accomplish desired results. I fully support dedication and teaching excellence. It would be nice if sometime in the near future after the economy recovers, a program could be instituted to reward exceptional performance by outstanding teachers, with substantial bonus rewards annually. I believe fair is not equal and outstanding performance should be recognized and rewarded with significance.
- 2014 will bring about another contract issue with the teachers and TASH. I hope the board’s communication with TASH is more open and that both sides treat the process with more respect and effective communication.
- All these efforts will be in addition to the workload the board is currently carrying. I hope the board regains the respect of the community that it supports, which has been lost through the efforts of its own members with their personal political agendas. This board deserves the fiduciary loyalty and respect of its members coupled with total transparency to the community.
- A serious request – PUBLIC DEBATE
I have often heard the criticism of anyone who wants to look back, long past the time that issues originally arose. In general moving forward is good advice. There are exceptions, however. Where problems or issues have not received closure or remain unsolved, history has a tendency to repeat itself. As a case in point, Walter Wilcoxen resigned from the board nine months ago with a letter to the Sag Harbor Express charging the board he had resigned from, with micromanaging, dysfunction, and rude and unacceptable conduct. Of course, he did not relate this conduct to any specific instances or individual members, or himself, but arrived at bold conclusions. This tactic could be considered verbal group bullying along with other things like veiled slander. At the time I really wanted to respond to these charges, but allowed myself to be talked out of taking any action or responding against him. In retrospect, I regret that. Nine months later, Gregg resigned from the board. His resignation is a virtual mirror image of Walter’s exit. This is a textbook description of history repeating itself. I have changed my mind and my approach to this recurring problem that has had a disastrous effect on this school district. I would like to readdress this problem with Walter in a public forum before moving on. It would be helpful to the community’s understanding of these accusations of blindsiding, grandstanding, micromanaging and other allegations. The public needs to know the detail, the specifics, and the facts behind these irresponsible generalized accusations. In the interest of fair play, honesty, and transparency this issue needs to be aired publicly. I am requesting that Elena Loreto and Chuck Neuman of the Noyac Civic Council, who have carried Walter’s message to their constituency, intervene and schedule this debate in the near future.
In closing I would like to thank the audience for their patience to listen to my side of this story. I value my reputation. When my time comes to leave this board I intend to leave the same way I came, with honesty, truthfulness and integrity. The axiom that to me best describes integrity states, “I would rather be disliked for being who I am, than liked for who I pretend to be.”
Sag Harbor School District Board Member