May 17, 2013
State testing, turnover topics at Homer school board forum
HOMER — Personnel turnover, student stress from increased state testing and state funding were the major topics at a Board of Education candidate forum Thursday evening.
Five candidates are running for three three-year terms. Board member Martin Sweeney, 21 of Brentwood Drive, Homer, is running for re-election. Richard Passigli, of 5 N. Main St., Homer; Katharine Dwyer, of 3667 State Route 13, Truxton; Mary Beth Mathey, of 1296 Bell Drive Cortlandville; and Gene Little, of 4569 Cosmos Hill Road, Cortlandville, are running for the open positions.
All attended the forum in the Bonne Auditorium at Homer Intermediate School, 58 Clinton St.
Board members Linda Battin and Nicole Albro Sprouse are not running for re-election.
One audience member asked the board candidates why the Homer district seemed to have “more than its share” of personnel turnover and why the changes had been made “in a veil of secrecy.”
Incumbent board member Martin Sweeney said that there had been a number of people in the district who have “moved on.”
“There have been truly meaningful and significant reasons for that,” Sweeney said.
But Sweeney did not go into specifics about the cases, adding that information about the personnel changes can be requested through the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Mathey, a lawyer who served a three-year term on the board from 2007 to 2010, noted that there are legal restrictions about discussing personnel cases.
“I know when a lot of people did leave it was for personal reasons,” said Dwyer, noting that she left her teaching position to be at home with her children.
Little declined to comment as he had not served on the board recently and was not familiar with the personnel changes.
Passigli did not answer the question but said that it was significant.
“I think you’re asking some very, very important questions that need to be analyzed very carefully by the future Board of Education,” was Passigli’s only comment.
Passigli retired from his post as the district’s director of special education in December 2011 after being placed on administrative leave.
Passigli declined to comment about why he retired after the forum, citing a confidentiality agreement.
Former business director Russell Hearton resigned April 12.
Hearton left for another job, Superintendent of Schools Nancy Ruscio said in April, but Ruscio did not know where he is working.
Ruscio did not think she was an authoritarian leader and that her management style was not the reason school employees have left, she said after the forum.
Listening to teachers, as well as parents and community members is very important, Ruscio said, pointing to the strategic planning process, a year-long goal setting procedure that sought input from all three groups in 2011-12.
“That’s an example of true shared decision making and empowering of our people,” she said.
The core of Passigli’s platform was developing a board that listened to teachers and other employees that deal with students on a daily basis.
Dwyer was focused on reducing students’ stress from increased state testing.
“I’m looking for a happier place for my kids because right now they’re not happy,” Dwyer said.
Sweeney also cited increased testing as a major concern.
“I think we’ve gotten test crazy,” Sweeney said, adding that the state mandates are causing morale to fall in the district.
Little, who said he had a business background, was concerned about getting funding from Albany at the same level that the district received before the state gap elimination adjustment began in 2008-09.
“We need to get for our children that which is owed, that which is paid into,” Little said.
Mathey stressed that she was not a one issue-candidate, but wanted school boards across the state to band together to put pressure on the state.
“Surely there’s strength in numbers,” she said.
Mathey also would like to decrease elementary and intermediate school class sizes.
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