Schenectady school board gets new leaders

Thursday, July 2, 2009
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— New leadership took over the Board of Education on Wednesday as Maxine Brisport was elected president and new member Diane Herrmann took over as vice president.

Herrmann also made an unsuccessful motion to rescind the board’s approval last week of contract extensions for several top administrators, including Superintendent Eric Ely. Others who got extensions were William Roberts, assistant superintendent for operations; Associate Superintendent and High School Principal Gary Comley; Human Resources Director Michael Stricos; Chief Technology Officer Lawrence Murphy; and School Attorney Shari Greenleaf.

Herrmann said there was no urgency to the board’s action since the contracts were not due to expire until 2010 or 2011.

Former President Jeff Janiszewski took issue with both the timing and the legality of the motion. He said five “yes” votes were needed to waive the rule that requires motions to be presented to the board more than 48 hours ahead of time.

In addition, he believed it would be “illegal as hell” to rescind contracts that have already been signed.

“My motion is not ‘illegal as hell,’ ” responded Herrmann, a practicing attorney.

“If it’s not,” countered Janiszewski, “there’s going to be problems between boards and superintendents throughout the state because none of their contracts are going to be worth anything.”

Greenleaf advised postponing any motion to rescind until the board receives legal counsel. She said ethically she could not offer legal counsel on the merits of the motion because her contract was one of the ones that was extended.

The board voted 5-2 against waiving the 48-hour rule, with Herrmann and fellow new member Joyce Wachala voting in favor. Herrmann is free to place it on the agenda of the next meeting, set for Aug. 26 at the high school.

Herrmann’s motion came at the end of a busier-than-usual organizational meeting. About 60 people attended the two-hour meeting at Schenectady High School’s Black Box Theatre.

Three candidates were nominated for president. Herrmann nominated Brisport, Wachala nominated Herrmann and board member James Casino nominated Janiszewski.

Casino credited Janiszewski for his “ability to motivate others to work together to achieve common goals.”

Janiszewski said he would decline the nomination after serving as president for five years. He said he believes the board has done good work raising academic achievement and improving school safety. He said it has been a difficult year, alluding to all the recent controversies, and said he was tired and a “fresh start” is needed.

“The president takes most of the media calls, whatever the board does. I have been a victim of character assassination by [Gazette columnist] Carl Strock for months now. He lied about me and my wife in his last column. It goes with the turf, I guess,” he said.

The motion to elect Brisport carried 6-1, with Wachala voting against it.

Brisport nominated Gary Farkas for vice president but did not receive a second. Janiszewski then put forth Herrmann’s name for consideration “in the spirit of unifying a fractured board from a divisive election.”

After both were sworn in, Brisport said the board has a lot of challenges before it but it should work together and put children first. “I challenge us to provide a nurturing, progressive learning environment that will ensure that all students reach their learning potential,” she said.

Then, it was on to business, starting with public comments. A couple of residents came out to complain about taxes.

Fred Buthe said his and many other people’s taxes skyrocketed: “I have yet to see anybody that has got less than a 20 to 30 percent increase in their taxes.”

Brisport struggled at times to get familiar with running the meeting and began to read the various resolutions — normally the job of the board clerk — when Janiszewski corrected her.

“That’s his part,” Janiszewski said, half in jest.

“You didn’t give me a book on it,” she said.

Herrmann lent her a copy of Robert’s Rules of Order.

In other business, the board voted to appoint Mariann Bellai assistant director of federal and state programs at a salary of $98,043. Janiszewski said this is not a new position but rather the district is expanding Bellai’s responsibilities. She is going to be building administrator at the new Howe early education center that will open this fall.

The board also voted to terminate the position of Terell Strickland, community outreach specialist. Ely said this is part of the reduction in force with the administration cutbacks.



July 2, 2009
1:18 a.m.
insidescsd says...

Good for the new board members. Keep it up, and keep it going. The community should show up to support them at the next meeting. Don't stop the pressure.

July 2, 2009
6:17 a.m.
rjsjsn says...

Well it's a start still need to get rid of Jeff J at least he did the right thing by refusing the nomination although probably because he knew he wouldn't win. Good Luck Maxine and the new members in fixing the sinking ship. Please repeal the extensions then next year we the voters will get some more new faces and then rid ourselves of ELY.

July 2, 2009
7:12 a.m.
jetlag says...

Now that there's a new board president and vice president, I hope the board will come together to continue the work of providing a positive atmosphere in the district. Hopefully, the residents will think back before all the controversy and remember that there are also some good things coming from the current administration...not that certain bloggers here will want to think so, but it's a free country. Time to move on.

July 2, 2009
8:26 a.m.
residentX says...

interesting that Farkas didnt get a second. Perhaps that was due to the fact that he is related to Janiszewski.

dont be surprised if not much changes. Many of the issues facing the district are due to the collapse of the city

July 2, 2009
8:41 a.m.
Artrina says...

Janiszewski doesn't give a 'care' about the school board - or the residents of the City of Schenectady - anymore, if he ever did. His son is out of high school and he knows there is NO way he'll be reelected next year. He might even be planning to leave the city and/or state because of the high taxes he's been a part of raising. He's probably laughing at all of the damage he managed to inflict before he left.

I wish the new board all of the luck in the world and I hope that the citizens give them a little time to undo the damage that the board of ed has managed to do in the past few years.

July 2, 2009
9:24 a.m.
artvandalay says...

If Jiffy Jeffy cared he would have resigned last night. He is still calling all the shots with his bombast to anyone who dares questions his leadership. What are these so-called lies? Get specific or shut up. Same old "crap"-Blame the messenger. Thank you Mr. Mitchell for not speaking.

Maxine seemed well intentioned but lost. Did she really want this-or was it Jiffy's idea? Jeff would have been re-elected if he wanted it. That's how detached from reality they are. Farkus had zero support and looked completely dazed. Many showed up in shock over the huge increases in their school tax bills. In a 90 minute meeting and the word learning did not come up one time.

July 2, 2009
10:21 a.m.
mbrisport says...

My note of thanks.
I would like to thank the district staff/faculty and community members who attended the reorganization meeting. I hope that level of attendance and support will continue as we move forward on what I know will be a positive direction. I would like to thank the board members for their confidence and trust in my ability in the effort to unify the school district and the community. I would also like to thank the new board for their willingness to serve our community and a special thanks to Diane Hermann for accepting the position of Vice President. For those who may my question ability to lead, I ask them to give me a chance. Yes, I am well intentional, but I do know that I cannot do this alone. Change can be drastic and create upheaval or change can be discreet and create solid results. It is my belief that our district has a solid foundation to build on. I truly believe that we have all the resources necessary to become an outstanding urban school district.

I am mindful that everyone cannot attend the board meetings. Therefore, it is my hope to continue to maintain a public openness by sharing my comments and thoughts as much as possible. I would also like to offer my e-mail address in an effort to address any questions, ideas, suggestions and comments as we move forward ( or

July 2, 2009
10:23 a.m.
mbrisport says...

My welcome to the new Board Members
Joyce and Diane, Welcome to the Governance Team. The road ahead is going to be full of challenges and you will realize that there will be a lot of expectations from many stakeholders. However, I know you are both up to the challenges that you will encounter. As a school board member you are given many roles… you are a representative, a leader, and an advocate. With the start of this new academic year, it is my hope that we will get back to the task of being a highly effective board that represents the community well. Specifically, it is my hope that we will work together to fulfill the public’s trust, and truly lead student achievement by devoting our intellect, energy and time to the tasks of working on the mission and vision of the district.
However, as a board member it is not our role to daily micro-manage the district, but please do not let that prevent you from being attentive to the needs of all those who put their trust in us. Teachers – and, for that matter, parents and students – want accountability that is done with them, not to them. They want to be respected and heard. If they are, and if we work together, recognizing that we all want what’s best for our children, we can find common ground on how to do this right. My advice to you is, listen keenly and ask many questions. There is a wealth of knowledge that you can draw from when the tough decisions needs to be made. Always remember that current board members are here to support you

July 2, 2009
10:24 a.m.
mbrisport says...

(Below is an abbreviated version of the comments/statements that I made at the meeting).
It is obvious that our school district is at a major crossroads, a true defining moment as we prepare for a new academic year. Specifically, as we think ahead about the students settling into their classes on the first day of school, there should be a feeling of hope and a renewed sense of optimism by the faculty, staff, parents, students, district leaders and the community. Therefore, I have a challenge for all us. I challenge us to unite for the distinct task of making our district a symbol of hope for each child that walks through our doors. I challenge us to provide a nurturing progressive learning environment that will ensure that all students achieve their fullest potential. I challenge us to provide an environment where our dedicated, student centered staff has all the resources they will need to provide a relevant curriculum in an environment that is safe, orderly and conducive to learning. I challenge us to be creative and consider innovative ideas. I challenge us to make all decisions after a thorough review of evidence, data and other sources. Finally, I challenge us to always respect the honor, the dignity, and the right of all stakeholders to voice their opinions and concerns freely.

I hope that these challenges were familiar and will be easily achieved. Specifically, they should have been and shall continue to be our daily guide because they are directly from the mission and vision statements of the Schenectady City Schools.

July 2, 2009
10:27 a.m.
FireThemAll says...

Tax and spend is all these people know.
Look where most of the public retirees go to spend their NY retirement checks: South to states with low tax states!

The school board is just a mouth piece for the teachers union. The teachers prompt the kids in class to go home and tell their parents who to vote for.

July 2, 2009
10:43 a.m.
CKL says...

Many congratulations Ms. Brisport- She will make a wonderful Board president- She and Mr. Farkas have always been the Board members who have always responded to any questions that I have asked- even when I dis-agreed with their decisions- they have always taken the time to explain why they voted the way that they did. I wish you all the best and hope that the new Board members remeber that you now represent the entire School District and all of the children and families- not just any one particular school

July 2, 2009
11:16 a.m.
artvandalay says...

Maxine is at least open. She has reached out to the reformers. What we saw last night was Jeff leading from the sidelines. That must stop. You are in our prayers and we hope we can turn the page from daily disgraces and horrible criminal revelations.

It would be refreshing to hear that someone actually made a mistake. Please allow anyone present to speak up without that City Council type list. Now is the time to find some budget cuts. Now is the time to return to neighborhood schools {K-6}. Now is the time to focus on learning in a safe environment. Now is the time to bring in parents and business leaders to help in this needed turn around.

July 2, 2009
11:24 a.m.
watchful says...

Yes, congratulations to the new school board members and also to newly elected president, Ms. Brisport. Change has begun in the SCSD and let's hope and pray it continues to be positive. Our children deserve it! The faculty, staff, parents, students, district leaders and the community need to work together for the common good of the SCSD. The reign of terror (by Raucci & his gang)is over so let's begin anew.

July 3, 2009
5:22 p.m.
mbrisport says...

This is in response to ResidentX,....Mr. Farkas is not related to Mr. Janiszewski. You probably did not mean that literally, but I thought I should clarify that fact.

July 10, 2009
4:07 p.m.

You really think that the teachers tell the students who to vote for? Are you obtuse or just plain stupid? You should have a little more respect for the hard-working educators that continue to endure the SCSD no matter what is done to them. The teachers are there for the kids, not themselves (though if this were true, they would be working for other districts).
Have some respect for that which you cannot do- inspire and support kids who truly need it.

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