Just six months after Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville School Board members appointed Laura Lawrence as superintendent, they’ve taken the job away from her.
At its meeting Wednesday night, the board voted 4-3 to put Lawrence on paid administrative leave for an unannounced amount of time.
The information comes from a news release posted on the district website. District officials refused to elaborate on why Lawrence was put on leave or comment on the move, forwarding all questions to Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES District Superintendent Patrick Michel.
Michel did not return multiple calls for comment Thursday but was quoted in the release saying that Lawrence’s leave is a personnel issue and will not be discussed publicly.
Left unclear is what chance Lawrence has of being reinstated — the wording suggests that she will be gone for a while, if not permanently. The release says Michel will take over as interim superintendent “until such time as the Board of Education appoints someone else to the position.”
Board members Cindy Breh, Neil Clark, William Lints and Susanne Sammons voted in favor of placing Lawrence on leave. Members Keith Handy, Lee Quackenbush and Renee Swartz voted against.
Sammons, the board president, could not be reached Thursday for comment regarding the narrowly passed decision.
The move is the latest administrative challenge for the small rural district, which was created last year when residents of the former St. Johnsville and Oppenheim-Ephratah central school districts voted in favor of a merger.
At that point Lawrence served as superintendent of St. Johnsville, while Dan Russom led Oppenheim-Ephratah. Early in the merger process, Russom and St. Johnsville Elementary School Principal Christopher Fatta were placed on administrative leave — effectively clearing the way for Lawrence to take over the new district.
Months later, the allegations against the two have still never been explained publicly. Fatta told The Gazette in June that he still wasn’t clear on why he was suspended.
The district news release also said the state Department of Education is currently investigating past grading and promotion practices in the former Oppenheim-Ephratah district. Michel is quoted saying the state’s investigation is unrelated to Lawrence, but he said nothing about Russom.
“We are prohibited by the state from discussing this investigation at this time,” Michel said in the release. “Once the investigation is complete, details will be released as appropriate.”
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