Hardly anyone was on hand to watch five members of the Saratoga Springs City School District’s Board of Education usher in Chip Locke as their new leader.
The 8 a.m. special meeting convened at the district’s administrative officers on a bone-chilling Thursday morning drew only a Gazette reporter and photographer as an audience. Kurt Jaeger, the assistant superintendent for business, was the only administrator from the district to join the brief meeting to replace Ernest Gailor, the former president who abruptly resigned last month and then accused his colleagues of forcing him off the board.
The choice for the board’s new leader was uncontested among attending members, as was the nomination of longtime board member Russell Danforth to replace Locke as vice president. Danforth, however, was among three board members who didn’t attend the roughly seven-minute meeting.
“And our cars are still warm,” Locke said after dropping the gavel.
The board initially called the meeting last month to collectively vote for a candidate to fill a vacancy on the board that governs the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES. All 31 school boards in the BOCES were required to meet Thursday morning and, if possible, to cast a ballot in the special election.
While they were scheduling the special vote, the board collectively agreed to also select Gailor’s replacement. Jaeger said the move would allow Locke — the board’s acting chairman after Gailor’s departure — to begin his new role before the regular business meeting Tuesday.
“We had to have a duly constituted meeting to make that nomination,” he said. “Since we had a meeting already called, we took care of the issues of assigning officers to the board at the same time.”
Locke, now serving the first year of his second four-year term, agreed the board’s addressing its vacant leadership position was timely. For instance, the district awarded contracts associated with a $3.2 million capital project late last year and many still require the board president’s signature
“We were already going to be here, so we figured we’d take care of business now,” Locke said. “There are documents that need to be signed by the president, . . . so there’s a timing issue.”
Of course, the timing of the meeting on a weekday would have precluded most working members of the public from attending. Anyone who did choose to attend would have needed to present photo identification to the receptionist at the district’s administrative office — a building connected to the high school — and then wait until after 8 a.m. for school buildings to be locked once students arrive in accordance with district policy, regulations that remained in effect before Thursday’s meeting even though subzero temperatures delayed student arrivals for two hours before the meeting.
The selection of the board’s leadership might not have drawn much public attention had it not been for Gailor’s sudden departure, a resignation accepted at its Dec. 9 meeting. After leaving, Gailor decried the board as being subordinate to Superintendent Michael Piccirillo and claimed its members are indoctrinated into a role where they do his bidding without question.
Gailor said he was ordered to go on a 30-day hiatus from his elected position after confronting Piccirillo on the appointment of a middle school principal. When he and his wife attended a district lecture later that month, he said Locke issued him a scathing rebuke and questioned whether he’d step down as president.
Gailor also accused Piccirillo’s administration of not being responsive to the public on occasion. He claimed the district ignored parent complaints concerning several athletic coaches using swear words with students and a bullying problem at the high school that forced one family to seek an order of protection.
Though Thursday’s meeting doesn’t appear to directly violate the state open meetings law, the timing certainly doesn’t cast a favorable light on the board, opined Robert Freeman, the executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government. He said a judicial precedent exists that should deter governing bodies from convening at times when most interested people are precluded from attending.
“It isn’t under the cover of night, but it’s essentially the equivalent,” he said of the meeting.
Jaeger and Locke both said they haven’t heard much fallout from Gailor’s departure.
Next week, board members are expected to discuss either appointing an interim replacement to Gailor’s seat or leaving the spot open until district elections in May. The Tuesday meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Geyser Road Elementary School.
“We’re going to have that discussion at our next meeting and the pros and cons of doing both,” Locke said.
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