It seems fairly clear what caused three of the Mechanicville City School District’s seven school board members to resign in protest last week, and it’s cause for concern among district residents.
There was a majority bloc on the board led by President Shannon McHale, which tended to think alike and vote alike on most matters. Even worse, it appeared not to take the other board members’ opinions seriously. And so the other board members — Joanne Boisvert-Fraser, Anita Carney and Michelle Guido — have quit.
The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back was the three-year contract extension given Superintendent Michael McCarthy Monday night, approved by the usual 4-3 vote. The majority bloc let the minority in on the process but only a week prior to the vote, providing insufficient time for review. McCarthy still had 16 months to go before his current contract expired, and while it’s common for superintendents to be given renewals a year early, there was no need for such a rush here.
McCarthy has been somewhat controversial in the district, and his last contract renewal had been for just one year, instead of the typical three. This time — perhaps because he’d let it be known he was job hunting — the majority decided to go back to three years. And it also provided him with a new, potentially costly benefit — annual incremental raises tacked onto his base pay. Normally such raises are given only to teachers, in addition to their annual cost-of-living raises. McCarthy got those, too, in the second and third years of his contract; plus a $3,000 stipend for his doctorate every year — also tacked onto his base pay.
Admittedly, the raises were modest, but given McCarthy’s current compensation — $146,000, or $46,000 more than what he was hired for just six years ago — and given the likelihood of layoffs in the district due to budget constraints, the minority members were justified in wanting to be part of a discussion with their board colleagues. And it’s hard to blame them for resigning.
The school board has seven seats for a good reason — to maximize debate and keep power from being concentrated in too few hands. Mechanicville’s bloc of four need to stop running the school district the way New York’s “three men in a room” run the state.