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.