One of three finalists for the vacant superintendent’s position in the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District was fired by her school board over her communications skills as a superintendent; a second candidate wants to leave his superintendent’s job because of frequent clashes with administrators, parents and teachers.
The Fonda-Fultonville Board of Education is well aware of the two candidates’ backgrounds, but they dismiss the problems as being mostly fabricated, said Patrick Michel, interim Fonda-Fultonville superintendent and superintendent at the Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services. School board members were not available for comment.
“For one guy, [the allegations] were fabricated. In the second, the board flipped and changed and wanted to go in a new direction,” he said.
Michel said he conducted thorough background checks on the candidates prior to presenting them to the board, which selected the finalists from among six candidates. The board hopes to fill the vacant superintendent’s position by Jan. 1.
The district is offering a salary of $120,000 to $140,000 for the position. It opened when James Hoffman left to lead the Averill Park school district this summer. Fonda-Fultonville has 1,450 students, a staff of 170 and an annual budget of about $24 million.
The finalists are:
u Berneice Brownell, who served as superintendent of the Eldred Central School District in Sullivan County. The Eldred school board fired her in 2010 with two years left on her five-year contract. The vote was unanimous.
Brownell has her bachelor of arts from UAlbany and a master’s in education from the College of St. Rose. She received a doctorate in educational leadership from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.
u Roger Clough, who is superintendent of the Massena Central School District in St. Lawrence County. Clough told the school board in September he did not want to renew his five-year contract when it expires June 2013. The Daily Courier-Observer said Clough’s tenure was marked by budget crises, calls for his resignation, allegations of poor morale among teachers and administrators, a legal battle with the former assistant superintendent for business and a vote of “no confidence” in him presented to the school board on a petition signed by 400 people.
Clough received a bachelor’s in elementary education and history and master’s in education from SUNY Postdam, and a master’s in education in school administration and supervision from St. Lawrence University.
u David Halloran, who has been high school principal in the Fonda-Fultonville district since 2007.
Halloran appears to be without controversy. He was hired from Johnstown High School, where he was assistant principal. Before that, he taught social studies at Tamarac and Ballston Spa high schools. He holds a master’s degree in education from Concordia University in Portland, Oregon and has his district administrator certification from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
union, board conflicts
Michel said Brownell’s problems started when the district began negotiating with its teachers union, which wanted significant annual raises that Brownell opposed. “She was very strong about not letting that happen. The teachers union ran their own candidates and they won and she would not change her position,” he said. “I was in Sullivan County when this occurred and I know her. She was not fired for incompetence or embezzlement and I do not find it an issue when superintendents stand up for something right.”
Michel said he does not know Brownell personally, only professionally during his tenure as superintendent of the Monticello Central School District in Sullivan County. He became BOCES district superintendent in 2010. The BOCES board recently renewed his three-year contract with no increase in salary.
Brownell retired after losing her job at Eldred, Michel said. In an interview she gave with the Times Herald-Record in 2010, she said the board told her she was a bad communicator and a poor fit for the 700-student district, but that the criticism never translated into specific charges. She earned $127,500 in 2010.
Her firing upset some district parents, who attended a school board meeting and called Brownell a good communicator and a good fit for the district. They asked she be reinstated.
Michel said Brownell was not fired. “There was a separation clause in the contract that the board could kick in. It bought her out,” he said.
In the case of Clough, organizers of a Massena-based group called “Kids First” welcomed his decision not to continue his employment with the district, according to an article in the Daily Courier-Observer. One parent told the newspaper that Clough “saw the writing on the wall” when two candidates were elected to the board in November. The candidates are outspoken critics of Clough, according to the newspaper.
Michel said Clough was a victim of character assassination by a “vindictive” former school employee who launched a negative publicity campaign that included a video on YouTube. “The board paid for an independent attorney who investigated the situation and all the allegations were false,” he said.
Michel said the “no confidence” vote occurred during negotiations with teachers. “If you are a superintendent and a leader and you want to make changes, you are going to upset some people,” he said.
Michel said Clough did not want to renew his contract because “he felt the situation in Massena had become so toxic he could not remain an effective leader.”
In the final assessment, Michel said the Fonda-Fultonville school board believes the finalists are good candidates. “I believe in this process and that is why we make this process public,” he said. “When you are doing due diligence you have to take time to do background checks to make sure stories are true and correct.”