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Answering questions

Lake George school Superintendent Lynne Rutnik addresses about 50 teachers at a faculty meeting on Friday to answer questions about the decision to eliminate the junior-senior high school vice principal position. 

LAKE GEORGE — The lack of transparency in decision-making, a potential rise in discipline issues and fear of other potential job cuts were among the main concerns expressed by Lake George faculty at a meeting on the district’s decision to eliminate the junior-senior high school vice principal position.

Also, students are circulating a petition in an effort to save the job of Cody Conley. The students will present their petition at the Lake George Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The plan calls for the job to be cut at the end of the school year and an interim K-12 curriculum and student support services position to be added next year. It would be a contract position with no benefits. Superintendent Lynne Rutnik said she envisions someone who has had district experience as a superintendent or assistant superintendent as being a good fit for the position.

Rutnik reiterated that the decision to cut the position was made based upon the goals of the strategic plan, which called for a more in-depth focus on curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

“It was an informed decision. It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen over a week. It didn’t happen over a month. Every decision I make is about teaching and learning and ultimately about supporting our students,” she said at a special staff meeting on Friday.

Because of the concerns from faculty and staff, Rutnik organized the meeting and extended invitations to about 200 people throughout the district. About 50 people attended. It began with a presentation from Rutnik to clear up misconceptions.

Rutnik reiterated that state standards are rapidly changing and Lake George wants to “raise the bar.”

The district’s declining enrollment played a factor in the elimination of the vice-principal position, according to Rutnik. However, she said it was not the sole factor.

Enrollment has dropped by 310 students over the past 10 years to 776 in 2018. It is projected to decline by another 167 students over the next nine years, according to a projection the district had done by the Capital Area School Development Association.

If the district does nothing differently, Rutnik said Lake George’s per-pupil expenditures would double from about $22,000 per pupil to nearly $44,000 per pupil in 10 years.

She was asked if the district could keep both the vice principal and curriculum director.

“I do not believe it’s fiscally responsible to move forward with the two positions,” she said.

Another concern expressed was about who is going to absorb Conley’s duties. Rutnik said the principal, curriculum director and superintendent will be taking over portions of the duties.

About 60 percent of the curriculum director’s job will be on curriculum and 40 percent on support services, such as supporting the counseling office, serving as the Dignity for All Students coordinator and reporting discipline incidents to the state, she said.

There are not a lot of discipline issues at the school, according to Rutnik.

If Conley is unable to find an administrative job in another district or does not wish to be an administrator, he has a guaranteed teaching job in the district, she said.

After Rutnik’s presentation, the faculty and staff broke into small groups for discussion with a facilitator from BOCES for an hour before coming back to report their findings.

Some of the teachers and support staff expressed the view that the reason there have not been many discipline issues is because of Conley’s proactive approach of heading off issues before they escalate into major problems.

Another concern expressed was the lack of transparency in the decision to eliminate the position. Faculty members expressed concern about not being included in the process. They said it seems to go against the culture of respect at the school and trust has been broken.

Rutnik said the school board cannot discuss personnel issues in public. She said as superintendent, it is her responsibility to evaluate staffing needs.

“It is a difficult role and I understand that sometimes many people disagree with my decision,” she said.

Another group suggested that the district should try to increase enrollment.

Faculty members said they are fearful that job elimination could happen to other positions in the future. One group said they would like to “hit the rewind button” on the decision.

Rutnik said she is aware there have been some heated exchanges on social media. She said the district is still working through how to deal with the controversy.

“We believe some latitude and tolerance are appropriate around the actions of a few,” she said, referring to social media commenters.

Rutnik said strategic planning can lead to some discomfort as the district is moving through the process. It will be beneficial for the district as a whole.

“I have no doubt we’re going to get there,” she said.

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reporter

Reporter for The Post-Star, covering the city of Glens Falls, town and village of Lake George and northern Warren County communities.

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