LAKE GEORGE — A couple dozen school staff members and some parents came out Thursday at the start of a Lake George Board of Education executive session meeting to express concern about the decision to eliminate the vice principal job at the junior-senior high school — even though no public comment was being taken.
The district announced Monday that Cody Conley’s position was being eliminated at the end of the school year and an interim curriculum and student services and support services position is being added to focus on aligning the curriculum to state standards.
Teachers and parents crowded in the district’s small conference room for the 4 p.m. meeting.
Board President Tim Collins offered a motion to go into an executive session to discuss “matters leading to the appointment, employment, dismissal or removal of a particular person.”
A member of the public interjected, alleging that the board was not actually discussing the dismissal of a particular person, but the elimination of the position in general.
Collins cut him off.
“We’re actually not having public discussion here. We’re in the middle of the motion, the action that we’re taking here,” he said.
The board then voted to go into an executive session, which lasted for one hour and 45 minutes. BOCES District Superintendent James Dexter was also present for about an hour of the meeting. School districts reach out to BOCES for guidance and assistance on various issues.
No action was taken. Collins declined to say what was discussed in executive session.
When asked in a follow-up email if the decision to eliminate the position was irreversible, Collins did not completely rule it out.
“The board is listening to feedback from all constituents at this time and has appreciated the many viewpoints that have been presented. No decision is final until a formal vote has been taken and we plan to continue to listen to feedback until that occurs,” he said.
He did not state when that would happen. The board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 13.
However, Collins said the board supports this course of action.
“The Board of Education is always focused on making decisions that are in the best interest of the students of our district. We are confident that we are providing the resources necessary to meet the needs of our students, make important curriculum improvements, all while remaining fiscally responsible,” he said.
Collins said the timeline for the decision to eliminate the position began a few months ago as the district began thinking about how to align the district’s budget to the objectives outlined in its strategic plan.
“The board worked collaboratively with Superintendent Rutnik to review and discuss the information pertaining to this issue. As all school boards should do, any decisions made by the board are at the recommendation of the superintendent,” he said.
He said the board did not discuss the issue publicly or involve staff, to protect the privacy of the employee. Collins reiterated that as soon as it was clear this was the direction supported by the board, it wanted to inform Conley immediately to allow him several months to obtain future employment.
When asked why Dexter was there, he said “the board and superintendent respect and value his knowledge and experience in dealing with issues throughout our BOCES district.”
When asked whether the board stood behind the superintendent, Collins said Rutnik has its full support.
Rutnik has nearly 2 1/2 years left on her contract, which runs through June 30, 2020. Her 2017-18 salary is $145,000.
Parent Katie Bruening was among those who attended the meeting. She was a member of the SPARC Committee, which provided input into the new strategic plan.
Bruening said she was caught off-guard by the decision and said it was made without the input of the staff.
“It’s an uninformed decision because you haven’t talked to the people in your school who have the most direct contact with your students,” she said.
Parent Jeannine Bieber said the students’ social and emotional needs have to be supported. These issues have increased, particularly in the era of social media.
“It would be absolutely dangerous to cut this position,” she said.