LAKE GEORGE — School officials are criticizing the new Lake George United for Education group, saying it is making false and misleading claims about the process to eliminate the vice principal position at the high school.
The group has formed to protest the decision to cut the job now held by Cody Conley at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. The district says it wants to restructure the administration and hire an interim K-12 curriculum director instead.
School officials were still trying to find out more information when contacted on Wednesday.
Superintendent Lynne Rutnik said in an email that if the group is interested in supporting the needs of the district, she is excited to form a partnership and collaborate on common goals.
“However, the assertions they claim in the six-page letter not only paint our wonderful school district and its leaders in a negative light, but they are also completely false; the accusations serve to be contrary to what they claim to value,” she said.
One of the group’s main’s accusations is that the board made the decision out of public view, in violation of the Open Meetings Law.
Rutnik said the board followed all proper procedures with regard to the Open Meetings Law in terms of what can be discussed in executive session.
Rutnik confirmed that the actual decision to cut the job will have to occur in public session as part of the budget adoption process. She understands people can have a difference of opinion, but she and the board are committed to this course of action and to “move forward in a positive, transparent and collaborative manner,” she said.
Board President Tim Collins said in an email he takes exception to claims that the board is not willing to share why this decision is being made. The reasons have been explained on the website, in a staff workshop and through one-on-one discussions, he said.
Among the reasons the board wants to change the position is to have a more in-depth focus on curriculum districtwide. Also, the school has less need for the position because of the district’s declining enrollment, he said.
He also disagrees with claims the board has been meeting in executive session illegally to discuss these matters. The law allows the board to discuss “the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation.”
“What is being misrepresented by this group is that the discussions of the board of education in executive session were about abolishing a position. In fact, the discussions were about a reorganization, (not just abolishing positions) which involved the creation of and appointment of a particular person to a new position (i.e., an assistant superintendent),” he said in an email. “A discussion of the qualifications of a particular person for appointment to such position is appropriate for executive session. Moreover, no action was taken in executive session and therefore there is no actionable violation of the Open Meetings Law.”
The issue is being clouded by irrelevant and untrue comments, he said. The goal is to reorganize the administrative staff for the betterment of the district as a whole.
“The law is clear on this matter — subject to the rights of employees to notice and recall, a board of education has absolute discretion to determine its staffing needs. Boards can abolish positions based upon fiscal or educational needs, including the reorganization of its administrative structure. That is exactly what happened here,” he said.
Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government, disagrees with the district officials. He said the board would legally be allowed to go into executive session if it wanted to remove employees because of their performance.
“If the issue focuses on the position, it’s clear there would be no basis for conducting an executive session,” he said.
He said there is case law on the subject. Among the issues that should be discussed in public session are whether the district could afford the position or whether it wants to change the structure of the administration. It does not matter who the occupant of the position is, he added.
“We public employees have less privacy than anybody else,” he said.
The school board is set to meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Lake George Elementary School.