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Clifton-Fine Central considers filling board seats

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STAR LAKE — Upheaval continues to dog Clifton-Fine Central School, which has had two members of its seven-person Board of Education resign.

The board had a tumultuous year after it failed to negotiate a contract to keep interim Superintendent Susan O. Shene. Meetings were divisive, with back-and-forth accusations flying among board members, teachers and residents.

Three board members — Michelle L. Durham, Richard W. Hitchman and Robert P. Tebo III — were replaced by newcomers Christopher E. Cooper, Robert E. Lachut and Christopher L. Westbrook in the district election earlier this year.

Recently, Mary L. Fraser left the board for personal reasons.

“It wasn’t anything related to the board,” President Jeremy E. Thompson said.

The latest departure came at the end of a special board meeting Oct. 24 when Daniel E. Kerr II resigned.

In a letter, Mr. Kerr said that serving on the board was not what he expected and that his children are suffering because of the positions he has taken.

“In the past few months, I feel the control of the board is gone, the respect and trust is also gone,” his letter said. “The decisions I have made as a board member were my beliefs of what was right for the school, students and community.”

The special meeting was called for the appointment of Shelby Grigg as the elementary girls’ basketball coach. Mr. Hitchman resigned from the position after the board earlier decided to merge the girls junior varsity and varsity basketball program with Harrisville Central School. Mr. Hitchman also had coached the higher level team.

“The biggest reason behind this was simply enrollment,” Mr. Thompson said.

Neither Mr. Hitchman nor Mr. Kerr was available for comment.

The remaining members of the board may take some time deciding what to do about the vacancies, especially since only Mr. Thompson and Gilbert Guiles have more than a few months’ experience on the board and Superintendent Regina C. Yeo has been on the job only a relatively short time.

“I think it’s important not to rush into things,” Mr. Thompson said. “What is the best option for the district?”

He said he has asked for advice from the district’s attorneys, the state School Board Association and St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Thomas R. Burns.

Clifton-Fine has four options, Mr. Burns said.

The board could leave the seats vacant, but that could make it difficult to conduct business if a member missed a meeting.

“You have to maintain the original quorum,” Mr. Burns said.

The board could schedule a special election or it could appoint members.

“There are different methods,” Mr. Burns said. “I’ve seen districts do that different ways.”

Appointments also could be made by Mr. Burns, which he wants to avoid.

Mr. Thompson said he did not want people, unhappy with decisions made by remaining board members, to think they are not represented.

“They have the right to voice their opinion and have it listened to,” he said. “I want everyone to feel comfortable with approaching me as a board member and I will explain why I voted the way I did.”

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