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District residents voice concerns

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WEST CARTHAGE — More than 300 residents maxed out occupancy Monday night at Keddy’s on State Street, night, wanting to know why the two top executives of the Carthage Central School District and a board member have recently resigned.

Christopher A. Lorence, owner of Christopher A. Lorence Public Relations and Marketing, and Scott M. Burto, West Carthage mayor, organized the forum for residents, teachers and parents to discuss their feelings on the three resignations, which have occurred in the past three months. The last resignation was by former Assistant Superintendent Jan B. LaRock, who cited “ethical reasons” for stepping down after 34 years in the district.

No school board members attended Monday’s meeting. Mr. Burto said that board members were not personally invited, but that they knew the meeting was occurring.

“This isn’t meant to be a witch hunt,” Mr. Lorence said during the meeting.

“We’re hearing a lot about ethics and the code of conduct and stuff like that,” he said before going down the list of the New York State Code of Ethics for Educators.

The presentation was disrupted momentarily by former school board member Christopher J. Kamide, who served the board for six years.

“If the superintendent wants to speak out, they can. If they want to speak out about what’s going on in the district,” he said, then looked around the room. “This is meaningless.”

He said board members are advised by the district’s lawyers not to speak about personnel issues.

“I’m (the) kind to defend the school,” he said. “It’s a thankless job.”

David H. Johnson, Carthage, agreed.

“We’re the ones that put them there in that seat, and I’d like to defend them until I hear differently,” he said.

Several people connected to the school district have told the Times in the last month that the August resignation of former Superintendant Joseph M. Catanzaro is related to a tenure issue involving Richard P. Weber, fine arts director. The sources said that Mr. Catanzaro wasn’t going to recommend Mr. Weber for tenure, but that Mr. Catanzaro and the board had arranged a deal in which tenure would be granted in exchange for Mr. Weber’s resignation.

Then, at a private board meeting at which Mr. Weber’s resignation was submitted, Board of Education President Michael P. Chevier stood up and said he would resign if Mr. Weber’s resignation were accepted. At that point, four of the board members reneged on the tenure-for-resignation deal, which then prompted board member Terry E. Freeman to resign.

Mr. Weber remains employed by the district.

During the forum Monday, several people were critical of how the school board is handling the crisis.

“The board president will not answer these questions. That’s why we’ve come to this,” Mr. Lorence said. “That’s the problem. We don’t know the truth.”

Joanne R. Dalton, a retired teacher, held a pile of 30 letters sent to her by educators who she said were fearful of attending the meeting and putting their jobs at risk.

“Mr. Chevier asked us to put our heads in the sand and do our job,” she read from one letter.

Some parents, albeit angry, were sympathetic to the board choosing to not answer the allegations of unethical behavior lodged by the three people who resigned.

“There’s one common thing here, and it’s fear,” said Heidi Jo Bailey, military wife and parent. “There are repercussions, and there’s fear. It might be further than the Carthage level, and we need to consider that.”

Mr. Burto mentioned the four- to five-person committee he is forming to present questions to the school board in a way that he said will not allow the board to use executive sessions and statements of “personnel” issues to remain silent. Although there is a board meeting tonight, these questions will not be presented until the Oct. 17 meeting.

However, Chris M. Ryan, parent and military spouse, said the Board of Education would not answer the questions until the November meeting.

“So you can ask and ask and ask, but they’re not going to answer,” she said. “I’m going there every single night and I’m going to be their worst nightmare,” she said.

Mr. Burto said he plans to contact the state Department of Education if questions remain unanswered after the committee presents its concerns at the Oct. 17 meeting.

He asks that residents send their specific question to him. He can be reached at sburt12@yahoo.com.

Former Times staff writer Jamie Munks contributed to this report.

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