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Where are we going?


Concerns over Douglas H. McQueer’s job performance were cited as the reason for the Hammond Central School District Board of Education choosing not to renew his contract as superintendent.

But the actions of board members raise questions about how well they are doing their jobs. The unanimous vote they took to search for a new superintendent occurred July 10 — a day after they decided to reappoint Mr. McQueer to his position.

But the July 10 vote appears not to have settled the issue. When about two dozen people attended the school board’s July 25 meeting to ask why he was being let go, board members said they were willing to reconsider their previous vote.

What’s going on here? Do we have a Board of Education that can’t make a decision and stick with it?

Board members have been vague about their rationale for voting not to renew Mr. McQueer’s contract. While Mr. McQueer is a public figure, he also is an employee of the Hammond Central School District.

And as his employer, district officials have an obligation to keep certain personnel issues confidential. There are privacy concerns that even public bodies must take into consideration.

Therefore, specifying all the reasons why they chose not to renew Mr. McQueer’s contract may not be possible. There are legal issues to contend with when dealing with job evaluations.

However, discussions about how well the superintendent is managing the district’s educational affairs are public. Despite the veil of secrecy, there are some indications as to what board members were thinking in this instance. And we can draw a few conclusions from comments that were made public.

School board President Timothy W. Pitcher said there were “ongoing issues concerning job performance” and poor evaluation scores. This implies that board members have been concerned for a while with how well Mr. McQueer has been doing his job as an educator.

Thomas R. Burns, superintendent of St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and a consultant for the state, has been advising Hammond Central School District officials on finding a successor to Mr. McQueer.

Mr. Burns has said, “Nobody likes for this to happen, especially under a philosophical disagreement for the future of leadership.” This complements Mr. Pitcher’s assessment that the board wishes to move in a different direction, showing board members had differences with Mr. McQueer on this point.

School board members appear to be on the fence about what they want to do. One day they reappoint Mr. McQueer as superintendent; the next day they give him his walking papers. Then two weeks later, they claim his future with the district remains an open question.

St. Lawrence County has many small districts that are challenged by rising costs and reduced state aid. Residents in the district can reasonably ask whether the argument between the Board of Education and Mr. McQueer is centered on whether the district should be absorbed or merged with another school system. An argument about the future strategy of providing public education is not a private, secret matter.

In any discussion about what direction to move, the district must take into account the thoughts of those who fund it and send children there to be educated. Mr. McQueer has his supporters, and they deserve to make their views known.

But regardless of whether his contract is renewed, residents should help chart any new course for the district. To ignore them by keeping public policy decisions secret overlooks the most important stakeholders here: Hammond Central School students.

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