She’s absent without leaving

Hudson school board removes member only to find it lacked a vote
HUDSON–The Board of Education voted Monday, June 10 to remove one of its own members, because of repeated absences. But the decision of the board, which split in a 3-to-2 on the measure, is not binding, according to school board president Kelly Frank.

Meanwhile, the status of another potential school board member is in limbo, because she is currently a school district employee, and the deadline for her to take her oath of office for the school board comes before the first day she can retire from the school and receive full retirement benefits.

These two unresolved issues leave the board, which is supposed to have seven members, with only five active members at the moment.

The vote Monday was taken in response to weeks of absences from board meetings by school board member Elizabeth Fout, still listed on the district website as vice president of the board. Her term does not expire until June 30, 2014. After the board reconvened in public following an executive session, the motion to remove Ms. Fout from the board was introduced by board member Tiffany Martin Hamilton and adopted.

Ms. Frank said in a brief telephone interview Wednesday that the school board bylaws and state law give the board the authority to remove a member who misses three or more board meetings in a row without offering “sufficient reason” for not attending. She said the law identifies that many unexcused absences as “a refusal to serve.”

Ms. Frank, who voted for the removal of Ms. Fout said that although the three members of the board who favored the removal of Ms. Fout constituted a majority of members present Monday evening, the law requires that a majority of the full board–four members–must approve a motion to expel a board member.

The board has had recent contact with Ms. Fout. “I was under the impression she was going to be present,” Ms. Frank said by phone. She added that the board had communicated with Ms. Fout after the last board meeting that she hoped Ms. Fout would attend the board’s next meeting.

Board members Hamilton and Carrie Otty also voted for removal. Opposed were board members Jeri Chapman and Peter Rice.

The other unresolved board personnel issue results from the resignation in April of former board President  Peter Merante, which created a vacancy. At the school district budget election in May voters elected Dr. Lynn Lee, a Hudson high school science teacher, to fill the two remaining years of his term. But the law does not allow a school district employee to sit on the board. Dr. Lee plans to retire at the end of this year, but to get full retirement benefits, she reportedly must remain a district employee until June 30. That conflicts with the deadline for taking the oath of office as a school board member, which she must do by June 20. Neither the district nor Ms. Lee has indicated how the impasse will be resolved.

In other school board business this week:

*A student essay winner received recognition, members learned that student Zyan Brown won the statewide Elks Drug Awareness essay contest for 7th and 8th graders. It is the first time a Hudson City School District student achieved first place the competition, which drew about 200 contestants. Zayn’s essay will now enter the nationwide contest.  
His essay, which he read out loud at the meeting in the Hudson High School Library, where there were more spectators than chairs, said he has chosen to avoid drugs, that his biological mother is a drug addict and as an infant he entered foster care. When he wrote the essay last January, he was 12 and had seen his biological mother only twice in his entire life, although they occasionally talk by telephone. 
Zayn was introduced by Mr. Merante, chairman of the Drug Awareness Program of the Hudson Lodge of the Elks Club.
*Also recognized was HHS senior Meagan Pinkowski, president of the Student Council and student representative to the board. The Board thanked her for her diligent work this year, and two students gave her a bouquet of flowers.
*District Superintendent Maria Suttmeier and President Frank gave a presentation presentation of efforts planned for students with special needs, including those in special education and those at risk of not graduating from high school. Ms. Suttmeier said the current system makes “all students pass through the eye of a needle” and expects them “to graduate in four years.”  As a consequence, she said, “we aren’t graduating as many students as we should.”  She believes some students need different paths through high school than the conventional one.
Ms. Suttmeier recalled that once Hudson City Schools had an alternate learning program, but it was closed in 2010 and the district lacks the resources to serve special needs students on its own. Instead it is exploring partnerships with other districts.
One such program under development is the Tri-County Partnership for special education students in Columbia, Greene, and Rensselaer counties, which she said was is promising and serves as a prototype for other districts across the state. “We should be proud we started it,” said Ms. Suttmeier.
Another is the Columbia-Greene Partnership Academy for at-risk students. One contributor to this arrangement will be the Berkshire Union Free School in Canaan, which plans to lease a building in Hudson to offer alternative education for 25 students in the 9th and 10th grades identified as high risk.  The district has applied for a grant of $210,000 and so far is confident of getting $150,000 of it.

In still more business this week the board:
•Honored boys’ varsity tennis players received for maintaining an academic average of at least 92 while playing sports
•Heard Mark Brenneman, principal of the Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School, has received the Empire State Supervisors and Administrators Association Administrator of the Year award for Capital Region 5. 
The next School Board meeting will be Monday, June 24, at 7 p.m. at the Hudson High School library.

Editor Parry Teasdale contributed to this story.

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