SCHOOL BOARDS DIFFER ON FILLING SEATS

When it comes to filling vacancies opinions vary on allowing public input

LAUREN STANFORTH STAFF WRITER
Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Monday, August 24, 2009

Two local school boards are taking very different approaches to filling seats that unexpectedly became vacant this summer.


While the Schenectady school board chose to reappoint a former member who lost in May's election, Guilderland's school board is seeking public input as it moves to fill a vacant seat.


Guilderland is accepting letters of interest to fill the seat of longtime board member John Dornbush, who died of cancer July 8. The Guilderland school board will ask all candidates questions at a special public meeting Sept. 16 that will be broadcast on local cable access television. The Guilderland board will make its appointment Oct. 6.


Schenectady school board vice president and newcomer Diane Herrmann advocated to fill her board's vacancy the same way, saying an open process is critical given recent controversies in the district, including the arrest and indictment of former facilities supervisor Steven Raucci. District officials have refused to release their internal report concerning the district's possible knowledge of Raucci's alleged activities.


In both Guilderland and Schenectady, any new board member appointed would have to run in May to fill the remainder of the term. In Schenectady, the term runs until 2012; in Guilderland it is until 2011.


Schenectady's vacancy on its seven-member board comes after another newcomer, Joyce Wachala, who won in May after running on a platform of transparency along with Herrmann, abruptly resigned this month, citing health concerns regarding her son.


But four of the six school board members said a public process would appear fixed if they ended up selecting their favored choice, former school board member Linda Bellick, who Wachala beat in May by about 500 votes. The school board will vote on reappointing Bellick at Wednesday night's meeting.


Guilderland school board member Colleen O'Connell said her board briefly discussed reaching out to former school board members to fill the vacancy on the nine-member panel. But that idea was quickly abandoned in favor of an open process, she said. The Guilderland board never considered unilaterally appointing either of the two candidates who lost in the May election.


According to state law, Guilderland must fill the seat before next May's election, O'Connell said. As a small city district, Schenectady could legally keep its seat vacant but has chosen not to do so. Both boards decided against special elections because of the cost, about $6,000 to $9,000 for each election.


"We were pretty much in agreement that we just wanted the process to be as transparent as possible," said O'Connell. "I'd like to think (John) would be proud of the way we're doing it."


Herrmann took shots at her school board colleagues last week, saying they're not taking the May election results seriously and are "laughing at the voters." New school board President Maxine Brisport was the only other board member who wanted the appointment process open.


School board member Gary Farkas said he would have been interested in an open process if his former colleague didn't want the job. A week after the board made its tentative decision, Farkas is even more sure it's the right move.


"It's unfortunate Joyce resigned. At the end of the day, that's what brought us here; her leaving put us in this predicament," Farkas said.


The Albany city school district faced a vacancy dilemma last year. That board announced in August 2008 that it deadlocked on picking from a list of 10 candidates for a vacant spot after Teneka Frost's abrupt departure that spring. Board members opted to leave the seat open until the November election.


Lauren Stanforth can be reached at 454-5697 or by e-mail at lstanforth@timesunion.com.


BOX:


To apply to fill the Guilderland school board's vacant seat, submit a letter of interest or any other documents that may be helpful in the selection process by Sept. 11 to board President Richard Weisz, 6076 State Farm Road, Guilderland, NY 12084, or apply online at www.guilderlandschools.org.