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Fountaine: Massena district headed in wrong direction

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MASSENA - One of the five candidates vying for two seats on the Massena Central School Board of Education says he’d like to help reverse the direction of a district that he feels is going the wrong way.

“I see this school district going in the complete wrong direction in many facets,” Loren Fountaine said.

A labor relations specialist with NYSUT (New York State United Teachers), Mr. Fountaine said he sees a number of areas that need to be addressed in the district.

Among them, he said, is a decision to go directly to a contingency budget after their 2011-12 budget failed last year, and now the outsourcing of the business office to the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services.

“With Cyndi (Yager, assistant superintendent for business) leaving and the budget the way it was handled last year, we’re in danger of setting the district backwards,” Mr. Fountaine, 35, suggested.

“Cyndi had built a great budget in the past in the district and the notion that the people in power did that is an absolute farce. The reason the school is in good financial condition is Cyndi Yager,” he said.

District officials had gone to voters last year with a 1.8 percent tax levy increase and, with the budget’s defeat and the move immediately to a contingency budget, Mr. Fountaine said it was costing the district $320,000 a year.

Now, he said, they are going to “farm off the entire business manager’s office to BOCES for a savings of $160,000. It’s one-half of what the contingency budget cost last year.”

Mr. Fountaine suggested that the budget might have passed if it had been reworked and put up for a another vote, since the concern was about saving programs and positions.

“Many teachers voted the budget down and many people in the community voted it down because they wanted to save programs,” he said.

Mr. Fountaine said that, if elected, he also wants to make sure teachers are happy in their classrooms, something that isn’t happening now.

“You have a school system where the staff is not comfortable at work right now. We never heard about the kids anymore. Although the motto is Kids First, no one talks about the children anymore. It is impossible to be a passionate educator if you’re not comfortable in your own job, and the kids suffer,” he said.

“Many people say it’s perceived. In my opinion, that’s irrelevant. If the feeling is out there, we need to fix it and not dig in our heels. This is not one or two people. Anybody who believes that this is not a major problem in the district is living under a rock. The community generally wants what’s best for the kids, and we need to find a way to make teachers comfortable in their own classrooms to educate kids,” he said.

“The taxpayers can’t take it anymore. We’re losing state aid; we have a shrinking tax base. We have enough problems to deal with. The last thing we need is teachers uncomfortable in their classroom. We need to find a way to fix the problem. I think it’s a priority that we need some change,” he said.

Mr. Fountaine said the district needs to “create a new environment where people feel comfortable airing their concerns. We have to change this notion of sides. We have to come together. The board needs to take steps to understanding what’s creating the low morale. We have to build a bridge, and we have to get to the bottom of low morale and listen to people.”

He also suggested that the district needed to hire a new attorney to replace Frank W. Miller.

“Even if Mr. Miller is not the problem, maybe his advice is not the problem, but a change of face and some different advice is what the district needs,” Mr. Fountaine said, noting that the district could take advantage of human resources services offered by BOCES and receive reimbursement.

“I’m very surprised to hear some board members say at a meeting that we use BOCES every way we can, yet we’re one of only two schools in the county who don’t use BOCES human resources for negotiations. We could be saving a lot of money by using the BOCES HR service. Instead, it appears as though the agenda gets in the way of saving money here,” he said.

Mr. Fountaine, who taught at St. Lawrence Central School for eight years and Lisbon for two years, has two children who attend Jefferson Elementary School. His wife is a first-grade teacher in the district.

But, as a NYSUT representative, he stressed he would look out for all constituents if elected to the board.

“There are two areas where I would always abstain - grievance hearings and approval of negotiated contracts. I would not serve on the negotiation committee of a school board. I’m not interested in trying to further anybody’s issues. I have two children in the district who I want to have a good education. I see a school that is just in disarray right now. I am passionate about children, I am passionate about them getting a great education,” he said.

“When I see something that is so fundamentally wrong right now, I have a desire to make it better,” Mr. Fountain said. “I do not have a desire to go tit for tat with anybody. I have a desire to build a bridge and fix that problem.”

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