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Two candidates bow out of Massena School Board forum

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MASSENA - Two candidates for the Massena Central School Board of Education have opted not to participate in tonight’s forum being sponsored by the Massena Federation of Teachers.

Gregory C. Fregoe and Eva Waters have notified MFT organizers that they will not be present at the 7 p.m. forum at the Massena Elks Lodge, Bowers Street.

“Initially, we requested a copy of the questions to be asked as an assurance that this would be an open discussion of all topics. You replied that you could not fulfill that request,” they said in a letter to the MFT.

Their concern, they said, is that the focus will be on the Massena Federation of Teachers. Other candidates include Patrick Serguson, a village police sergeant and whose wife is a counselor at Jefferson Elementary School; Loren Fountaine, a labor relations specialist with the New York State United Teachers and whose wife is a teacher at a Massena Central elementary school; and Cristen Halladay, who teaches physical education at Ogdensburg Free Academy and whose husband is a teacher in the Massena Central School District.

“The MFT is charged with protecting the interests of its members. As such, we are concerned that the forum will focus more on how candidates will provided for the MFT members than how candidates will advance the needs of all employees, students and taxpayers,” they said.

“We are not opposed to a candidate’s forum,” Mr. Fregoe and Ms. Waters said in their letter. “We would gladly participate in a similar forum hosted by an independent organization such as the Rotary or a parent group.”

Massena Central School officials say they also chose not to get involved in this year’s forum in order to keep the event neutral.

Last year’s questions had been from the community to a panel consisting of one administrator, one teacher, one parent and one student. The district’s website was also used to gather questions from the community.

This year’s questions have been created by MFT member and forum organizer Joseph Mittiga, who is the only person with knowledge of them until tonight’s forum.

MFT President Chad Simpson said that, while he hasn’t seen the questions, he didn’t believed they would be biased toward MFT members.

“I wouldn’t allow Joe to embarrass anyone. I would definitely not let Joe do that, I wouldn’t want it to look like we’re trying to pick sides. I would make sure it was as fair as possible.”

Mr. Simpson said their intentions this year were the same as last year - creating an unbiased forum for community members to learn about the candidates.

“Last year we did it cooperatively. I thought it went really well. I thought it was unbiased and great for the community. This year, obviously, logistics were different,” he said.

That’s because Massena Central School administrators elected not take part in the process this year.

Superintendent Roger B. Clough said MFT members had solicited questions from high school Principal Patrick Farrand, who contacted him for guidance.

“I told him that it was not our place to ask questions, because those questions would likely be biased from our perspective and could ultimately appear to favor one candidate or position,” Mr. Clough said.

He said they explained the district’s position to Mr. Mittiga.

“I also informed Mr. Mittiga that he could utilize the district webpage to announce the forum,” Mr. Clough said. “It is not the district’s role to advocate. In fact, it is against the law to use taxpayer funds for advocacy.”

While the superintendent said he commended the union for wanting to provide the forum, they believed that “the board of education candidates and the community’s voters deserve a neutral forum. Despite the union’s best attempts to be unbiased, the MFT has a prescribed purpose and that purpose will make it difficult for them to be truly objective.

“Further, an MFT representative produced the questions, with no input from other stakeholders in the community,” he said. “If Massena wants a true forum or debate, it should be hosted by a community group not working for the school district.”

Mr. Simpson said he’s sorry Mr. Fregoe and Ms. Waters will not participate in tonight’s forum.

“I wish, if they had concerns, they had addressed them a little earlier,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to come in and listen to where everybody was coming from. There was no political reason to do it this year. It’s a lot of extra work that the union takes on. I’m disappointed, but we can’t force anyone to do it.”

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