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YouTube video raises ire of district superintendent

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MASSENA - A locally-produced YouTube video that blasts Massena Central School Superintendent Roger B. Clough II reportedly found its way to the district where Mr. Clough has applied for a superintendent’s position, raising the ire of the interim superintendent there.

Dr. Patrick Michel, interim superintendent of schools for the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, posted a letter to the staff on the district’s website, saying he was disappointed over the “knee-jerk reaction” the video had caused in his district.

The video, which was reportedly created by a former Massena Central School employee, contained brief clips of newspapers articles that had been written regarding Mr. Clough’s performance. The video has since been taken down by the user.

But not before it made its way around the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, leading Dr. Michel to pen the open letter to “colleagues” and post it on the district’s website.

He said that the district’s board of education released the names of three finalists for the superintendent’s position - including Mr. Clough - on Oct. 11.

“The very next day, some people heard something negative about one of the candidates and chose a knee-jerk reaction to the situation. Instead of fact-checking the accuracy of the claim, or asking the search committee if they were aware of the situation, they just spread the rumor as if it were true,” Dr. Michel wrote.

“Keep in mind that the very reason I released the three finalists’ names was to promote transparency in the process, as far as is practical regarding a personnel matter,” he said. “I recognize that the larger community may have insight and useful information about one or more of the candidates that I hope they’ll share with me and the board.”

Instead, the interim superintendent said, the YouTube video made the rounds and raised concerns among those who saw it.

Dr. Michel said the YouTube video was posted by “discontented individuals within one of the candidate’s home community.”

“Instead of calling or e-mailing me or asking for an appointment with me, certain individuals here in Fonda-Fultonville chose to share the video with staff and ask that it be shared with the wider community, with no consideration or discernment of its credibility at all,” he said.

“Once I waded through the near hysterics, it became clear that several issues derail the credibility of this attack video,” he said. “First, it was obvious to me that many of the newspaper articles pictures in the video were fabricated.”

Dr. Michel said they were able to follow the IP trail associated with the video “and discovered that the creator is linked to a small group of malcontents in the candidate’s home district. Conversations with reliable sources in that district revealed that the group is composed of a few disgruntled former employees who had been discharged from the district for several issues.”

A group that called themselves “Kids First” had organized in December and those members, which include local residents and retired teachers and administrators have been vocal at board of education meetings. One of their goals was to remove Mr. Clough from his position, hoping to convince board members to buy out his contract or not renew it in 2013. A petition signed by 400 people who declared no confidence in Mr. Clough had been presented to the board in November.

Members of the group had also shared their concerns about the district’s finances, cuts to programs that were made and later restored, and the amount of legal fees being paid by the district.

“The same disgruntled employee who created this persona-attack video had previously accused the superintendent and board of education in that district of harassment,” Dr. Michel suggested. “That board spent thousands of dollars on an independent investigation of all the accusations made, and found all of the allegations to be false. So much for the credibility of the people behind the video.”

He said their board of education requested and received a letter from the Massena Central School District Board of Education “stating the outcome of its investigation. There is also a 70-page document available detailing the facts and conclusion of that investigation, if anyone would like to read it.”

Dr. Michel said he took issue with “the inherent assumption” that the board of education has not properly vetted candidates for the superintendent’s position.

“The board has dug deeply into the history behind the controversy. We are well aware of statements being made about the candidate and spent many hours looking into the allegations,” he said. “Let me reassure you that it IS appropriate to carefully examine the qualifications of anyone being considered for the leadership of this district.”

He said they were “happy to answer any questions, and want to be made aware of any concerns anyone may have regarding an individual in the running for such an influential position. However, there is a responsible way to raise concerns and ask questions.”

Dr. Michel said they are “midway in the process of qualifying these finalists” for the position. The new superintendent is expected to be on board by Jan. 1.

“We will take time to address any concerns about their history and capacity to lead the Fonda-Fultonville school district before a final decision is made,” he said.

Calls to Dr. Michel this week were not returned. Efforts to reach an organizer of the local Kid’s First group were also unsuccessful.

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