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Potsdam school board to form commitee to look at possible reorganization

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POTSDAM - With five board members agreeing to form a committee to explore a possible reorganization that would send seventh and eighth grade students to the high school, it appears the process will create a delay that would prevent the move from being implemented for the 2013-14 school year.

Three board of education members - Thomas W. Hobbs, J. Patrick Turbett and Frederick C. Stone Jr. - opposed the formation of a committee, saying the time to make a decision is now, given that Middle School Principal James M. Cruikshank is leaving the district to become the superintendent at Norwood-Norfolk Central School.

“If we move the seventh and eighth grade to the high school, maybe we could change what that position is,” Mr. Hobbs said, noting Elementary Principal Larry B. Jenne could handle students in pre-kindergarten through six and Joann M. Chambers could handle students in grades seven through 12.

Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said the district would still need three administrators, although they could possibly go with an elementary principal ,a high school principal and an assistant principal. But he stressed the difference in salary between a principal and an assistant wouldn’t be much more than $5,000 or $6,000.

“If people think the savings is on the administrative, I don’t think they would be there,” he said.

Mr. Stone said he wouldn’t support hiring a new middle school principal, noting that would tie the board’s hands, as the principal would work a year and then have to be given a year’s notice his position was being abolished, meaning a reorganization couldn’t take place for three years.

Board President Christopher C. Cowen said that could be avoided by being up front with the applicants and being careful with how they worded the language in the advertisement.

Mr. Cowen also said though with the potential for the position to be eliminated he wondered how that would affect the quality of applicants they receive.

“The problem I see is now that we’ve had that discussion who would even apply for the job?” he asked.

Mr. Stone suggested the district apply for a waiver that would allow them to go a year without a middle school principal and restore the dean of students position to help assist Mr. Jenne and Ms. Chambers.

A straw poll of board members conducted Wednesday night showed varying opinions on whether reorganization should even happen.

“I’m not really sure where I stand on it,” said James Hubbard.

Danielle L. Gray was opposed to the move.

“I’m having trouble deciding whether I would support it,” she said. “The middle school model works. We have a School to Watch program, and I’m having a hard time getting over that.”

While board member Wade Davis actually made the suggestion to form a committee, he said he was in favor of the reorganization, although his statement came before Mr. Brady said there wouldn’t be great administrative savings.

“It’s more important to have teachers in the classroom than administrators,” he said. “We’re presented an opportunity here, and we need to grab hold of it.”

Ralph L. Fuller though was opposed to the move, noting the needed savings for this year would be met without shifting students.

“I can’t see moving people around,” he said.

Mr. Hobbs countered the move should be made now.

“You’re quoted saying we’re going to be insolvent in two years,” he said to Mr. Brady. “We need to make a decision soon if this is going to happen.”

Mr. Turbett also said he would support making the move now.

“I would be inclined to make the move now and see how we can reconfigure,” Mr. Turbett said, noting that if regional high schools ever come to be those would likely be seven through 12 buildings.

Mr. Cowen didn’t take a strong stance on the issue either way, but he said a decision like this is one that shouldn’t be made in such haste and he was opposed to implementing the move now for the 2013-2014 school year.

“I’m totally against disturbing the middle school,” he said. “I don’t think we’re at that point yet, maybe next year. I think we need to take our time and look at this. We’re down to less than one month to make this decision. I think it’s way too fast.”

Mr. Cowen later said he wasn’t totally opposed to restructuring.

“I’m not against restructuring provided it makes sense and we go about it correctly,” he said.

Mark R. Frascatore was not present at the meeting.

Mr. Brady said the possibility of moving seventh and eighth graders to the high school will be among the topics discussed at tonight’s community forum to be held at 7 p.m. at A.A. Kingston Middle School.

“I think it is important to hear from the public on this issue,” he said.

One member of the public, Cathy Frick, said she agreed with Mr. Cowen that the decision should not be made quickly.

“I ask you to take your time with this and not rush into anything,” she said, adding she would like to see at least one parent included on the committee.

“I do ask that when this committee is established that a parent or parents are involved, because they do have a vested interest,” she said.

Ms. Frick also said she hopes that the impact the move would have on students is considered.

“Middle school is an important transition. To take that away could severely impact them,” she said.

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