CHESTERTOWN - North Warren Central School parents expressed anger and frustration Monday when they showed up in force at a school board meeting, grilling board members about the elimination of the elementary principal post, questioning the value of school reorganization plans, and airing concerns on why area citizens weren't notified of the plans which have been under way for months.
"A lot of us parents are outraged about how you've eliminated Elementary Principal Susan Bulmer's job," parent Lisa Singleton said.
North Warren Carrie Mundrick, PTA President, backed her up.
"This is a bad decision with negative after-effects on our children's education," Mundrick said. "Parent involvement is key to students' success, and Elementary Principal Susan Bulmer is a vital link between home and the school."
A half-dozen parents expressed similar views, and raised other questions about a school reorganization plan that includes morphing the junior high into a middle school, which would include 6th graders.
Superintendent Joe Murphy defended the extensive plan, saying it would improve education.
Board members except President Marion Eagan were silent except for a single remark. Eagan often interrupted the parents, insisting that concerns not be raised in person, but be submitted in written form, so board members could respond. The meeting continued, however, with concerns and frustrations of parents being aired for 90 minutes.
Eagan and Murphy set a meeting between the board and the parents - and the public at large - to review the concerns. The meeting was set for 6 p.m. Jan. 12 in the school library. Eagan stipulated that all concerns for this meeting be written and submitted to the school board by Jan. 1.
Monday, Margaret Terry presented the school board with a petition with more than 100 names on it. Her first petition, bearing nearly as many signatures, disappeared from its place in the Grand Union, she said. School authorities replied they knew nothing about its disappearance.
Kathleen Gould said that plans for such a drastic reorganization of the school, and elimination of the principal shouldn't have been undertaken without notifying parents and community members.
"You've slapped our hands, and we didn't even hear about it," she said. "The word on the street is teachers can't speak out now because they are afraid of repercussions. Many people in the community feel completely powerless."
Murphy said the consolidation of the positions was based on sagging enrollment and the need to keep taxes down.
Parents said eliminating the elementary principal was short-sighted and would stretch the remaining administration way too thin.
Jessica Hamblin said cutting the principal post didn't make sense in light of Murphy's presentation that achievement levels and enrollment in advanced courses were sagging, although substance abuse was plummeting due to programs focused on elementary students.
Parent Estelle Smit said letters should have been sent to school district residents notifying them of pending changes.
She also said the planned staff cuts, including special education staff positions, would hurt programs.
"This is so drastic - We're cutting our heads off," she said.
Eagan said that parents and other citizens should have been attending board meetings to inform themselves of the pending plans.
Mundrick said parents lead busy lives, and weren't likely to attend meetings, unless they knew in advance something important would be discussed.
Eagan said it was "ridiculous" for the board to mail out agendas, and that meeting dates were specified on school calendars. Parents said they didn't receive calendars this year. Murphy apologized to the crowd for the lack of notification.
Citizen Stephen L. Smith offered to personally pay to have the entire proposed reorganization plan to be mailed out to every district resident.
Citizen Ann Murphy suggested that Elementary Principal Susan Bulmer be spared the axe, and other administrative cuts be made.
"This school is top-heavy in assistant administrators," she said.
The crowd paused as an elderly woman stood up.
"I am shocked - this is not good for the kids," Betty Jean Morehouse said. "I worked hard to get this building built, and you are not connecting with families - this is very upsetting."