ELIZABETHTOWN - The Elizabethtown-Lewis Central School Board of Education is starting the year one member short.
Mark Hummel, an Elizabethtown resident elected in May to one of two open board seats, announced the resignation of his post before even getting a chance to swear in.
A crowd of more than 30 residents packed the conference room as the school board held its reorganizational meeting July 14, many questioning why Hummel had apparently been forced to give up the position for which he was elected.
Hummel said he made his decision after being informed his membership on the board would bar him from providing services to ELCS students as a physical therapist with Adirondack Physical Therapy.
What angered many supporters of Hummel, however, was how he was not informed until recently that his employment would raise any issues.
Hummel said that when he submitted his application for the position in March, he asked both members of the community and school administrators to notify him if they discerned any conflicts of interest. He said no one gave him any feedback on the issue until the end of June, well after he had been elected to the post.
The board's newest member, Brett Siccola, echoed the sentiment of many in the audience.
"As a taxpayer and as a voter, I'm infuriated. I don't feel Mark was treated fairly," said Siccola. "I would like Mark to be on this board. I would like his resignation to be rescinded."
Superintendent Gail Else explained that because Hummel is the employee of an agency with which the school contracts, it would create a conflict of interest that would, at the very least, preclude him from providing physical therapy services to students.
Also, the fact that the contract with Adirondack Physical therapy expires just before the new school year would mean the school could no longer contract with the agency if Hummel were on the board, Else said.
Kari Ratliff, who just ended her membership on the board, said Hummel should have been informed sooner that there may have been a conflict of interests.
"It's disrespectful; it's unethical; it's wrong," said Ratliff. "He should have had an answer before tonight."
Elementary teacher Deborah Egglefield, whose son, Jacob, has received services from Hummel, submitted a letter to the board urging them to reconsider the assessment that his membership on the board would create a conflict.
"I feel it is a terrible injustice to our students, but it would seem that if Mr. Hummel refrained from serving ELCS students... he would indeed be able to remain a member of this board." Egglefield wrote. "That would be sad for the students he works with, but I believe it is more unfair to the community that voted Mr. Hummel into office not to have him representing them."
Hummel said it was not Else nor any of the school board members who suggested he resign, but that his employer did so, making him feel pressured to choose between his job and his desire to serve on the school board.
While he wished he didn't have to choose to resign, Hummel said he was most concerned for the people who may have run in his place had he known in advance of the concern.
"I think it would have been a better approach (for the school board) to address me," said Hummel. "All it had to be was a simple communication saying that this was the position they were taking."
David Mace joined several others in the audience who suggested the board's lack of communication with Hummel gave the appearance of sabotaging the public's choice for the position in an effort to appoint a different person to the position.
Board president William Haseltine denied those accusations, asserting that none of the board members had any intent to appoint anyone to the vacant seat.
Haseltine promised to contact the school's lawyer and representatives from the State Education Department as soon as possible to clarify the situation, but he refused to allow Hummel to be sworn in as a board member in lieu of a more extensive review.
"I will not break the law," said Haseltine. "We have been instructed by our legal counsel against this and we're going to adhere to that."
Haseltine assured Hummel that there would be more direct communication with him on the issue in the future, and that Hummel would be kept aware of any developments regarding his ability to join the board.
"It's a decision of State Law," he later added. "If there is no conflict, he will be on the board."