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The train wreck at Carthage Central

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Not so long ago, and not at all far away, a rural school district went through a torturous period of turmoil and bad feelings when its superintendent, who reveled in keeping everything that had anything to do with the district double-secret, made a double-secret contract deal with a district administrator, outside the normal channels of operation.

The double-secret deal caused such an uproar that, with the other problems caused by the administrator’s tendency to hide things, he assessed the situation and did a quick Fagan to a district in the far western part of the state.

When that happened, Carthage Central School District residents pretty much cleaned house with the sitting Board of Education, bringing in a number of people who promised a new way of doing things. One of those insurgents was Michael Chevier, who promised he would open up the district to the public and press and do the people’s business out in the open. Mr. Chevier now leads the Board of Education, giving him a great pulpit from which to keep his promise to the voters.

Fast forward to today. In the past two months, a member of the Board of Education resigned because of back-room deals being cut by some members of the board, and the superintendent who replaced the departed Carl Militello, Joseph Catanzaro, resigned a day later.

As the letter from the departing board member, Terry Freeman put it: “While the board President professes to be open and transparent, it has become obvious that information is not shared with all members of the board, personal agendas are promoted outside the boardroom, confidentiality is non-existent despite repeated admonitions and educational programming is at the bottom of the priority list.”

As The Who once sang, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss — we won’t get fooled again.”

Sadly, however, it appears the district has been fooled again. The tipping point for both Mr. Catanzaro and Mr. Freeman was an apparent double-secret deal some board members cut in private with one faculty member. Sound familiar? The deal is murky still, because a lot of people who know a lot of the details are reluctant to risk the wrath of this school board by speaking the truth in public. But if the pieces are ever completely assembled, I’ve been assured they will involve the words “tenure” and “resignation” and “broken promises.” Sadly, the exact details are not as important as their effect: a good superintendent and a good school board member are gone, and the remaining board members have circled the wagons to reduce the sting of what many in the district consider richly deserved criticism.

There is a cautionary tale here. It involves the effect of winning, of gaining the power denied the outsider. When someone comes along and promises to be more open and forthright and honorable, you should probably ask how the candidate is going to do that. Get it in writing. And then hold the winning candidate to it. If the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, the cost of being asleep at the switch is usually a train wreck. It’s going to take Carthage Central School awhile to clear the tracks from this one.

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