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Clifton-Fine has new superintendent

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STAR LAKE — Clifton-Fine Central School District has its third superintendent in as many years — to the displeasure of many who attended a board meeting Monday.

“We’re going to stand up and say we’re not satisfied with this board,” said Jerry W. Bush, one of eight people running for three seats in the upcoming Board of Education election, while the board was in executive session to discuss a contract for Regina Yeo. “When it comes time, vote them out.”

The board appointed Ms. Yeo, the elementary principal at Berne-Knox-Westerlo Central School in Berne as superintendent, effective July 1, when she will take over from Susan O. Shene, the interim superintendent who will return to her job as Clifton-Fine principal.

“I have enjoyed my time as interim superintendent and I wish I could have continued,” Mrs. Shene said.

Mrs. Shene replaced Denise L. Dzikowski, who left to become superintendent at Lyons Central School after two years at Clifton-Fine. Her time at the school was marked by dissension and several board resignations.

Ms. Yeo, who did not immediately return a call for comment, was appointed for three years at an annual salary of $105,000.

Mrs. Shene and the board reached an impasse over what the length of her contract as superintendent would be. The board then offered the job to Clifton-Fine Principal Brian S. Buchanan, who turned it down.

Mr. Buchanan, who was to lose his job if Mrs. Shene returned to being principal after her leave of absence ended, also has a new position. He will return to the Oneida City School District, where he will become Seneca Street Elementary School principal July 1, Superintendent Ronald R. Spadafora Jr. said.

After negotiations with Mrs. Shene fell through, Ms. Yeo was one of two people interviewed recently by the Clifton-Fine board for the superintendent’s job. She had been interviewed before for the interim principal position, so the expeditious appointment was possible, board President Michelle L. Durham said.

Board member Jeremy E. Thompson voted for Ms. Yeo’s appointment so the board could be unified, but said he wished the public was more involved.

“I personally was not in favor of making an offer at the interview,” he said. “I personally wanted community involvement.”

Jaime D. Simmons, who started an online petition in favor of keeping Mrs. Shene and Mr. Buchanan as the administrative team, said that the board has turned a deaf ear to the community and that the search for a new superintendent should have been more extensive and involved more than a single interview.

“You’re not listening to the voices that are speaking to you,” she said.

Mrs. Durham said Ms. Yeo was vetted with the community and teachers when she interviewed for the interim principal’s job. Ms. Yeo hopes to come to the next board meeting and will spend May 21 at the school with staff and students.

School psychologist Claude F. Sprowls looked around the auditorium of about 40 people and declared the attendance inadequate to expect change on the part of the board.

“If this turnout is any indication of concern, you are getting exactly what you deserve,” he said. “This is pitiful.”

People have stopped believing their opinion matters, Mr. Bush said.

Teacher spirits, while high in the fall, have dropped in recent months so that veterans talk among themselves about how they would rather be working elsewhere, Mr. Sprowls said.

“I doubt if very many of them have the courage to say that to you, but that’s what they are saying,” he told the board. “Morale is what it’s all about.”

Mr. Thompson also tried to have the board rescind its decision to combine the transportation supervisor with that of buildings and grounds manager into a single job, because potential savings were unclear and the impact uncertain.

“The only thing that’s been consistent for the last few years has been change,” he said.

The board voted 4-2 not to rescind the job consolidation, with board member Gilbert Guiles joining Mr. Thompson. Board member Richard W. Hitchman was absent.

Although support for the board was limited at the meeting, it has been bolstered by the Clifton-Fine Property Owners Association, at least when it comes to shaving costs while working to improve technology.

“I feel sorry for the school board, because they’re doing the right thing with the budget. People do not like change, so they’re turning it into a personal vendetta,” said Susan A. Wing, president of the association. “This is the most realistic board I’ve seen.”

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