FORT COVINGTON - The Salmon River Central School District Board of Education voted 5 to 2 to appoint Sheila Marshall to fill a vacant board seat at a special meeting Monday night, with board members Michael Sisto and Christopher Nye dissenting.
Ms. Marshalls appointment comes at a time when the board is looking at a minority Native American representation of a student body that officials says is about 65 percent Native American. The sole Native member, up until Monday night, was board Vice President Emily Lauzon.
The board was divided at a May 13 meeting as to how to fill the seat that Clarissa Terrance-Chatland resigned in April. Board President Judith Stark and Ms. Lauzon were vocal proponents of appointing Ms. Marshall, and they were supported by Jim Ransom, president of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Councils education committee. Mr. Ransom referred to a gentlemens agreement from years past that the board struck with the tribe to always have two Native members, which Stark touched on during a brief speech in support of Ms. Marshall prior to the vote.
Is that in the form of a resolution somewhere? I dont know. Probably one of those gentlemens agreements, Ms. Stark said.
She implored the board to make the appointment for mainly practical reasons.
I think having three elections in four months is overkill, according to Ms. Stark.
The capital project vote was held in March, and district voters will be heading to the polls today to vote n a proposed budget for 2013-14.
She aid it would cost $2,500 to run a third election.
District resident Ben Kelly spoke in favor of Ms. Marshalls appointment during the public comment portion prior to the meeting. He said he didnt feel that the board was taking the vote out of his hand by granting Ms. Marshall the spot.
Thats why we vote for everyone on this board is making these tough decisions, whether or not its easy or popular, Mr. Kelly said. I think any board is better at its full complement.
During last weeks meeting, Mr. Sisto said he was against appointing Ms. Marshall because he felt the taxpayers should make the call, not the board.
I feel it should be up to the people, he said last week.
Board member Robert Durant, who was absent on Monday, said last week that the board would be striding in uncharted waters by giving Ms. Marshall a nod, tradition has been to let the voters choose.
You do realize weve never appointed anyone before. Weve always had an election. This would be setting a precedent, Mr. Durant said last week.
Mr. Kelly and Ms. Stark both said on Monday that this was inaccurate – a similar board has made three appointments in previous years and left a fourth for the BOCES superintendent.
Mr. Ransom wrote in a letter to the editor last week that one instance in 1995, while Mr. Durant was a board member, turned into what he described as one of the ugliest moments in the history of the Salmon River School Board. He said that Marion Elliot, a non-Native, lost her seat to a Mohawk who he did not name, so the non-Natives on the board had one of their own resign. They then turned around and appointed Ms. Elliot to the seat and voted her board president.
Ms. Marshall is currently director for SUNY Potsdams Center for Diversity and a former head of the tribes higher education program. She is a 1973 Salmon River graduate. Prior to her being voted in, she told the board that her career in the education field has groomed her for the position.
I learned to work with school personnel and how to handle budgets, she said. The key word for this job is retention.
She said she hopes to work to help more Salmon River students get to college, noting that she has worked in a sort of early intervention program that targets low-income and first-generation college students in middle school and works with them toward higher education.