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Carthage board opens ‘conversation’ with public

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WEST CARTHAGE — An open forum to learn the community’s perspective on issues pertaining to the Carthage Central School District yielded positive results, organizers said.

“It’s evident that we need to do more of this,” district Superintendent Peter J. Turner said. “To do it quarterly is a good idea.”

The forum Tuesday night was organized by Mr. Turner and the Board of Education in response to the failed capital project vote in March. The goal was to broaden communication between the board and community. About 50 people attended the event, from school employees to members of the community.

“I think it’s therapeutic. ... We wanted to assure people we had nothing to hide,” board President Barbara A. Lofink said.

Attendees at the forum suggested poor communication and a general distrust of the board based on previous experiences were why the $13.2 million project failed.

The board came under fire in 2011 for questionable ethics and since then has struggled to regain the trust of community members.

Thomas R. Sauter attributed the lack of communication in part to the manner in which public forums at the start of board meetings are conducted.

“I’m not sure it’s an effective open forum,” said Mr. Sauter. “We’re having a conversation right now. ... That’s not a conversation; this is.”

“The board has credibility issues ... which I think the past board and superintendent were the problem,” said Terry L. Buckley of Champion. “Having the building vote before the budget vote was a big mistake.”

Ms. Lofink’s last-minute decision to pursue a different seat on the board rather than defend her own in the May election also was brought into question.

Ms. Lofink said, “It came to my attention that a faction of the community wanted me ousted. ... I felt they put up a ringer against me and I decided to change that. I decided it was more important for me to stay on the board, so I ran for a different seat.”

She said that each year members of the board wait until the last minute to submit their petitions, and her situation was no different.

The “ringer” was Tod W. Nash, who ran unopposed for the seat occupied by Ms. Lofink. Ms. Lofink defeated Abigail L. Hammond for the seat occupied by Lori D. Miller, 300-226. Also in the board election and school budget vote, at-large voting was approved.

Ms. Lofink’s three-year term as president will be up June 30, at which point Mr. Nash will take over and Ms. Lofink will take the seat formerly occupied by Ms. Miller.

The consensus from those who voiced their opinions was that the issues between the two groups could be fixed and that open communication could go a long way toward reaching their overall goal: providing the best possible education to district students.

Other topics of discussion included overcrowding at Black River Elementary and the proposed capital project and where it went wrong, and the school budget.

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