Guest Column

We must preserve integrity on our school board


I have had the privilege to serve on the Lawrence school board for the past four years, and while I am not a candidate in the upcoming election, I am grateful for the opportunity to offer my perspective and hopefully some clarity regarding the recent Number Six School referendum, and the need for school board trustees who will continue to exercise the best of judgment in carrying out their duties.

As a board trustee, I was one of the two members of the Board who voted against the proposed sale of the Number Six School property to Simone Development at the school board meeting on Jan. 14. But although I voted “no” at the meeting (in the hope that there could be a more open discussion with the community before a vote was held), I understood the school board had no choice but to award the contract to Simone Development, since it was the highest bidder.

In evaluating the various bids for the property, we received consistent and unambiguous guidance from our attorneys at every step of the process. A school board’s rights and responsibilities with respect to the sale of school district property are governed by NYS Education Law, Section 1709(11). In accordance with this law, the standard applied by the Commissioner of Education is that “a school board has a fiduciary duty to secure the best price obtainable — in the board’s judgment — for any lawful use of the premises. Although this analysis may take into account certain ancillary financial considerations such as tax consequences from a proposed sale, it is clear that state law does not permit a board to consider non-monetary factors, such as the best interests of the community.

Throughout this process, we have heard from a vocal group of people who feel that the school board should not have “favored” the highest bidder over a lower bid from a community organization that would be better suited for the community. But although I admired the efforts of the group that helped rally people to oppose the Number Six School referendum, and as a community resident, I stood shoulder to shoulder with them in opposition to the sale, I strongly disagree with their contentions regarding the school board’s selection of the high bidder, and I cannot accept the notion that the board should favor a lower bidder when state law clearly dictates otherwise.

We all read or hear too often about elected officials who put their personal interests ahead of their duties, and our community is fortunate to have school board trustees who value the importance of carrying out their fiduciary duties in a manner beyond reproach — even when faced with intense public pressure. In the upcoming election, it is critical that we elect candidates who share this same resolve, so that difficult decisions like the sale of school district property can be made with the best possible judgment.

I am proud to support three school board candidates who have the requisite experience, integrity and determination to best represent the District 15 community.

Tova Plaut serves as the administrator of a large preschool program. As a community activist, she has attended school board meetings for many years, and is involved in a myriad of community organizations. It also goes without saying that a woman’s perspective is long overdue on what has historically been a male dominated board.

Michael Hatten is the CEO of a large vocational school. He has already served one term on the school board, and has shown himself to be a unifying voice and a great asset to the board.

Dr. David Sussman is an 18-year veteran of the school board and has well earned his reputation for fiscal prudence and elevating educational standards.

On Tuesday, May 21, I urge you to join me in voting “Row B” for Tova Plaut, Michael Hatten and David Sussman, and help ensure that we are represented with the utmost integrity and good judgment.