LAKE GEORGE – A ruling from a state Supreme Court justice determined the central school district’s superintendent and board of education violated an open meetings law, but did not give Lake George United for Education what they wanted — their assistant principal back.
Justice Thomas Nolan’s Sept. 30 decision concluded that the breach of the open meetings law doesn’t void or reverse the board’s March 2018 resolution to remove Assistant Principal Cody Conley in favor of hiring a curriculum coordinator.
“The topic that was discussed was one permitted to be discussed in executive session,” Nolan wrote in his decision. “This does not evince, in this court’s judgment, either conscious or malicious or deliberate effort by the Board to violate the law or that the Board has engaged in a documented, persistent pattern of such violations.”
The decision, as first reported by the Post-Star of Glens Falls, the judge declined to award legal fees to LGUE, a community group that filed the Article 78 lawsuit against the school board and Superintendent Lynne Rutnik.
The decision did not satisfy Patricia Dow, the lead petitioner on the LGUE lawsuit.
“While LGUE is disappointed that the Supreme Court was unwilling to impose any consequences on the superintendent and board of education for depriving the public of its statutory right to observed the regular business of the board, we are grateful that the court agreed that the law was violated,” Dow said in a written statement.
Dow said that the board and superintendent misled the public when they announced their executive session was held to discuss an employee’s history, not a position elimination and Nolan agreed.
However, in her statement, Dow also said that the superintendent didn’t consult the district’s professional staff before deciding to eliminate Conley’s position, showing the superintendent was “unwilling to collaborate with district professionals on how best to deliver critically needed services to our students.”
Rutnik has said the reason for not consulting staff was because the decision “was too difficult to make with a great deal of objectivity.”
Even though Dow didn’t get everything that the suit was meant to achieve, LGUE has won over voters. All of the 2018 board member are gone. One of the last, Tom Seguljic, lost his bid for re-election this year.
The board is now packed with members of LGUE including Jeannine Beiber, who husband was a petitioner on the suit against the district, and Melissa Seale who was an original petitioner. (She dropped her name from the suit at some point.) Also on the board from LGUE are President Tricia Connor Biles, Katie Bruenig, Maryanne MacKenzie and Rosemarie Earl. The only person on the board who is independent of LGUE is Lin King whose term ends in 2022.
Rutnik did not return a Times Union phone call to discuss how the LGUE-led board could affect her employment with the district when her contract expires 2024. She did release a statement, however.
“This decision presents an opportunity for the LGCSD board of education and superintendent to reflect and remain committed to fostering collaboration and unity with our district and community,” Rutnik said. “We continue to be attuned to Open Meetings Law and transparency. The board of education and superintendent look forward to moving forward with positivity and a renewed focus on our shared mission, vision, values and goals of the district.”
Conley has moved on. He now works for Saratoga Springs City School District.
Claudia Braymer, the attorney for LGUE, said the group is considering an appeal.