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Mar 7, 2013 12:30 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Second Sag Harbor School Board Member Quits In A Year, Blasts Board Behavior

Mar 12, 2013 5:26 PM

Sag Harbor School Board member Gregg Schiavoni abruptly resigned last week, citing what he described as a dishonest and disrespectful manner of conduct on the board and claiming that members discuss topics in closed-door sessions that he believes should be public.

But Interim Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carl Bonuso this week disputed Mr. Schiavoni’s characterization of the board and said the board was surprised by his decision.

Mr. Schiavoni is the second board member to resign suddenly this year. Walter Wilcoxen quit in July, citing “grandstanding, blindsiding and micromanaging” among board members.

Mr. Schiavoni, who was in his second term on the board, and Mr. Wilcoxen, who had just won a third term but quit shortly before he was expected to take the oath of office, were the top two vote-getters, respectively, in a three-way election last spring.

This past year also saw the resignations of former Superintendant of Schools Dr. John Gratto and Business Administrator Janet Verneuille, who each accepted jobs elsewhere.

What he termed improper use of executive sessions—portions of meetings that are closed to the public and intended for board members to privately discuss personnel or legal matters—were one reason Mr. Schiavoni cited for leaving in his resignation letter to the board.

“I feel as though 75 percent of the executive agenda dialogue is for public discussion,” he wrote. “On one occasion, we actually went around the room to see how we would all vote on a coaching position.” A bond proposal and the school calendar were other topics that should have been discussed publicly but were talked about behind closed doors, he said.

He explained that a topic may start off as an executive session item, but the further into it the board got, it would veer outside the realm of executive information.

Dr. Bonuso, however, said the board was very careful about what it discussed behind closed doors, and if there was any doubt whether it should be public, it was voiced and the discussion moved to public session.

“I’ve been with many boards,” the superintendent said, “and this board is one of the better boards I’ve worked with. It always tries to do the right thing. My view is that this board always conducts itself in a very professional and caring way. They want to do the right thing.”

He said the specific issues Mr. Schiavoni had mentioned had contractual or legal elements that needed clarifying in private, but “99 percent” of those topics were also presented in public.

In his resignation letter, Mr. Schiavoni also wrote that board members often interrupt one another and disrespect one another by talking under their breath and making insulting or disparaging remarks—a situation that allegedly got so bad on a few occasions that the district’s attorney, Tom Volz, had to raise his voice when interrupted, multiple times, by board members and that he was also subjected to side discussions. Despite two board retreats on the topic, nothing has changed, Mr. Schiavoni wrote. Personal agendas, he added, feature prominently in board discussions.

“I’m certainly not going to deny that sometimes somebody mutters under their breath once in a while or makes a facial expression … but I don’t see that as a mortal sin,” Dr. Bonuso said.

According to Mr. Schiavoni, little has been accomplished this year. “Instead of looking forward, we are constantly looking backward to pin any blame on previous employees of the district,” he wrote. “I enjoyed my time serving, but see the board moving in the wrong direction and it is a ship that can’t be righted. Until personal agendas/vendettas are thrown out of the mix, the Board of Education will continue to stumble on never-ending issues that should require one meeting to resolve, but in its current state, take numerous meetings or discussions.”

Dr. Bonuso, on the other hand, said plenty has been accomplished. By way of example, he said the board is going to hold educational workshops this spring to discuss achievements in Spanish, mathematics and the International Baccalaureate program. Also, a committee is nearly ready to present a recommendation to the board about a facilities proposition, including safety and security items, to be put before voters, and the district has submitted and had approved by the state its Annual Professional Performance Review plan.

“We didn’t realize he was that frustrated or that some of the issues he talked about were bothering him so,” Dr. Bonuso said.

Mr. Schiavoni’s letter was dated Sunday, March 3. Reached by phone last Thursday morning, he said he met with Dr. Bonuso and School Board President Theresa Samot on Tuesday night, March 5, to discuss his resignation. But on Wednesday, March 6, he made his decision official.

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Lol. Some things never change.
By johnj (1019), Westhampton on Mar 7, 13 1:06 PM
God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.

Mark Twain
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Mar 7, 13 1:17 PM
What are the students learning (by example) from their school board here, that dysfunction is the norm?
By PBR (4952), Southampton on Mar 7, 13 1:56 PM
Good for you Gregg. Enough is enough. You would think those people are still in high school the way they speak garbage about others. Ridiculous.
By WhalerFanForLife (13), Southampton on Mar 7, 13 6:56 PM
Its seems this man took a stand and made a statement through an action rather than statement that would be ignored. This BOE is dysfunctional. How can they make a shared decision? Its time for real change...Personal agendas need to be put on the back burner.
By sag runner (24), Easthampton on Mar 7, 13 9:40 PM