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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 22, 2010

Sikule re-elected board prez, BKW residents want to trust schools

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — In the wake of a failed budget, and with a new superintendent, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board has stuck with its current president, and has hosted a community forum to guide its future.

The position of school board president at BKW carries the authority to set meeting agendas, and the responsibility of being a spokesperson for the board and an intermediary between the superintendent and the other board members.

After some discussion on whether or not one could serve successive terms as president, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo School Board, in its July reorganizational meeting for the 2010-2011 school year, elected Maureen Sikule for her second year in a row as president. The board also elected Carolyn Anderson as vice president. This will be her second year as a board member, her first in a leadership role.

And, at a community forum last week, residents shared their views with the district on what BKW’s long-term and short-term goals should be.

On short-term goals, residents wanted to see the district making more of an effort to reach out to parents, improving trust and relationships with its residents, raising the bar for student performance, and increasing accountability. They also desired more community involvement in general, and improved communication between the district and its taxpayers.

In the long-term, the community wants the district to explore ways to motivate students and boost their overall levels of achievement, restructure and revitalize the arts program, and intervene with troubled students as early as possible.


For years at BKW, school board members rotated into leadership roles. As board member Helen Lounsbury told The Enterprise after she was elected school board president in 2008, “The first year, you were learning. The second year, you had a little experience under your belt. The third, you would be vice president. The fourth, you would be president. And the fifth year, you would be there to advise the new president.”

This meant that a president seldom served two terms. Still, it always came down to a vote.

In 2003, school board members thought that more people would run for school board positions if term length was reduced from five years to three, and district voters agreed.

Eventually, board members realized that, if the five board members continued to follow this system, with terms shortened to three years, some board members would inevitably not have the opportunity to become president. The board’s policy for choosing its president implied the aforementioned path to presidency with a sentence that read, “As has been the practice of the Board, by a majority vote, the offices of president and vice president rotate”; in 2008, this phrase was eliminated.

State Education Law does not bar a school board president from serving successive terms.

Prior to Sikule’s nomination at the July re-organizational meeting, board member Carolyn Anderson nominated Helen Lounsbury, but to no avail.

Lounsbury nominated Sean O’Connor as president, but he declined the nomination, “only because I have time constraints that wouldn’t allow me to do the job properly,” O’Connor said this week. “I think Mrs. Sikule is the perfect choice, at least among the current board members, to maximize the continuity we need, especially with the current administration changes.”

O’Connor then nominated Sikule.

“The reason I ended up voting for myself,” Sikule said, “is because I felt that, this particular year, we’re still in a budget crisis, we have a fairly new administrative team, and we have a new superintendent.”

O’Connor voted for Sikule as well, as did Jill Norray, who was elected to the school board this May. Lounsbury voted no, and Anderson abstained, as she supported Lounsbury for the position.

“I did not want to vote in opposition of her,” said Anderson of Sikule. “I thought she had done a good job. The consensus of the board, at that moment, was that there was no problem with the president succeeding themselves. So, my reason for abstaining was that I did not wish to cast a vote against Mrs. Sikule.”

Anderson went on to say that she thinks the board should set term limits, but she agrees with the sentiment that, given Principal Thomas McGurl’s entry into the district last summer, Dean Brian Keller this past fall, and Superintendent Paul Dorward on July 1, having someone with Sikule’s experience as president was appropriate for the district.

As far as Norray is concerned, if there is no policy specifically stating that a president cannot serve successive terms, there is no issue.

“If they want that to be the policy, then they should change the policy to say you can’t serve two terms in a row,” Norray said.

Lounsbury maintains that one should not serve successive terms, and had nominated O’Connor because she thinks that each board member should have the opportunity to serve as president.

“The voters have already stated they thought each member was qualified to be a school board member,” said Lounsbury. “Therefore, it is my belief that everyone elected is seen as qualified to be president. I know, in the past, there have been people who have been board presidents that have done it with hesitance, because they didn’t feel they were cut out to be the president. But each one of them grew into the job and put their own stamp on it. I think that’s important.”

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