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Story - Education

Mar 17, 2010 9:42 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Tuckahoe overhaul petition effort revived by former board member

Mar 17, 2010 9:42 AM

A former member of the Tuckahoe School Board has appealed to the New York State Department of Education to force a referendum in the district that could overhaul the embattled board this spring.

Harald Steudte, who served on the Tuckahoe board for more than 14 years, took up the petition circulated early last month by district parent Kevin Luss calling for a referendum on transforming Tuckahoe from a common to a union free district. The change would mean little logistically, but it would allow the district to expand its School Board from three to as many as nine members.

After two of the three board members refused to recognize the petition during their meeting on February 8, Mr. Luss dropped the effort. But state law allows that any of the 33 district residents who signed the original petition, including Mr. Steudte, can file an appeal on its merits to the state.

The shift to a union free district can only happen with voter approval. Some parents who have supported the idea of the change have said the proposal should simply be added to the ballot in May when all district residents vote for the budget and board seats.

By filing the appeal, Mr. Steudte and the other petitioners agree that if it is granted, a special referendum would likely have to be held, and that if the vote goes against the transformation, the petitioners must cover the cost of the special election—likely $3,000 to $4,000.

The state statutes regarding the rarely exercised petition option requires that the Commissioner of Education act on the appeal within 20 days of its filing.

Board Chairwoman Sharon Grindle has said she thinks the petition effort is intended to overthrow the sitting three-member board and install new individuals bent on rehiring former district Superintendent Linda Rozzi, who resigned in December. Ms. Rozzi’s resignation, after Ms. Grindle and board member Susan Riccardi refused to renew her contract, has become the fuel for a fire of parent anger directed at the board in the last 10 months. The petitioners have said they have no interest in bringing Ms. Rozzi back, but have made few bones about their desire to oust Ms. Riccardi—whose term is up in May—and Ms. Grindle.

“I feel very strongly that the board is out of control,” Mr. Steudte said. “I think property values in this district are going to suffer because of what’s going on in the Tuckahoe School. People wanted to be here before this all happened, but now I think people would rather go to a neighboring district than put up with this craziness.”

The process of how the transformation and vote would take place is still up in the air. If a special referendum is necessary, how the decision will be made as to how big the board will be and when the new members will be elected is still unclear and will likely have to be determined by state eduction department attorneys, if the commissioner rules in favor of the petitioners.

Mr. Steudte said he has not examined the possibilities in detail but said he would like to see the current School Board completely dissolved and have five individuals—including any of the current board members if they chose to run—elected in a single election.

The most recent school district to make the shift from common to union free by voter referendum simply held an election for two added board seats, rather than holding elections for all five.

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Thank you, Harald, for standing up against this craziness. Riccardi and Grindle would like to make this about Linda Rozzi, but what it is about is their utter failure as board members at every level!
By setyoufree (69), Sag Harbor on Mar 18, 10 9:27 AM
1 member liked this comment
I have a question: why are two of our three board members always hanging around at the school? If they are not their for something to do with their children, then their presence is inappropriate - but that has never stopped them before.

By yearrounder (208), Southampton on Mar 19, 10 11:18 AM
It is ridiculous to have only a three member board that has all that power to decide things. It only takes two members to collude and pust through their agendas. Most school boards in the state are nime members to avoid abuse of power.
By Walt (292), Southampton on Mar 19, 10 11:46 AM
2 members liked this comment
We would have the same if it weren't for Grindle and RIccardi blocking us from having a vote!
By yearrounder (208), Southampton on Mar 19, 10 12:27 PM