Highland schools shuffle the deck on leadership

Pictured left to right: Debra Ann Pagano, Roseann Bayne, Deborah Haab, Mike Bakatsias, Mike Reid and Tom Miller. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Highland’s school board swore in new members Mike Reid and Mike Bakatsias on July 10, during their re-organizational meeting. They also voted to promote experienced trustees Al Barone and Sue Gilmore to the position of board president and vice president, respectively.

Because voters swung for newcomers instead of incumbents, the spring election had the effect of wiping out the leadership of the Highland Board of Education. Both Vincent Rizzi, the sitting president, and Regina Tantillo-Swanson, the sitting veep, lost their re-election bids.

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Up until now, it wasn’t clear who the school board might pick as their new top officers.

Barone has served as vice president and acting president before. During the 2009-2010 school year, when then-President Donna Halstead became too sick to serve, Barone became the effective president of the school board.

“I have some ideas to bring us forward,” the new president said. Barone noted he’d like to see the community re-engaged with the goings-on of the school board. Transparency and access to information will be a key goal for him, he added.

Financing in the new reality of the state tax cap has been a challenge. Highland tried to exceed the state-mandated 2 percent with voters in May. Like nearby New Paltz, they failed. After more cuts, they finally passed muster with the electorate. But Barone said he knows the financial strife isn’t over yet.

“Hopefully, we can weather the storm. The economy is still not where it should be,” he said.

Gilmore has been on the board since 2009, but she hasn’t previously served as president or vice president. However, she said she was honored by her new position. Board members voted unanimously for Gilmore to be the new veep.

Along with their 60 Percenter group colleague Debbie Pagano, Reid and Bakatsias won in May against incumbents Rizzi, Tantillo-Swanson and Heather Welch. Pagano did not need to be sworn in July 10, since — as the highest vote-getter — she’d been made an official Board of Education trustee directly after May’s election.

Last week’s meeting also included other shake-ups and surprises. Louise M. Lynch is replacing Stephen Perry as the district’s business administrator.

“We’re in the process of replacing Stephen,” explained Superintendent Deborah Haab. Perry resigned last month after accepting a job with another district. He’s also moving to be closer to family.

So far, there are 13 people who’ve applied to become Highland Central School District’s next business manager. Until the superintendent and school board can sort through those candidates, they need someone to manage affairs in the district office. Lynch is going to be that interim business manager until the district can find a permanent replacement.

Highland High School will also get a new assistant principal. Andre Spinelli is leaving, and the board approved Sarah Dudley-Lemek as a replacement.

During the budget process, it looked like Assistant Superintendent Roseann Bayne’s job might be at stake. Various drafts of the 2012-2013 budget cut her job or brought it to a half-time position. In a nail-biter of a close election, voters approved a budget that restored her job on June 19.

On July 10, the school board granted Bayne tenure.

“It’s in my opinion and observation undeniable that, in the three years that Roseann’s been working with the Highland School District, each and every day she makes a positive impact on our students through the leadership she provides,” Superintendent Haab said. “Board members know that Roseann does a considerable amount of research on matters that impact the board and the district.”

This year, Bayne put together a number of research-intensive presentations during the budget process. One examined exactly what programs the district could cut under state law — that question hadn’t been thoroughly answered in Highland before.

Sue Gilmore, the vice president of the school board, also praised Bayne. “I find Roseann’s knowledge of education law, human resource management second to none. I feel we are so lucky to have her,” she said.

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