Voters choose board members

ST. JOHNSVILLE – The newly merged Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville School District will swear in seven new Board of Education members Thursday after district voters elected the members Tuesday.

Susanne Sammons, Renee Swartz, Ben Conte, Lee Quackenbush, Neil Clark, Cindy Breh and Keith Handy – some of whom previously served on the boards of the two districts – were voted in Tuesday, according to a news release from the merged district.

Approximately 800 voters went to the polls, said St. Johnsville Superintendent Laura Campione-Lawrence. She said the turnout was higher than expected.

According to the news release, in order to stagger the number of seats up for election each year on the new board, the candidates elected with the most votes received the longest terms, while those elected with the fewest votes received shorter terms.

Because they received the most votes, Sammons, Swartz and Conte will serve full three-year terms. Sammons received 508 votes, Swartz 501 and Conte 448.

Quackenbush and Clark each will serve two-year terms. Quackenbush received 394 votes and Clark received 370.

Breh and Handy will serve one-year terms, receiving 357 votes and 350 votes, respectively.

Campione-Lawrence said the new board has a lot of work ahead of it.

“We [have] to accomplish so much before July 1,” Campione-Lawrence said.

The work includes discussions with teachers regarding contracts and appointing a new superintendent of the merged district, Campione-Lawrence said.

Clark said he is happy to serve on the new board.

“I’m very optimistic [about] the future of our district,” Clark said.

The state requires the merger to be completed by July 1.

To meet the deadline, Clark said he will push the board to work every week if needed.

“If that is what it takes, that is what it takes,” Clark said.

Handy said he hopes to steer the new district toward a better fiscal state.

“I’m very much looking forward to stepping forward and steering the school [in] the right direction,” Handy said.

Handy said the new district will receive $1.5 million in state incentives for each of the next 5 years.

“This gives us an opportunity, fiscally, to stabilize our school system,” Handy said.

The new school board eventually will name a new superintendent.

Former Oppenheim-Ephratah Superintendent Dan Russom and former St. Johnsville D.H. Robbins Elementary School Principal Christopher Fatta were placed on leave in February.

This happened after Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel received complaints about the two administrators, officials said. Details about the complaints have not been released.

Mark Vivacqua, Herkimer BOCES superintendent, has been filling in for Russom.

Oppenheim-Ephratah voters approved the merger in December. St. Johnsville approved the merger in December 2011.

The board’s organizational meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the St. Johnsville High School auditorium. The board will vote on a president and vice president at the meeting.

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