SLCSD board president resigns
White says she left after ‘contentious’ closed door meeting left her ‘sick’ and ‘dismayed’
SARANAC LAKE — At the end of a Nov. 16 Board of Education meeting in Saranac Lake, board President Aurora White resigned, read a letter to the board and left.
White said on Saturday that she could not continue as president after learning that she had “lost the faith” of several board members following a “contentious” executive session last month, in which she said she was “dismayed” by the actions of the district.
Because this meeting took place in a closed-door executive session, board members say they can’t speak on what happened in the meeting that caused this contention.
In the Oct. 5 meeting, White said the board was going into executive session to discuss the “personal assignment of a particular employee to a specific individual.”
This is as detailed a statement White said she could give, adding that she ran this language by a lawyer before the meeting to make sure it was legally acceptable.
“Recently I was asked to look inward and reflect upon my role as a leader of this governing body, and I have spent the last month and a half doing just that,” White said in the Nov. 16 meeting. “During a recent phone conversation I was notified that I have lost the faith of at least five members of the current board to carry out the duties of the president. I do not accept that that conversation should have happened outside of this public forum.”
White said she was told these members do not want her to remain the president, but they wanted her to stay on as a board member because they “value” her opinion and experience. They thought she was misconstruing the intent of the board, she was told.
“I cannot accept this as an option,” White said. “If you don’t trust me to run a meeting in a public setting, why in the world would you trust me to represent the district behind closed doors at the negotiating table as well?”
Her resignation was “effective immediately,” so she left the meeting after reading it and turned what was left of the meeting over to whoever the board chose to lead it. The board chose Vice President Mark Farmer, and unanimously elected him as president after an executive session.
Farmer said he was surprised by White’s resignation. He thanked her for her service on the board and said she was a committed member.
White said Farmer was the only one who did not say he wanted her to step down as president.
Farmer will be the board president through the rest of the school year. In July, when the board holds its organizational meeting, it will reevaluate who will lead it. The board now still needs one more member to make it a full seven-member board.
At the next board meeting on Dec. 7, Farmer said members will decide if they will appoint a new member or hold a special election. Usually, since a special election can be costly, he said the board leans toward appointing a new member.
At this meeting, the board will also nominate a new vice president.
Reasons for resignation unclear
“That was so hard for me,” White said of resigning. “I have really enjoyed being on the board.”
White said she first ran for the board because she didn’t like how the district was running at the time and wanted to make a change. She had been elected to three terms on the board and resigned a year-and-a-half into her third term.
All the people who asked her to step down as president also had voted to reelect her as the president in July, she pointed out.
The issue stems from a “contentious” executive session of the board on Oct. 5, White said.
“I was really surprised and dismayed by the administrator’s explanation of events in that meeting and in my opinion, it was pretty damning and unacceptable for the district,” White said. “I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I don’t agree with the actions of the district in relationship to what was being explained in that executive session.”
“My expectation of how they would react was very much different then how they reacted,” she added. “I don’t believe that the rules and regulations that are in place to protect individuals were being followed in this situation. … For employees, students and families.”
She said she felt she couldn’t uphold the oath she made when she was sworn in if she “got in line” on this issue.
“It made me sick to my stomach and I couldn’t sleep,” White said. “I just could not be party to it. It seriously made me sick to my stomach.”
“I still stress out about it, I just don’t have any control,” she added. “I cannot be part of a board that does accept what happened.”
But, she said she cannot reveal what make her so dismayed.
“Unfortunately, because everything happened behind executive session or in exempt session, I really can’t explain what I was upset about or what I heard,” White said.
She said state education law bars board members from talking about what happens in an executive session. Though she is no longer a member of the school board, White said federal law still protects the private information of individuals discussed at the meeting. Law aside, she said the people discussed also “deserve their privacy.”
In the Oct. 5 meeting agenda, the reason given for the executive session was discussion of “The medical, financial, credit, or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporat(ion.)”
In the meeting, White said the board was going into executive session to discuss the “personal assignment of a particular employee to a specific individual.”
White said this was an “important matter.”
“I would not resign over something trivial,” she said.
But she said the public does not need to know about this particular situation, which she described as being “private in nature to the people involved.”
She said she asked questions at the Oct. 5 meeting and at a second executive session with an attorney.
Farmer said he thinks it’s unlikely the issue discussed in these executive sessions will ever be discussed in public session.
White voted against the motion to return to public session on Oct. 5, as well as the vote to end the meeting, two hours and 15 minutes after they entered executive session.
“I have always tried to represent everyone in our district, including, and more importantly so, those who are in the minority,” White said on Nov. 16. “Even the quietest voice deserves to be heard in this forum.”
She said in her first term as president, she was more reserved with her comments because she was concerned people would assume her voice carries more weight on the board than other members.
“It does not,” she said, and that concern was not an excuse to not speak up for opinions of silent people.
She said she now has voiced her thoughts and opinions, even if they’re not always popular. She said it was fair to extrapolate that the issue came because she was representing the opinions of a minority of people in the district. White said she has “strong views on how students and teachers should be treated,” that the board should use the law to hold them in highest respect and that she cannot advocate for all her duties in public and not the same behind closed doors.
She wanted to serve, but she wanted to represent these minority voices, she said.
White said she was “in total disagreement” with the rest of the board, but the board wanted a unanimous opinion.
“Instead of focusing on the problem at hand, they focused on me,” White said. “People on the board are of the opinion that it looks better to the public if we all consent with each other.”
She feels, with seven members on the board who all cast a vote, split votes should not be avoided and should be expected. Then, no matter the outcome, they should get behind it, accept it and move along. It’s “healthy” to have different opinions, she said.
There’s been several unexpected resignations on the SLCSD board in the past few years, mostly for personal reasons.
Jeremy Evans resigned from the school board in January to pursue a run for Saranac Lake mayor. Jeff Branch resigned in October 2021, saying he could not both work and serve on the board to the extent he