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Tupper Lake school should host forum in superintendent search

This is a particularly challenging moment for the Tupper Lake Central School District. It’s also the perfect moment to invite everyone into the process as the district looks toward its future.

Tupper Lake’s school board — with help from Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES — is currently looking for the district’s new superintendent. The board has narrowed a slate of 13 candidates down to three: Aditya (Joe) Dhara, Jared Taft and Jaycee Welsh.

The school is planning to have a stakeholder group — including select teachers, parents and other residents — conduct another round of interviews with these three candidates.

Why stop there?

Earlier this month, the district’s budget passed by just 116 votes, narrowly avoiding major cuts to programs. In 2021, the district’s budget passed by just eight votes. These results, paired with the very public opposition to this most recent budget and allegations of money mismanagement, point to a broader problem. Regardless of the very real financial challenges facing nearly every rural school district right now, there’s clearly a portion of the community that is losing faith in district leadership as many face financial hardships of their own.

This is the perfect opportunity to showcase each superintendent candidate’s vision for this district with the entire school community. Maybe, if everyone is invited into this process, it would go a long way in assuaging residents’ concerns moving forward.

That’s why we’re calling on the Tupper Lake school board to host a public forum where everyone can hear from each candidate directly.

This isn’t unheard of: Just a few years ago, the Peru Central School District, in Clinton County, hosted a forum featuring its superintendent candidates. It doesn’t have to be a huge, costly affair –instead, open the school’s auditorium as was done at the recent hearing on the school’s budget. Have candidates pitch themselves and present their visions. Maybe have a question-and-answer period.

We can’t expect these candidates to know everything about the Tupper Lake school district, but we should expect them to be able to outline their positions on several key issues, like their approach to budgets.

We should also expect them to get used to being in the public eye.

Being a rural school district’s superintendent is a big responsibility. A superintendent is a spokesperson for the district, someone who should be an advocate for students and staff, someone who should have an understanding of a school’s reality with an eye toward an ideal future. In this region, school superintendents are also among the highest-paid public employees — in the 2024-25 budget, the superintendent salary is $150,000, plus $52,975 in benefits. It follows that the community should know who, exactly, wants to hold this position and what their vision of the Tupper Lake Central School District would be.

As Tupper Lake school Superintendent Russ Bartlett prepares to retire after leading the district since 2020 — only the second person in this district to do so since 2008 — we believe that this is the right time to host a public forum. We hope that the school board will take this into serious consideration.

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