Last night, the Hudson City School District Board of Education voted 4 to 2 to rescind their May 17 vote, which imposed the $41 million budget even though the voters had soundly rejected it. Jeff Otty, the vice president of the board, who minimized the significance of the popular vote last week by pointing out that only 18 percent of the voters had shown up, chaired last night's meeting, in the absence of BOE President Emil Meister, who was ill. Needless to say, with a standing room only crowd in the high school cafeteria and a police officer present to ensure order, some drama preceded this outcome, and Gossips will endeavor to bring you the highlights.
The first thing the BOE did was to agree to change the order of the agenda and move the public forum to the opening slot. That being done, the first to speak was steadfast HCSD watchdog and critic Vince Wallace, who spoke with some nostalgia about 2005, when the voters rejected the proposed budget not once but twice, and the BOE was forced to adopt a contingency budget that eliminated sports, as well as art and music. As Wallace remembered it, "there was never a closer relationship between the community and the schools." Some will remember that 2005 was also the year that the City of Hudson gave the school district $100,000 out of its fund balance. Rick Scalera, mayor then as now, justified the gift by pointing out that the voters of Hudson had supported the budget. That's not the case this time. The budget was rejected in Hudson 351 to 124.
The next speaker was 84-year-old Claverack resident John Keeler, who described himself as "an oldtimer who's been here a long time." After protesting the way the BOE had "swiftly ignored the community" in its May 17 vote, he declared that it is "way overdue for the board to reform itself" and "deliver quality education at a reasonable price."
Carmine Pierro, Mayor Scalera's aide, told the BOE that, in Hudson politics, he'd been through "eight or nine contentious elections, but when it's over, it's over"--the outcome is decided by the will of the majority. Declaring that he had "a problem with a 3 to 1 vote that was ignored," Pierro called for Otty, who had made the statement dismissing the vote's significance, to resign from the board.
Lee Stone, speaking from where he stood at the back of the room, told the BOE that they should "feel ashamed for the young people fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan when our vote doesn't count." He called for just one person on the board who had voted to impose the rejected budget to say, "I changed my mind."
A woman, who began her statement by telling the board, "You guys finally got me out here," introduced another theme into expressed discontent with the BOE and the HCSD. Her son, she said, had graduated from Hudson High School and could read only at a third-grade level. She told the board, "You have no right to disrespect us as taxpayers and parents."
The public forum concluded, Jeff Otty began his response by denying that he had ever said the May 17 popular vote didn't count. He went through a litany of reasons why the proposed budget was the best it could be and claimed that "the majority of people understand." He ended his statement with a lament about serving on the BOE without remuneration: "I put up with this aggravation for nothing."
BOE member Peter Meyer countered Otty's response with one of this own. "The people spoke," said Meyer, "and told us loud and clear that they don't like this budget. I think we can do better, and we owe it to the public to do so."
There was more conversation and more comments from the public, in the midst of which Wallace called for a vote, but that request went unheeded while BOE member Mary Daly and Superintendent Jack Howe continued to cite reasons why the HCSD could not reach the 3.5 percent tax increase that is the state average. Finally BOE member Elizabeth Fout, after pointing out that the budget had been defeated by the largest margin in HCSD history, noted that there was "a list of cuts that we didn't look at too closely" and stated her willingness to "come back every night for the next two weeks" to work on the budget. Fout said that she didn't think that BOE members who voted no on May 17 could make the motion to rescind the vote, but she made the motion anyway.
Fout's motion was not seconded because there was uncertainty about who could make the motion to rescind. Robert's Rules of Order indicates that a motion to rescind a prior vote must come from a member who had voted yes in that vote. Howe, however, had an opinion from HCSD lawyers that indicated otherwise. He shared their interpretation that "Robert's Rules of Order should not preclude any member of the board from acting in the best interest of the board." But what was needed to ensure that the vote to rescind would be successful was for someone to change his or her mind.
At last, Peter Merante, who had voted yes on May 17, made the motion to rescind. His statement about the reasons for his change of heart was drowned out by the thunderous applause from the audience. Fout seconded the motion, and the vote was taken. The result was 4 to 2 to rescind. Jeri Chapman, Fout, Meyer, and Merante voted yes to rescind; Otty and Daly voted no.
Although, during the course of the meeting, two weeks was regularly mentioned as the time frame for coming up with a better budget, the fact is there is only one week. The new budget must be ready by May 31. The first meeting to revamp the budget will take place on Wednesday, May 25, at 6 p.m., and the public is invited to attend. Peter Meyer volunteered to organize the agenda for that meeting and is soliciting ideas from everyone. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read Paul Crossman's account of the same meeting in the Register-Star: "Board of Ed bows to public pressure."