Webster board of education meeting gets heated
Updated: May 10, 2021
Parents voice concerns about transparency following superintendent's sudden retirement
Webster, NY - Webster parents had a lot to say on May 6 during a Webster Central School District (WCSD) Board of Education meeting.
Webster Superintendent Carmen Gumina abruptly retired following a federal lawsuit filed by Kali Watkins, a former Webster girls basketball coach and WCSD teacher, against the school district.
The scandal seems to have been the last straw for Webster parents.
Brian Neenan, the district’s deputy superintendent and the assistant superintendent for instruction, is serving as the interim superintendent of schools effective April 30.
One of the parents’ biggest frustrations was with the district’s reopening plan (or lack thereof). They want their children to return to in-person classes like other Monroe County school districts have done.
Parents raised their voices at the board members, scolding the board for poor leadership and the delay in returning students to in-person instruction. The heated discussion brought police into the meeting to de-escalate the intensity of emotions. However, the police left shortly upon their arrival.
With a boardroom full of upset parents, Gurowski stated at the beginning of the meeting:
“We did not have any speakers requesting time to address the board in accordance with the rules of our policy, which has been in effect since July of 2016. We have had some requests to review our policy and will take those suggestions under advisement.”
However, that did not stop parents from fighting to be heard.
Parents ultimately expressed concern over a lack of transparency and accountability.
BOE President Tammy Gurowski claimed that, in regards to communicating with the board via email, “None of those options are ever used.”
However, multiple parents said they did use those methods yet never received any responses from the board.
“I emailed this question, but I did not get a response,” said WCSD parent Sarah Dolle.
Multiple parents asked the board why their students were not yet allowed to return to full in-person learning.
“With everything that’s going on in this district, I don’t trust that you guys are even thinking about bringing our kids back to school,” said Dolle.
She added, “When other districts are being creative and they’re thinking outside the box and they’re working with the parents trying to come up with ways to bring the kids in safely, and doing it...We didn’t even have a plan...Why was there no plan?”
“There’s no transparency. There’s no communication,” said another parent.
He told the board that he and others are concerned that “this budget is also paying off whatever you had to do to get rid of Carm. And no offense, but I’m not going to sign off on that…I’m not paying for whatever he did that was wrong. And neither should anyone else here.”
One woman, who is a teacher herself for another district, said she had a conversation with Mr. Gumina over a year ago about her fears about how the lack of transparency will affect the district’s budget.
“I really fear that our budget’s going to end up going down. Because people, when they’re frustrated, when people don’t feel they’re being listened to, they don’t feel the board’s transparent, then the only place that people have a way to voice their frustrations is on the budget. And I think we all understand that that’s pretty bad for our kids, it’s bad for our community.”
For these parents, the lack of transparency from the district has been an issue for a while.
“I’ve been coming to these board meetings for three years. And all I’ve seen is this board sit up here and have no common courtesy at all for us people, the taxpayers here,” Mark Agor commented at the mic.
He also stated, “Ultimately when all is said and done, we still need to be a community and we all need to come together. So that means we have to come together with us and you. And based upon the way you guys do stuff, it’s not going to happen.”
A few parents also said they are unhappy with the district’s mandation of COVID testing and masking - even if their child only has a minor sore throat - as well as teachers expressing or “putting their opinions on” their children regarding COVID-19 and the vaccine.
“The teachers are not medically trained. They have no business putting their opinions on minors, especially when it comes to something like that,” said one mother.
The majority of the room was optimistic with the selection of Mr. Neenan as the interim superintendent.
“Mr. Neenan, I’ve heard very good things about you. Personally, right now, I 100% respect you,” said Mark Agor. “You are coming into a very hard position. And I would not want to be in that seat. But you have a great opportunity to bring us all together.”
Although not customary during the public comment portion of a BOE meeting, Mr. Neenan responded to the questions posed by concerned parents who took turns at the mic.
“For next year, we are going to do everything; we’re going to get creative, we’re going to do the creative pieces that we need to do, we are going to go back to teaming to make sure we do everything possible for everyone in our district to be here full-time next year,” said Neenan.
Neenan also addressed the concern about what the district plans to do to make up for the gaps in learning caused by the pandemic. He said the district wants to put its incoming federal stimulus monies towards addressing those gaps.
In her closing statements, Gurowski said, “We’ll try to find a way to accommodate. I understand that there may have been emails. The previous superintendent had different ideas about communication, and we have an opportunity to do things differently, and I think that we will.”
Gumina announced his immediate retirement on April 29 only days after Watkins filed the lawsuit against the district and town officials for child sex abuse allegations previously made against him. Watkins was exonerated from any criminal charges in August 2019.
The lawsuit claims that the “superintendent had a malicious personal vendetta against Watkins.”
Gumina has not commented on whether his sudden retirement was directly related to the lawsuit.
You can watch the full May 6 BOE meeting HERE. You can also watch it below.