Looking back at the second half of 2012

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Wed., Dec. 26, 2012
A crew works in Lebanon on Nov. 3 to repair lingering Sandy damage. File photos by Melanie Savage.
A crew works in Lebanon on Nov. 3 to repair lingering Sandy damage. File photos by Melanie Savage.

Late during the 2011-12 school year, the Lebanon Education Association representing Lebanon’s teachers took the unprecedented step of approving a vote of “No Confidence” against Superintendent Janet Tyler. With an 88-3 vote, nearly 97 percent of the union membership suggested that they no longer felt confident that Tyler was capable of continuing to lead the district.

A “No Confidence” vote is an unusual occurrence, and this was the first time in the LEA’s history that its members had felt compelled to take this step. Hired in 2010, Tyler has faced a number of high-profile controversies during her tenure, including a $300,000 bill for clearing the district’s roofs of snow after 2011 snowstorms, and a stir caused by an elementary school student bringing a replica firearm to school. Tyler is involved in lawsuits filed by two former employees of the district.  She created controversy during the 2012 budget season by initially proposing a district budget representing a 9.5-percent increase, after the town’s Board of Finance asked departments to come in with flat or reduced funding.

Tyler pointed to the economy when asked to identify a reason for the union’s action. “This past year has been a financially difficult one for the Lebanon public schools,” she said. “As the result of significant cuts to the Board of Education’s proposed budget, the school district has had to make extensive and difficult budget cuts that have impacted many of our employees and employee groups. It is understandable that employees are not happy with these cuts and, as the individual tasked with implementing these budget cuts, it is also understandable that their ire may be directed at me.” Tyler was hopeful that she could move forward in cooperation with the school board, “to continue to serve the children of Lebanon.”

Folks who hoped for a discussion regarding the "No Confidence" vote against Tyler were disappointed when Board of Education members failed to address the issue at their July 10 meeting. Board Chairman Melissa Hofmann, however, did read a letter representing a second "No Confidence" vote against Tyler, this time by district secretaries.

It read, in part: “It is unfortunate that we have reached this point, but we believe that the superintendent’s adversarial relationship and bullying of school employees is having a detrimental effect on the educational experience of our district’s students. It is difficult to do our jobs running the day-to-day operations of the school district when the superintendent insists on being inaccessible, fails to communicate with staff and demonstrates a general lack of competence, even after two years on the job.”

Hebron Board of Education Chair Kathy Shea and Vice Chair Tina Blinn confirmed in late August that Superintendent Ellie Cruz had announced her resignation from the district. Cruz had accepted a position in Plymouth with a starting date of Dec. 17. “Her last day in this district will be Friday, Dec. 14,” said Shea.

Cruz planned to submit her budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year at the Dec. 13 meeting. “That’s the normal progression,” said Shea. “The superintendent normally submits the budget in December and the board works on it during workshops in January.” With fewer than 1,000 students between the town’s two elementary schools, some felt that the district could be managed on a part-time basis.

“To respond to your specific question regarding a reduction of the superintendent’s position to part-time, I believe all board members have an obligation and a duty to the citizens of this town to perform their own in-depth research on superintendent position structure vs. student performance, employee satisfaction, community involvement, etc., across districts before they can truly come to the table ready to speak to what is best to lead the staff and children of this district,” said Blinn.

Cruz cited an opportunity for broader career experience among her reasons for leaving. “This opportunity will include the ability to work with middle school and high school staff and students, an experience I had hoped for in my leadership career” she said. “It has been an honor and a privilege to serve Hebron Public Schools... It is that very sense of deep community values and strong parental support that appealed to me in Plymouth Public Schools. Hebron and Plymouth are alike in how they place a tremendous emphasis on helping each child succeed.”

By Saturday, Nov. 3, the sun was shining and most folks had resumed their normal activities after Superstorm Sandy. While bringing devastation to the Jersey shore, parts of New York City, and a small part of shoreline Connecticut, most of the state was spared the devastating amounts of rain that wrought havoc closer to the center of the storm’s path. Interior towns escaped the storm surge that brought devastation to the coast, but did experience high winds, with gusts reaching to about 65 miles per hour in some locations.

The high winds and resulting tree damage brought high numbers of power outages statewide, and a few tragic deaths, including one in Mansfield. Ninety-year-old Olga Raymond was killed when she left her Mansfield home during the height of the storm to seek refuge at a neighbor’s house. Raymond had reportedly been shaken when the top portion of a large pine tree fell onto her roof. She made it a few steps into her yard before a massive oak tree, uprooted by the wind, toppled on top of her.

Some local towns experienced higher percentages of power outages than others, with Hebron recording 99 percent of households without electricity shortly after the storm. But many of those households were restored quickly; in Hebron, many residents waited just 24 hours before their lights went back on. By Nov. 3, the outage percentages had been significantly reduced, though utility workers were still out in force working to restore customers who remained in the dark.

On Dec. 16, two gray-haired women bent over a hymnal together in a pew at the First Congregational Church of Andover. They sang the opening hymn for just one of hundreds of vigils held nationwide for the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn.

State Rep. Pam Sawyer (R-55), one of several speakers at the service, finished off her remarks by reading off the first names of the victims: Charlotte, Rachel, Olivia, Dylan, Dawn, Jesse, Ana, Grace, Anne Marie, Emilie, Noah, Jessica, Lauren, Mary, Victoria, Daniel, Josephine, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, James, Jack, Caroline, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison.

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