Thursday, August 19, 2010


Last night's school board meeting, and the subsequent press coverage, were certainly entertaining.  I avoided taking a position until last night; the fact that I know Mr. Kerr made me want take the time to gather the facts so that I could be sure that our relationship (which I would characterize as an acquaintanceship, albeit a strong enough one that he offered me a ride recently) did not bias my view.

Two out of three reporters have filed their stories; the only one missing is for our local weekly paper, which comes out a day before its publication date; that story should be available Wednesday next in print.  The articles which are out, one in the Times Herald Record and the other in the Daily Freeman, didn't include my comments, so I will reproduce them here, with helpful links that I couldn't figure out how to include orally:

My comments this evening are focused on the Code of Conduct, and the "zero tolerance" policy that underlies it. The district's code of conduct in its present form makes it theoretically possible for a student to receive out-of-school suspension for using an iPod, and for a number of other offenses including serious ones like drug dealing and bullying.
In today's society, where almost all adults must work to keep their households afloat, OSS is more of a reward than a punishment, and should be reserved for those rare and extreme cases where keeping a child in school poses a danger.  In fact, a few months ago a New Paltz high school student told me that yes, he has deliberately broken rules to earn himself a three-day vacation from school.
Instead of sending kids home where they will be unsupervised, I suggest we revamp the code of conduct to keep most student offenders in the building.  There they can be supervised, and held accountable for their assignments. The district could even explore a community-service component, demanding that troublemakers give back to make up for their disruption.  OSS is an abdication of responsibility which simply transfers a problem out the school's influence. It's one of the strongest reasons why the zero-tolerance policy is ineffective.
I would like to see these changes take place from the top down, starting with the Board itself.  Many people in this room feel that Don Kerr should not be afforded the luxury of being deemed innocent until proven guilty.  If the Board agrees with this position, then Mr. Kerr's punishment should send a strong message. Don't go easy on him - make him continue in the thankless job of Board President, and demand that he give back to this community by paying for all the necessary training out of his own pocket.  After he's been President for a year, I have no doubt that Mr. Kerr will see the error of his ways.
It was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but it was completely true.  The Code of Conduct sucks, and needs a revamp as I've been saying for months (and will be getting one this year regardless).  The President job also sucks, even when the man in the job doesn't have his own deeds haunting him.  He has to set the agenda, run the meeting, and take it on the chin for every action the school does and does not take.  There are two other members who have been President before, and three who according to past practice are unqualified because they have never served as VP or President.  Neither Patrick Rausch nor Bob Rich wanted the job.  That's because they know it's a beast and a half, and takes countless hours of unpaid time to do well.  And that remark about the training? Well, Don's already paying for it out of his own pocket, because they didn't budget for it.

There was over an hour of public comment, and I can't fault either reporter for redacting my viewpoint, but there were other omissions that I think were more glaring:

  • Justin Holmes and several others suggested that this is an opportunity to review our society's inconsistent messages about marijuana use.  His partner Amanda Catherine Stauble probably did the best job of it, however; she explained how as a DARE graduate she watched as several friends discovered that pot isn't as bad as the program claims, and how those lies lead kids into falsely believing harder drugs are no big deal.
  • David Dukler, former school board member, pointed out the biased editorial practices of the New Paltz Times regarding coverage of school board members and candidates. His comments did a much better job than I have of pointing out how rampant yellow journalism is in this community.  Not a surprise that this was ignored; the Record took my inquiries into Edgar Rodriguez' lawsuit against the district and turned it into an article on Steve Greenfield, who wasn't even running. Gotta protect your own, right?
  • There are rumblings of a time- and money-wasting legal action to get Don Kerr to resign.  I say it's a waste because there's no legal recourse, period.  If this was a concern, it should have been addressed when he ran for reelection.  Public comment is appropriate, but please don't piddle away my tax dollars dragging this out any longer.
I would like to address Ed Burke specifically, since he does occasionally comment here.  Folks referred to this as a "witch hunt" because there are people who are using this incident to attack Don, even though they don't particularly care about this issue.  I don't believe that describes you, but please don't be naive.  One of Don's most outspoken critics told me about his own pot use in the parking lot, and the room was packed with people who feel that removing Don from this position will help them keep their unreported cash rents in their pockets rather than paying their share for our kids' education.  It is possible that there are people who agree with you for reasons other than those they state.  It's Don's fault he gave them the ammunition, but that doesn't mean everyone has the kids' best interests at heart.

Note: per this blog's code of conduct I have attempted to contact each person named in this post.  I have not yet obtained email addresses for Patrick Rausch, Bob Rich, or Ed Burke.


John Bligh said...

Good job. Better than the New Paltz Times would or could do.

Terence said...

I should make it clear that I have nothing but respect for the NP Times writer who handles this beat. He is an absolute professional.

MaryAnn said...

Luckily for me.... I had the fun of standing way in the back in the hallway - so not only did I NOT get to hear half of what the people at the mic were saying, I got to hear all of what the people in the back were saying.

For me... first and foremost is the fact that he was not convicted of anything in a court of law. Yes, I'm MORE than sure, the police did NOT lie about the contents of Don Kerr's car and I wouldn't even imply that. Everyone was so bent on "but it's illegal" - well it's nice that you can pick and choose when YOU want to stick to the letter of the law but only as far as the police, right? That's where the law stops? You can't have it both ways. THE LAW allows allows a court proceeding and this is the way it ended - like it or not.

Secondly - I don't know Don Kerr personally - we have chatted informally and I'll admit - I very rarely agree with him politically as far as the school board is concerned. The ridiculous accusation that he is a role model to children is a joke. No offense to Don but I doubt he's living the teenage dream - pot smoker or not. How many people stood up and said "you're a nice guy, I've never heard a bad word about you, but that's not good enough." "You do a lot of good in the community and thank you, but that just matter." If my child grew up to be a volunteer in his community, a person able to speak up for what he believes in (by running for and holding a publicly elected office), and raising an awesome son... I would LOVE that!

My favorite part of the evening was the outright laughable, taken right from Reefer Madness itself - "pot leads to harder drugs" "it's laced with more dangerous drugs" propaganda. People literally laughed out loud. Not to mention the "I know what kids do drugs because my kids tell me." Now, how naive can you be? Do you think your kid is handing out DARE fliers to his peers? Birds of a feather.... And don't think I don't what your kids are doing... or you for that matter. I saw more than a few hypocrites.

There are so many ways to use this as a positive experience. Either by making a more active student government - a peer court type thing for students facing a suspension. Or an opportunity to show true diversity - as opposed to the sugar coated - let's pretend we're all the same even though we're all different - diversity they teach now.

Maybe we could put things in perspective -- isn't the middle school of the verge of collapse or something? Let's revamp the whole board - that will expedite the important things. --sorry, that was necessarily sarcastic.

Some people said... "I have yet to meet one person who thinks Don Kerr should be school board president." well... Put me down as first.

I could end this with a whole marijuana is not evil dissertation - but actually - it's irrelevant as there was no marijuana conviction.

James said...

Marijuana does not belong in schools and neither does zero tolerance policies, especially since Kerr got some sort of UPM.

Robin said...

State law has decriminalized marijuana possession for 25 grams or under. (see: It's no more a crime than not coming to a complete stop at the stop sign on Plattekill and Mohonk. People are treating Kerr as if he had been carrying several pounds of the stuff with intent to sell. He wasn't, and there's no proof that his driving was impaired by chemical use, so there's no proof that he had even been using marijuana recently. I'm pretty certain there's no proof that the marijuana had ever been in or near a school. As such, Don Kerr is not a criminal, and should not be treated as one.

Ed Burke said...

Terrance, my email is

In reading your post I am trying to understand the statement “One of Don's most outspoken critics told me about his own pot use in the parking lot, and the room was packed with people who feel that removing Don from this position will help them keep their unreported cash rents in their pockets rather than paying their share for our kids' education.” The room was packed with these people? Now if I believed that, that would be me being naïve.

Terrance, I do my best not to be drawn into the practice of diversion as a few of the posters here due when issues do not go their way. Lets stay on the topic. As many people stated at the meeting, Don was not found guilty of any drug possession and charges- correct. He plea bargained- period. I wanted him to have his day in court, he chose not to. I asked for his resignation and he has chosen to stay on as the President.

What really surprised me from that meeting was even if every other board member had a change of heart, there would be nothing any one of them could do to remove any sitting School Board President (except if there was a felony charge if I understand it correctly).

As it always happens in this town, we will move onto the next great debate. There will be lines drawn and sides taken. This is a unique town with many different points of view, and at times that is what I love about this town. And other times, it makes me scratch my head. Wednesday night was one of those occasions when I was left scratching my head.

Martin McPhillips said...

A while ago I read the New Paltz Times story on the school board meeting.

If the reporting is accurate, I've never heard so many stupid things said in one place at one time. With the possible exception of Congress.