CARTHAGE — Stating that over the last two months, he had not been given the chance to speak on his own behalf, Peter J. Turner, former superintendent of schools for the Carthage Central School District, remedied that during the public comment segment of Monday’s school board meeting.
Mr. Turner, who had planned to retire at the end of 2019, was forced to retire two weeks ahead of that date after a Dec. 17 executive session of the school board.
Mr. Turner said he had not been able to face his accusers during the executive session, nor during any subsequent meetings, to discuss his employment.
“No details were given and there is no evidence of any intent to investigate anything,” Mr. Turner said in the first of his two five-minute addresses to the board.
“As a loyal 25-year employee I deserved better. ... The residents of this district deserve better from the board,” he said.
The former superintendent said if he had been given the chance to tell his side, to hear the board’s concerns, things could have ended differently.
“If all seven board members had the resolve to look me in the eye and tell me it was time to leave, I would have left,” he said.
At the Dec. 17 meeting, Mr. Turner was put on administrative leave, and a week later, the board approved the retirement agreement with Superintendent Turner, effective Dec. 18.
As part of the settlement agreement, Mr. Turner was paid a total of $180,348 — $87,750 in salary, $22,668 in vacation time, $7,930 in sick days and $32,000 in a retirement incentive. According to the retired superintendent, the amount is what he would have been paid if he had stayed in his position until June, minus any vacation taken. Mr. Turner was reportedly paid an additional $30,000 for signing the agreement, and he and his wife will receive health and dental benefits for life with the district paying 85% of the premiums.
Mr. Turner expressed regret that with his abrupt departure he was not allowed to say goodbye to students and employees.
“Had I been given until Friday, my original retirement date, the district would have saved tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “Most people assumed my abrupt departure was a health issue, not anything illegal, unethical or immoral, at least not on my part. My health is fine.”
Mr. Turner said he has received a number of positive comments from the public and school employees speaking of his “core belief of always doing what is best for each individual student.” Another said he had “the fiscal solvency of our district at the forefront of your mission.” A bus driver related he was “very genuine and respectful.”
Speaking before the board gave him an opportunity to have his side heard, Mr. Turner said following the meeting.
“People in the community don’t know what happened and neither do I,” he said.
Mr. Turner did write a farewell letter to the district’s administration assuring them he did nothing “illegal, immoral or unethical” and offered them words of advise from his 35 years in education.
During the second public comment session, Mr. Turner urged the board to do better in the future.
“The board of education must begin making decisions based upon facts, not opinion,” he said. “Board members need to expand their contacts beyond five or 10 close friends. It appears if these close contacts said the sky is green some board members would take that as fact.“
He also questioned the board’s granting of tenure to Jennifer L. Premo as assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction during a special meeting Dec. 23. The retired superintendent said that action takes the recommendation of the superintendent and urged the board to rescind the action if it was done outside the laws governing the process.
Before his time ran out, Mr. Turner spoke of his being a resident of the school district and his community involvement.
Following the meeting, Mr. Turner said he has begun volunteering for the Lewis County Search and Rescue, Volunteer Transportation Center and Hospice.
“I’m finding things to do,” he said. “I enjoy helping out and not being in charge.”
The former school district employee did not have time to make all of his points and plans to return to the next school meeting.
Mr. Turner had planned to retire Dec. 31 but in the fall decided to stay on until the end of the school year as the search for a new superintendent continued.
During Monday’s meeting, the board went into executive session to discuss the superintendent search.
Mr. Turner started in the Carthage School District in 1985 as a social studies teacher. He taught eight years at the high school and three at the middle school. He left the school district, then returned in 2000 and served as the high school principal until 2007. After holding the superintendent position in a Champlain school he was hired here as district head in 2012. His salary was $175,500.
Statement from Peter J. Turner to the Carthage Central School District Board of Education on Feb. 10
Good evening board members,
Perhaps you recognize me as the retired superintendent residing in the Town of Champion. First, I want to apologize if my presence at the last meeting made anyone uncomfortable. It appeared some of you were anxious with my presence, perhaps worried about what I might say. Tonight, I intend to speak.
On December 17, 2019 the board met in executive session to discuss my employment. No details were given and there is no evidence of any intent to investigate anything. The next thing I knew negotiations for a separation agreement commenced. As a loyal 25-year employee I deserved better. The US Constitution guarantees the right to face your accusers. This right was denied to me. I was never asked to respond to any allegations. In typical board fashion there was no desire to gather additional facts. The residents of this district deserve better from the board.
Perhaps a better way to handle this situation would have been to invite me to that executive session to hear my side. If I had the opportunity to look each board member in the eye and hear the concerns this could have ended differently. If all seven board members had the resolve to look me in the eye and tell me, it was time to leave I would have left.
The worst part of this ordeal was the inability to say goodbye to students and employees. Had I been given until Friday, my original retirement date, the district would have saved tens of thousands of dollars. Most people assumed my abrupt departure was a health issue not anything illegal, unethical or immoral, at least not on my part. My health is fine.
I told my lawyer I wanted an apology more than money. He laughed and said, “Boards don’t apologize they negotiate a deal that includes money and silence.”
I received several oral and written comments and I want to share a few because these are from people who probably don’t have regular contact with any board member.
One young professional wrote, “I hope to continue to practice your core belief of always doing what is best for each individual student. I will miss your presence at CCS and hope that you have peace and happiness throughout the next chapter of life.”
Another more seasoned employee wrote, “It always gave me great comfort that you had the best interests of the children and the fiscal solvency of our district at the forefront of your mission. In my mind, I always knew that we would be okay with you at the helm. How very odd and unsettling to go back to work knowing that would no longer be true. I am so sorry.”
A bus driver wrote to my wife, “I want to tell Pete thank you for being a great supervisor and thank him for everything he did for our district and the children in it. I have worked for many years and I never had any contact with any other superintendent like we did with Pete. He was very genuine and respectful”
Another young professional wrote, “I just wanted to tell you that you inspired me every year with your speech at the first Superintendent’s Day. I would go home and tell my family and husband about your jokes. During your speech, I always felt like you would put a lot of emphasis on being a good and kind human being to each other and our students. I remember these remarks and try to be just that when I come to work every day…I love where I work. I truly believe most, if not all, of the reason for that is because of how you ran the district.”
One community member gave me great advice, “Enjoy retirement. Don’t look in the rear-view mirror because there is nothing worth looking at.” Another said, “You added a lot of class to the place.” Yet another simply looked me in the eye, shook my hand and said, “Thank you.”
I value these comments more than any evaluation I have ever received because these came from the heart based upon positive interactions with me. This concludes part 1, I have more for the second session.
I can only hope the board reflects upon their actions and vows to do better in the future. The board has three basic roles to fulfill. 1 Hire and evaluate the Superintendent who is their only employee. 2. Maintain fiscal responsibility and third, make policy. Unfortunately, these three things aren’t as exciting as the daily events of the district.
In the past two months the board has failed the fiscally responsible obligation. It is hardly significant but somebody authorized spending over $160 to ship my personal effects through the postal service. Originally, I arranged to retrieve my personal items during Christmas break, at no cost to the district. From my former office to the post office is approximately the same distance as it is to my house. It would have been faster and less expensive to have a custodial department employee simply deliver the boxes to my house. I could name some employees who would have volunteered for that assignment.
In December the board agreed to hire additional Teaching Assistants based upon eight unsigned letters from one building. Those unsigned letters, delivered by a board member, carried more weight than the administrators present that evening. The good side is we have a new business administrator and a Treasurer who are excellent stewards of the tax dollars, if the board will listen to them.
The board of education must begin making decisions based upon facts not opinion. Board members need to expand their contacts beyond five or ten close friends. It appears if these close contacts said the sky is green some board members would take that as fact.
At the December 23 special meeting you granted tenure to an individual. Why did this need to be done at a special meeting instead of a regular meeting? It was not a time sensitive matter especially since 2.5 years remain on the probationary appointment. It would have been more transparent to wait for the next regular meeting. Again, why did tenure need to be awarded on December 23rd?
My understanding is two things are required to grant tenure. First, a positive written tenure recommendation is needed from the Superintendent. Second, the board must support that recommendation or tenure isn’t granted. I see no evidence of any Superintendent recommendation in the minutes. I could file a FOIL request, but I am certain no such document exists. If I am wrong, who wrote the recommendation? I only see the board action.
Please check with the Ferrara Law Firm whether this is correct. If I am correct, I anxiously await any action the board will take to fix this error. Rescinding the action is the only correct option. I hope you don’t bury your head in the sand because you have the power to do what you want regardless of the law. I contend the board lacks the authority to unilaterally grant tenure without a superintendent recommendation. I realize you did have an attorney present at that meeting but that alone doesn’t mean the action was correct. Two local news organizations are seeking an answer from NYS School Boards Association and the State Education Department.
One of two things should happen at the next board meeting. A statement from the board president regarding the opinion of the Ferrara Firm, that the board action was proper, with the name of the attorney making that determination. The other option is to rescind the tenure appointment by resolution.
I hope my replacement spends as much money and time in this community as I have. In fact, we purchased our fourth new vehicle in December from Caskinette Ford. I was the first to insist school vehicles be purchased locally. I financially support my church within this community. I volunteered at Winter Fest on Saturday despite the cold. I support the food pantry and attend many fundraising events within this community. These actions have kept taxpayer dollars within this district.