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Mixed Feelings On School Superintendent's Contract

MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. – As the Mount Pleasant school board searches for ways to create a reasonable budget, some residents are questioning why superintendent Susan Guiney was granted a contract extension in June that will raise her salary by 23 percent over the next five years.

At a recent Board of Education meeting, resident and parent Thomas McCabe brought Dr. Guiney's contract to the podium after receiving a copy through a FOIL request. McCabe questioned certain features of the contract such as sick days and a termination clause that allows Guiney to receive a full year salary should the board decide to terminate her employment.

"The challenge is that with the two percent tax cap, we're now obligated under a five year agreement, which has never really been in place before," McCabe said.

In June, Guiney signed a contract extension that will raise her salary from $200,000 in 2010, to $266,000 by 2015. Guiney's original contract as superintendent was not set to expire until 2013. Guiney says the deal was in place to provide stability to the district.

"Stable leadership within the district administrators has a direct strong and positive correlation between student performance," Guiney said. "And our students are performing well,"

Theresa Fowler, president of the Mount Pleasant school board, says that Guiney met all requirements as superintendent and it was an important goal to keep her within the district in the long-term.

"Everything that she does is not only for now but for the future, this is somebody we want on our side, we want her vision," Fowler said. "She sets the bar high for us,"

Mount Pleasant resident Trish Pucarelli knows the cuts going on within the district all too well. This past year, Pucarelli was let go from her job as a clerical worker in Westlake High School as part of the budget cuts.

"I feel like the board is being manipulating to accommodate certain people's needs, but the needs of the children and the tax payers are being overlooked," Pucarelli said. "I wouldn't mind another $30,000 if it went to programs,"

Fowler stressed that the extension was made in transparency and was clear to the residents of Mount Pleasant, even though it was discussed in a private executive session before being voted upon, which is standard protocol for the board.

Guiney acknowledges that in the years ahead, the district will need to make cuts or exceed the 2 percent property tax cap that is now imposed by state law if they choose to stay with a similar budget.

"There may be reductions in some areas, we need to look at the larger picture," Guiney said. "There are some programs in place that we need to evaluate, we need to look at every single piece."

In 2010-11, the district increased its budget by 1.87% with a tax levy increase of 3.55%. It will be Guiney's responsibility to put together an acceptable budget that complies with the tax cap. With a contract that will keep her as superintendent until 2016, Guiney is taking an optimistic look at possibly difficult times ahead.

"I see it that we have $55 million to allocate throughout the schools," Guiney said. "I think that's a lot of money, so I'm looking at the glass as half full,"

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