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Does the Jordan-Elbridge Central School District have an interim superintendent or doesn’t it?

Jordan-Elbridge High School Principal David Zehner, who was placed on paid leave Sept. 20, in August filed an Article 78 proceeding against the district’s school board and Sue Gorton, who is listed on the district website as assistant superintendent for instruction, that claimed the district

made Gorton the interim superintendent without a public vote.

Zehner said the board and Gorton violated open meetings law by appointing Gorton to take over when Superintendent Marilyn Dominick leaves Nov. 1. Zehner said the board never held a public meeting or a public vote to appoint Gorton.

But board president Mary Alley said there is misinformation circulating in the community. Alley said Gorton has not yet been formally appointed and cited poor wording in a letter sent to staff in August as the cause of the problem.

“Because of the letter we sent to the community, it has created the perception that the board has appointed Ms. Gorton, but it’s not factual,” Alley said. “Whenever you appoint anyone to the school district, it has to occur in public session so there can be discussion about that appointment in open session.”

Alley said she could not locate the letter, but summed up the wording as, “the board has decided to appoint Sue Gorton as interim superintendent.”

There is also an announcement on the Jordan-Elbridge district website that says the board will be appointing Gorton as interim superintendent while the district conducts a search for a permanent superintendent.

Alley said Zehner is falsely claiming the board met secretly to appoint Gorton and added that Gorton’s contract as interim superintendent hasn’t been signed.

The situation will come to a head at 10 a.m. Wednesday, when a hearing on Zehner’s legal challenge takes place on the third floor of the Onondaga County Court House.

Alley said she did not know when Gorton was scheduled to be appointed in open session, but Zehner pointed out the board has two more meetings during which to vote on the issue. Only the Oct. 6 and Oct. 20 meetings remain before Dominick’s departure.

Dominick, who agreed with Alley that Gorton has not been formally appointed, also believes the board must appoint Gorton publicly prior to Nov. 1.

“I would think an interim superintendent would have to be appointed before I leave,” Dominick said.

Zehner said he isn’t buying the board’s “poorly worded letter” explanation. He referred to a series of dates on which he said it was made clear Gorton was already appointed.

- Zehner said there was a meeting July 30 for 12-month district employees during which it was announced Gorton was appointed as the interim superintendent;

- Zehner said Gorton posed for photos as the interim superintendent in August when a newspaper came to do a story about her new position;

- He said in early September, Gorton was introduced to faculty as the “leader of our educational community,” a term Dominick often uses interchangeably with the word “superintendent.”

“(Gorton has) also been acting superintendent in the meantime,” Zehner said. “She’s basically taken over.”

He said Dominick alluded to Gorton’s new role.

“In the private meetings I’ve had with Marilyn Dominick, she expressed to me she had no power now,” he said. “Marilyn has said she has no power.”

This legal challenge by Zehner is one of many issues that has the Jordan-Elbridge community asking questions of the board. More than 150 residents showed up Sunday to voice their concerns at a meeting held at the Elbridge Fire Station.

Zehner is the most recent of at least four other top administrators who have been suspended, fired, have resigned or who have been subjected to other position changes within the district.

Staff writer Kelly Voll can be reached at 282-2239 or kelly.voll@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at CitizenVoll.

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