Kraus Denied Tenure

Elementary principal to return to teaching

    Anger and frustration again erupted at the East Hampton School Board meeting on Tuesday night, with the board acknowledging the superintendent’s recommendation to deny tenure to Gina Kraus, the John M. Marshall Elementary School’s principal. Come September, she will return to her former position as an elementary school teacher. 
    After announcing to her staff that she would not be granted tenure and that her role as an administrator would end in June, more than 100 parents, teachers, and former administrators turned out at last month’s school board meeting — with many hoping that a strong show of support might reverse such a decision.
    On Tuesday night, the district office was packed, with some of her supporters forced to stand for the duration of the nearly two-hour meeting.
    Though she had yet to speak out publicly, Ms. Kraus stood and addressed the board. She was visibly upset and pushed back tears.
     “The reason I didn’t resign tonight is because things deserve to play out,” said Ms. Kraus, whose voice cracked throughout her remarks. “I am losing my position and I accept that. I am a great believer that really good things come out of really bad and unfair situations.”
    She concluded by noting: “I want to thank you for this wonderful journey. I have not one regret. I want to thank you for the privilege of being your principal and for the honor of being able to return to a place I so loved.”
    At the end of her remarks, all in the audience stood for a prolonged standing ovation.
    Just prior to speaking, Ms. Kraus’s husband, Ken, also addressed the board. Though Ms. Kraus later called it “grounds for divorce,” she thanked her husband.
    “She’s shivering in her boots and so am I,” said Mr. Kraus. “This is institutional bullying,” he said, questioning whether the decision-making process was a democratic or tyrannical one. He also described the board and the superintendent as “oppressive.”
    “Rich,” said Mr. Kraus, addressing Mr. Burns by his first name, “you stood in my home last year and said how lucky you were to have Gina as principal.”
    He also took issue with Robert Tymann, the district’s assistant superintendent, who sat in the front row, his back to the audience. “I think Bob should stand up and take some of this blame, too. He’s from Lindenhurst. He’s not turning around. He’s been here for eight months and still doesn’t know Gina well enough to make these decisions.”
     For their part, several board members said that their hands were tied.
    “The law says that the superintendent makes the decision to end a probationary period with or without tenure,” said Patricia Hope, a board member. “The board acknowledges that decision. It’s carved into New York State law. This law is simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.”
    Concern about an outsider coming in to replace Ms. Kraus seemed a pervasive sentiment. J.P. Foster, a resident of East Hampton and rumored to be running for the school board, said that going forward, he was in support of “keeping local people within our district.” He further added: “I want you to turn every rock inside our district over before even going there.”
    Jackie Lowey, a board member, also fighting back tears, said that the process of tenure in New York State was a broken one, and that it had been a difficult few weeks for every member of the board.
    “This has been a very difficult process for all of us and I hope at the end of all of this we can all go home and thank Gina for everything she has done and continues to do,” said Ms. Lowey. “And we can move on to healing and caring for this district.”
    Prior to adjourning, Ashley Blackburn, another member of the audience, also broke down in tears, on a completely different subject, saying that her son, a student at East Hampton Middle School, had been “physically assaulted, bullied, and discriminated against.”
     “My son and other students do not feel safe,” said Ms. Blackburn. “Parents want to know what is being done,” saying that she had received little in the way of an acceptable response.
    Mr. Burns interjected, saying that “it has been addressed and I feel that the solution we arrived at is being handled in the right way.” Both he and the middle school principal, Charles Soriano, declined to disclose additional details.
    While three East Hampton School Board members are up for re-election this spring, Lauren Dempsey indicated that she would not be running again. George Aman, the board president, said the odds were “three to one, against” his running again, and Alison Anderson said she has yet to make a final decision as to whether she will try to keep her seat.
    Later in the meeting, board members discussed the 2-percent tax levy cap and weighed the possible advantages of accepting certain exemptions, given that an artificially lowered tax rate might result in a dire financial situation in the coming years. So far, the board plans to cut nearly $1 million from this year’s preliminary budget.
    The board will cover other details related to the 2013-14 budget at next week’s work session, which is open to the public. The meeting kicks off at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the district office.

An earlier version of this story said that board members and Richard J. Burns, the school superintendent, remained seated during a standing ovation for Ms. Kraus. Several board members have disputed that and said that they, too, stood.