June 18, 2008

Lew-Port Candidate Explains Lawsuits Against Him

By Paul Westmoore, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Jun. 18--LEWISTON-- Oren F. Cook, Marcus Whitman School superintendent, the third candidate being considered to be the new Lewiston-Porter School District superintendent, requested a meeting with the School Board in executive session Tuesday night to explain two lawsuits in which he has been involved in his current district.

He also wanted to discuss a third lawsuit he faces in Adirondack Central School District, where he served as superintendent about four years ago. He served as superintendent in each district for three years.

The cases involve personnel actions where people questioned his decisions and sued him. He said one case has already been dismissed because the legal action was groundless. He said a teacher retired after he found the individual was not certified and declined to do the work to become certified as required under state education law.

Cook is competing with Anthony J. Day, the assistant superintendent for instruction in the Sweet Home School District, and Christopher Roser, superintendent of the Avoca School District in Steuben County, for the Lew-Port post.

Board President Robert L. Laub said the board planned to meet with Cook in closed session late Tuesday night after its normal business meeting concluded. That session was still going on well into the late night hours.

Speaking before the board in public session, Cook said he really likes Lew- Port and would like to be its superintendent but felt it was necessary for him to address the board because of the lawsuits.

He said much of the information released publicly about the cases was stated "out of context" or is "false."

"I feel it has cast a dark cloud over my candidacy," Cook said. "One of those cases has been completely dismissed because it was completely without merit. The other two are in litigation so I can't discuss them and share my side of the story. So I came here feeling perhaps I can have a few moments with the board in executive session to share the little bit of information I legally can and answer some questions in helping to lift this cloud."

Cook said he did not want to discuss the lawsuits in public for fear of "saying something that will compromise or prejudice" those cases.

Board member Edward M. Lilly, who supported bringing Cook on as a candidate, said he wanted to question Cook in public and that Cook did not have to answer questions he felt were crossing the line.

"This is an opportunity for you and us," Lilly told Cook. "For you not to take advantage of this opportunity I think is a mistake."

But Cook said he is not a lawyer and did not want to take a chance on saying something he shouldn't.

He told the board he is dedicated to making "a profound difference in the effectiveness and accomplishments of a school district, its staff, its students and in fostering student achievement."

He said he has always been dedicated to community service even as a youth. He said he was a Boy Scout and an altar boy as a child and made and raced his own soapbox vehicles. He was a sports captain and class president in high school. He served for 20 years in the U. S. Navy, where he was a pilot, served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War and helped settle problems in Korea with the Chinese and North Koreans along the 38th Parallel.

He became an educator in 1982 and served as a high science teacher, a junior- senior high school assistant principal and an elementary principal before he became superintendent at Adirondack.

"I've always been an advocate for kids," he said, noting he has served as a Cub Scout leader, a Boy Scout committee chairman and president of various civic organizations. He also has served on a school board, been an emergency medical technician and served 18 years with the National Ski Patrol as a provider of emergency care.

He said it was important for the board to know what kind of person he is and how dedicated he has been to the communities where he has lived and to the children he has been placed in charge of, especially their educations.

"I've always focused on early intervention for kids. I've always had a focus on building capacity, continuous school improvement and a zero dropout rate," Cook said.

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