At the Monday evening Board of Education meeting, Lewis P. Trippett, previous President of the Board of Education, the man closest to contract negotiations with Dr. Saul Yanofsky, read a prepared statement relating his version of the events leading up to Dr. Yanofsky not being offered a new contract. WPCNR obtained the statement from Mr. Trippett and, the following is the text of his entire address. A video replay of the meeting will be cablecast by Channel 73 at 7:30 PM and 9:30 PM Thursday by White Plains cable.
The School District Wednesday refused to release the “Letter of Intent” (WPCNR terminology) referred to by Mr. Trippett in the following statement, citing that it is an intra-agency document, and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
Herewith is the word-for-word transcript of Mr. Trippett’s Monday evening address to the public:
December 10, 2001
City of White Plains Board of Education
5 Homeside Lane
White Plains, New York 10605
Dear Mrs. McLaughlin:
When I stepped down from the Board of Education in June, I said that I thought White Plains was fortunate to have dedicated members of the Board of Education who spend an enormous amount of volunteer time in service to the Dristrict. I said then, and I will say again, that during the time that I served on the Board of Education I believe that all of the Board members acted on every issue presented in what they believed to be in the best interests of the district. Although I certainly disagreed with my share of Board decisions during my years of service on the Board, I never doubted that those I disagreed with were acting in a principled manner and that they were doing what they thought was in the district’s best interests.
I made these comments knowing that unless Dr. Yanofsky chose to announce his retirement at the end of his current contract, this Board would face the kind of criticism that it has over the past two months.
I have listened to and read the criticisms and attacks that have been levied against the board over these past two months and have not made any public comment. But now, given the recent comments made in the press by Dr. Yanofsky I think it is an appropriate time to add my personal perspective on the choice not to offer a new contract to Dr. Yanofsky.
Several people have spoken about Dr. Yanofsky’s admirable qualities and his dedication to the district. I agree with them and, could add more than has been said. Many have spoken based upon their personal relationship with Dr. Yanofsky. During the two years I spent as Board President, I worked closely with Dr. Yanofsky and felt that we developed a good personal relationship, though we certainly had our differences. It is a relationship that I still value.
In criticizing the Board, some seemed to believe tat the Board did not understand Dr. Yanofsky’s skills or did not appreciate all that he had done for the district. They spoke as if the Board must have simply overlooked these factors. Others voiced the suggestions that there must have been some personality clash or adverse personal feelings that caused the board not to extend a new contract to Dr. Yanofsky.
For the most part the Board has not responded to these statements or a host of other unfounded criticisms, some personal and threatening. I respect the fact that the Board has not wanted to say much and simply to move on, believing that not much good would come from a public tit-for-tat discussion. However, in being as circumspect as it has been, I believe that the Board has unwillingly allowed there to be created a very misleading and inaccurate public record – one that has wrongfully caused some to believe that the actions of the Board were arbitrary, without substantial reason or simply based upon personality. That is why I would like to add a few things to the public discussion.
I recognize that those who have a strong personal attachment to Dr. Yanofsky are unlikely to be persuaded whatever I, or anyone else, might say. But I do believe that certain facts, not yet disclosed, will cause fair-minded people to look at this matter in a different light. They might not agree with where the Board came out but, hopefully, will understand that the determination to let Dr. Yanofsky’s contract expire without renewal was a principled decision based upon what the Board believed in good faith was in the district’s best interests, and no other factor.
There is a context for this contract extension discussion that is important to understand. I participated in the previous Board discussion and determination to extend a new contract to Dr. Yanofsky. In the discussions that preceded the last extension, Dr. Yanofsky presented the Board with a clear statement that he wanted to continue as Superintendent and outlined what he hoped to accomplish if a new contract was extended. Also, at Dr. Yanofsky’s specific request, the contract was made to run for a four-year term until June 30, 2002 rather than for a three-year term as the previous contracts had been. This was at Dr. Yanofsky’s request, for the stated reason that at the end of the current contract, Dr. Yanofsky will be fully vested in the pension plan and eligible for full retirement benefits. Thus, Dr. Yanofsky himself created the expectation that the end of this current contract would likely be the end of this tenure as Superintendent.
Dr. Yanofsky fostered this expectation when he advised me, well over a year before extension of his current contract was discussed, that he had begun circulating his resume on a selective basis for educational positions but not to be superintendent of another district.
Thus, prior to any discussion of a possible new contract, Dr. Yanofsky had led the Board to believe that there was at least a good likelihood that he would not want a new contract.
Even with this background, I entered the discussions about a possible new contract with the presumption that if Dr. Yanofsky gave to the board what he had given in the past – a clear expression of his desire to continue and a vision for what he would like to accomplish under a new contract – he most likely would be offered a new contract. Unfortunately, the Board never received any such communication from Dr. Yanofsky.
Under the contract, Dr. Yanofsky was required to inform the Board in writing whether or not he wished to continue as Superintendent under a new contract. The letter that Dr. Yanofsky sent to the Board hardly reflected a vigorous desire to continue. In the letter, Dr. Yanofsky stated that he was “ambivalent” about continuing as Superintendent but was “willing to entertain an offer.”
I was quite surprised by Dr. Yanofsky’s, at best, tepid expression of interest in a new contract. After receiving this letter, the Board provided Dr. Yanofsky the opportunity to explain his letter before we began substantive discussions about whether to renew the contract. Perhaps, I thought, he misspoke or made a poor choice of words. However, rather than back off of his letter, Dr. Yanofsky re-affirmed his statement that he was ambivalent about continuing as Superintendent. When asked if he could identify any cause for his ambivalence that could be addressed, Dr. Yanofsky gave no indication of anything that could be done that would change his feeling of ambivalence.
So we began our substantive discussions with a Superintendent who had received a contractual term that would enable him to retire if he wanted to, who had let it be known that he had been circulating his resume long prior to any discussion of contract extension and who expressed ambivalence about continuing.
We then entered into our substantive discussions attempting to address the issues that you (McLaughlin) explained in your latest letter, which I will not further discuss here. I found our discussions with Dr. Yanofsky on these matters to be distressing. Rather than offer a forward-looking view as he had in the past, Dr. Yanofsky said things like, “I don’t need this job” and “If you want to take your chances with someone else, that’s fine.”
But the most distressing comment came in response to a question I asked. I posed a question to Dr. Yanofsky similar to a question that I had asked during the previous contract renewal discussions. I asked “Where do you see the district being in four years if your contract is extended?” His response was an extraordinarily negative view of the future of the district. He said things are likely to get worse; test scores are likely to decline further and there is very little that can be done about it other than what is already being done. In short, it appeared to me that his heart was no longer in the job.
His statements, coupled with the prior contract history, his admitted job search and his own expressed ambivalence led me to the conclusion that it was in the best interests of the White Plains School District for the Yanofsky era as Superintendent to come to an end at the end of the current contract in June 2002.
Subsequently, Dr. Yanofsky stated that he misunderstood my question. He thought I asked where I saw the district in five years and he answered the way that he did because he did not see himself being superintendent in five years. I found this after-the-fact explanation unconvincing. Dr. Yanofsky knew that the Board was struggling with the issue whether or not to offer him a new contract and he had to know that I was asking his view of any continuation of his contract, as I had asked before. This was not some abstract discussion about what some future superintendent might face. This was not some abstract discussion about what some future superintendent might face. We were discussing whether or not to extend a new contract to him and what he would do if he received a new contract. If Dr. Yanofsky truly did not see himself in the picture five years from now he did not express that to the Board. And, in fact, contrary to what he has implied, during the contractual time that the Board had to notify Dr. Yanofsky whether or not it would offer him a new contract, Dr. Yanofsky never suggested that the Board should discuss an appropriate “transition” period to new leadership and never suggested a contractual time period, as he had done at the prior contractual renewal discussion. More importantly, even after he clearly understood my question he did not offer any view as to what he would do if he received a new contract.
For me, no one other than Dr. Yanofsky convinced me that it was not in the district’s best interest to offer him a new contract. Whatever else we thought about Dr. Yanofsky, the district would not be well served by having a superintendent who is ambivalent about holding this important job, who had been looking for another job, who wants to be “entertained” with an unspecified offer before he would continue and one who is resigned to an exceedingly pessimistic view of the future.
There were indeed re-occurring substantive differences between the Board and Dr. Yanofsky. These differences were not, as he recently stated, matters of style rather than substance. In fact, it was Dr. Yanofsky’s persistent minimizing of the Board’s concerns and his neglect in addressing them that led to increasing frustration. But, for me, the overriding issue was Dr. Yanofsky’s stated ambivalence and his lack of a positive vision of the future.
I am hopeful that once people get over the surprise and disappointment that Dr. Yanofsky will be leaving at the end of the school year they will recognize that the Board had no other responsible choice but to move on to new leadership. This transition would have taken place in one, or at most, two years anyway and, I believe, the district is better served by making the transition now, rather than having a self-described “ambivalent” superintendent for one or two more years.
I believe that the Board’s decision was proper, responsible and in the best interests of the district. In time, I believe that the community of White Plains will be pleased that it has a Board that is not satisfied with the way things are and wants to move towards improvement in the future, even if that means bearing with some unfair and unjust criticisms such as have been made over the past two months. I commend the Board for not yielding to the noise of the crowd at the moment and, instead, looking out for the needs of the future.
The selection of a new superintendent provides opportunity for all to participate in the re-vitalization of our district and positioning it for the future. While all change is difficult, it also provides opportunity for improvement. Although I am not on the Board anymore, I support the Board and stand ready to help the Board in any way possible in this important transition to new leadership.
Very truly yours,
Lewis P. Trippett