Webutuck discusses mercury spill with BOCES
By CORY ALLYN - Staff Reporter
WEBUTUCK — Dutchess County BOCES Board of Education Vice President Robert Meade spoke with the Webutuck Board of Education at its July 6 meeting regarding BOCES’ response, or lack thereof, to a mercury spill at the school several months ago.
Webutuck is currently debating whether to switch from an exclusive contract it has with BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) to handle health and safety issues at the school. The alternative would be a joint contract between BOCES and Needham & Associates, a private company that stepped in to assist the school immediately following the mercury spill on April 30, 2010.
Needham was called because school officials were not able to reach BOCES for a response after the spill, which occurred when a teacher broke an antiquated glass mercury thermometer in the science classroom.
Webutuck’s Board of Education asked Meade, who is a former Webutuck board trustee and has been called the school district’s unofficial representative on the BOCES board, to come before the board to discuss the mercury spill and BOCES’ risk management services moving forward.
Meade said he had looked into BOCES’ records and said that initial contact was made, but that it was late in the day and the representative was out of the office. When the worker returned the next work day, BOCES knew that Needham had been called to handle the situation and assumed that nothing further was required.
“I think where we let you down is we didn’t give you a good chain of command when you didn’t reach that first person,” Meade said, pledging that moving forward there would be a clear chain of command leading all the way up to BOCES Superintendent John Pennoyer’s personal line.
Meade said BOCES records showed that Webutuck’s call regarding the mercury spill came in around 5 p.m. Mary Grden, Webutuck’s business administrator, refuted that, saying that the first (of several) calls to BOCES was put out between 12:30 and 1 p.m. on July 6. And according to BOE President Dale Culver and former Superintendent Lee Bordick, BOCES never followed up on the incident until weeks later, when Bordick himself put in a call to Pennoyer.
Culver pointed out that the idea of an emergency response is to be timely, something BOCES wasn’t. Superintendent Steven Schoonmaker suggested a cascading calling system, which would automatically transfer a call down a chain of command until actual contact was made.
“That is an excellent suggestion to pursue,” Meade said.
But the board wasn’t finished airing its concerns about services from BOCES.
“We need BOCES as a working partner,” Culver stressed. “But what we get told isn’t always accurate, and how they respond to us isn’t always timely.”
“You certainly have our attention now ...” Meade began.
“We’d like your attention in real time,” board Trustee Joe Matteo interjected.
Grden had a few suggestions of her own, saying that it would be helpful if BOCES made contact with new district business administrators, or held annual workshops to go over the ever-expanding list of requirements and policies for school districts.
Meade said he would return next month to keep Webutuck updated following BOCES’ own reorganization meeting. The board did not make a decision regarding its risk management services.
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