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SCHOOL BOARD SETS HEARING IN STEPHENS CASE LEW-PORT'S PANEL TO HEAR MEDIATOR

The Lewiston-Porter Board of Education has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday evening on misconduct charges against suspended Superintendent Gail M. Stephens, the board president said Friday.

President Mac I. Barnett said the board hoped to receive a recommendation by then from a mediator who was selected to seek a compromise between the board and Dr. Stephens.

The board removed her from her $61,200-a-year job as superintendent last fall, in a dispute over her performance. That action touched off a series of legal maneuvers, including the filing of a $10 million lawsuit in which Dr. Stephens charged five members of the board with conspiracy to ruin her career.

She is seeking reinstatement with full back pay and benefits.

Barnett said earlier that the board could take "other action" if the mediation effort did not succeed by Wednesday. "It sometimes helps to get things done if you set a deadline," he explained Friday.

A mediation session was held Friday. He did say, however, that he had "nothing to report" on the mediation.

Barnett pointed out that any recommendation from a mediator probably would have to be reported to the Board of Education before it could be made public. He stressed that neither the board nor Dr. Stephens would be bound by a mediator's recommendation; it would be only a suggested compromise.

Dr. Stephens and her lawyers and those representing the Board of Education could not be reached to comment Friday evening.

Barnett said the hearing scheduled for Wednesday would permit a public airing of the charges against Dr. Stephens, as provided in her contract. The suspended superintendent and her lawyer, Dennis G. O'Hara of Syracuse, have said they wanted a public hearing on the charges but that it should be held by an independent officer, not by the Board of Education.

O'Hara said the board should not be "the accuser, the prosecutor and the judge." Barnett contends, however, that there is no provision in the superintendent's contract for a hearing before anyone other than the Board of Education.

Barnett has suggested that lawsuits filed by both sides might be dropped if mediation is successful.

The charges against Dr. Stephens include allegations that she failed to maintain school buildings properly and failed to work well with board members. Each side has denied the other's charges.

Donald Yates of Buffalo, a former teacher and administrator at Lewiston-Porter, is serving as acting superintendent of the 2,700-pupil district.

Harrison Coppock, who was elected Wednesday as a member of the board, said: "Selecting a new superintendent for Lewiston-Porter will be the biggest issue facing me as a board member."

Coppock helped to select two superintendents when he served on the board more than a decade ago. He stressed his experience in selecting superintendents as one of his qualifications for election.

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