One segment of this tiny community's controversial school problems was solved last week when the School Board suddenly dropped disciplinary charges against Elementary School Principal Roselyn Morgan, but the solution has left some residents dazed.
"I don't know what to think," said Susan Bull, a longtime parent volunteer who was a member of the search committee that chose Mrs. Morgan to be principal in 1993. "What did we gain by going through this all year? . . . I want this to be over. I want to start a fresh school year."
The board and Mrs. Morgan, with their respective attorneys, worked out a deal in which the board reinstated Mrs. Morgan to her job, dropped charges of test cheating and misusing the employee evaluation process, and called her "vindicated."
In exchange, the principal agreed to take early retirement next month and canceled plans to file defamation lawsuits against four current and former School Board members.
"I think everybody won," said Mrs. Morgan's attorney, B.J. Costello of Albany. "I think we're all glad it's behind us."
The settlement put a halt to what had been a continuing hearing on the charges against Mrs. Morgan.
The word "vindication" didn't go down well with Douglas K. Lewis, one of the former School Board members who had voted to file the charges. "The only true vindication she could have gotten was from the hearing officer," Lewis said. "I don't think the new School Board members, who said from the start they were pro-Morgan, are able to vindicate her."
Lewis and a colleague, Merrill S. Bender, were defeated in the June district election by candidates who supported settling the case.
Stephanie Lewis, who is not related to Douglas Lewis, is the spokeswoman for a newly formed group of Barker residents called Concerned Citizens Supporting Education. She denounced the cancellation of the hearings as showing "a callous disregard for the truth" on the board's part.
She thought the district would have won the principal's firing if the long-running disciplinary hearing had been pursued to a verdict.
"What did we get vs. what (Mrs. Morgan) got?" Mrs. Lewis asked. "We got her out of the system. She got what she may consider a public apology."
The joint statement the board and Mrs. Morgan issued does not mention any apology to the principal; in fact, it says the board does not admit any misconduct. But it also professes the two sides' "mutual respect," and says Mrs. Morgan has "expressed satisfaction that she was vindicated by this resolution."
Several residents of this village of only a few hundred residents expressed concern about the futures of Bonnie Buri and Pamela Schunk, the two untenured third-grade teachers who charged that Mrs. Morgan had instructed them to erase pupils' wrong answers on the May 1996 Pupil Evaluation Program reading test, a statewide examination.
The teachers declined to comment themselves, but Mrs. Bull said, "I hope Bonnie and Pam get their tenure without any trouble." They will be considered for tenure in 1998.
"Mrs. Morgan is not the only person who's been through a trial," Stephanie Lewis said. "What teacher ever again would come forward?"
Bender, who was board president when the charges were filed, looked on the bright side. "Having the case end will allow healing to begin and allow a new principal to work with quality teachers like Mrs. Buri and Miss Schunk in improving reading and math at Barker," he said.
Douglas Lewis expressed confidence in new Superintendent Judith Staples, who presided over the settlement in her first week on the job.
"There's a new administration that won't put up with any shenanigans," he said.
Michelle B. Jones, the public information director of the School Administrators Association of New York State, which gave Mrs. Morgan free legal representation, found another good point for Barker residents.
"The taxpayers won't have to spend any more money," she said.
The district is believed to have spent more than $100,000 on legal fees and related expenses since an internal investigation of Mrs. Morgan began last July.
Not all of Barker's troubles are in the past.
Jury selection is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 17 in Somerset Town Court for the trial of former School Superintendent Robert Bouldin, who is accused of stealing steel and trailer parts from the high school metal shop in early 1996.