Bedford Corners Realtor Robert Paul | Citing Professional Conflict, Chernis Resigns from Bedford School Board – Bedford-Katonah, NY Patch

Mark Chernis resigned Wednesday from the Bedford board of education, effective immediately, after being named chief operating officer at a unit of Pearson Education, an education services company.

Chernis, who served as board vice president, made the announcement at the outset of Wednesday night’s school board meeting and said his new oversight role of K-12 technology initiatives could present a conflict of interest with his role on the board.

Chernis said he could not have known last May—when he was re-elected to the board—that his employer, SchoolNet, would be acquired by Pearson, which happened in June.

“It’s just about doing the right thing at this moment in time,” Chernis said in an interview.

School board President Susan Elion Wollin said that Chernis informed the board of his decision on Monday.

After Chernis announced his depature, his fellow board members heaped praise upon him, mixed with anecdotes and joking. Before heading out of a meeting for the last time in his elected role, Chernis was presented with gifts from Wollin, including proverbial keys to the district.

The school board is opting to fill his seat by appointment through candidate interviews, a process similar to the one used in 2009, when Erika Long was appointed to fill the seat vacated by Marc Vandenhoeck.

Legally, the board could either let the seat stay vacant, call a special election – this hasn’t been done before, according to Wollin – or just go into an executive session then do an appointment. Instead, Wollin said, there will be “a more expansive process,” which will include interviews, advertisements to attract prospective interviewees and public feedback before an appointment is made.

Wollin stated that the board will aim for December in selecting a replacement, who would serve until the day after the May 2012 board elections. The appointee could opt to run for the remaining two years on Chernis’ unexpired term.

Here is the full text of Chernis’ resignation remarks:

It is with great sadness that I elect to resign from the Board of the Bedford Central School District after 7 years of service.  For professional reasons which did not exist as of the Board elections last May, I am no longer able to serve as a School Board member without the potential for conflicts of interest.  I have enjoyed serving the community, working with the District administration, and collaborating with my fellow Board members.   I’m very proud of the both initiatives I’ve worked on and the contributions we have made together as a School Board. 

What has changed?

I have taken a senior executive role at Pearson Education, the world’s largest education company. Pearson, works with almost EVERY school district in the United States, contributes to the K-12 testing programs in 25 states (including New York State), scores college entrance exams, and is a vendor to New York State, BOCES, and the Bedford Central School District.  In my new role, I’ll be responsible for K-12 technology initiatives with direct involvement in assessment programs, student information and teacher evaluation systems, and the transition from traditional textbooks to digitally delivered personalized learning.  I am proud to work for Pearson and am excited by the opportunity to marshal their resources and global reach to help transform the world’s public education systems to better serve children.

However, in the same way I was unable to predict that I’d be working at Pearson when I ran for re-election last May, I can no longer rule out the potential for conflicts between my Board and professional duties.  As someone who has always been critical of those who have betrayed or confused the public’s trust by mingling public service and financial opportunity, I feel resigning is the responsible choice for me.

In the future, I sincerely hope this Board, this Superintendent, and this leadership team, continue to ask the tough questions, refuse to accept the status-quo, reject mediocrity, and challenge the adults in Washington, Albany, and in school classrooms across the nation to set aside their individual needs and embrace the reforms needed for public education to thrive.   Bedford has made great progress over the past few years but there is much work to do as we emerge from the darkness of our previous leadership and financial woes to focus squarely on driving academic excellence and student achievement—this should be an exciting time for our staff and a great time for our students.

I am resigning from Board service today—but will start watching on Channel 18 and will join the Budget Advisory Committee if you will have me.   I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work with all of you and would welcome an opportunity to stay engaged somehow.

Finally, as I’ve have said many times at this microphone, “Our children only have one chance to experience a great education—let’s make sure they get one—no excuses”. 

Please keep fighting the good fight.  

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