What should be the response by the Potsdam Central School community to two individuals who saved the taxpayers of the PCSD close to $392,000? How about, "Thank You"? (If someone made a $400K donation to the District, school officials would probably name a building in his/her honor.)
I first became acquainted with Richard and Jane Hollister when I was a very inexperienced member of the Board of Education (who had much to learn about school governance, education law, and institutional history) back in 1992. Over the course of my many years on the PCSD Board of Education, the Hollisters were the only two people who consistently told Board members the truth. The Hollisters watched as individuals (some of whom who were paid by the public to provide the BOE with accurate and complete information) violated policies, regulations, and laws. Mr. and Mrs. Hollister responded by researching issues and bringing facts to the BOE...facts that often belied what the Board was being told. They also endured public insults and verbal attacks to their integrity. Ironic, huh? The liars attacking the truth-tellers. I believe it was Gandhi who said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Over the last twenty years, I have watched as the Hollisters have been ignored, laughed at, and fought with. Then I saw them win significant victories; one of which saved the District hundreds of thousands of dollars. They did this by alerting the then PCS superintendent to the fact that the existing contracts between the Day Care Center, the Village of Potsdam, and the PCSD made the district liable for any unpaid mortgage debt left over once the Day Care (Building Blocks) completed its second ten-year lease. School district attorneys concurred with the Hollisters and documents were crafted to take the huge liability off the backs of school taxpayers. The "Good Ol' Boys" were furious and still are. The uncovered truths exposed deception, incompetence, and malfeasance.
Well, here we are...just one year away from the expiration of the Day Care Center lease. If not for the efforts of Richard and Jane Hollister, the PCSD would owe approximately $400,000 - as of next May. Imagine how many teachers or CSEA employees would have lost jobs so that money could be repaid? Ponder the fact that it was unpaid citizens who did their homework and set things straight. Where, one might ask, were the school officials - some of whom were well-paid to protect the public's interest while other officials were elected to do likewise?
The mud that has been slung at the Hollisters has, to a certain degree, stuck. Nice people will say to me,
"Oh, the Hollisters...aren't they trouble-makers?" They are only trouble for people who lie and deceive the public. For the rest of us, they are public advocates.
Note: Another "victory" by the Hollisters was their uncovering of the fact that approximately $1.5 million dollars had been illegally borrowed by the PCSD without Board of Education approval. These assets (loans) were recorded in the school district budget as revenues but were not listed as liabilities (i.e. loans that had to be paid back). Thus, the true financial state of the school was purposely hidden from the BOE and the public. Mr. Kennedy, the newly hired superintendent, was approached (soon after he began the job) by the District's independent auditor and was told the actual and dismal state of the District's finances. Mr. Kennedy told me he felt he was hired under false pretenses. The impact of these improper borrowings was that the District overspent and had to get a loan from NYS to cover expenses. The District taxpayers had to pay the large interest on the loan as well as repay the loan. Had the BOE known the true state of the District's finances, they could have cut spending to stay within the District's means. All in all, Mr. Hollister was correct in saying that the books were cooked. In a nutshell, the PCSD was ENRONed.