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Despite public outcry, Lyndonville BOE votes against retaining athletic director

Photos by Tom Rivers: Shane Price, a Lyndonville teacher and baseball, speaks to the Lyndonville Board of Education on Monday during a 2 ½ hour organizational meeting. Price, president of the Teachers’ Association, said Lee Dillenbeck deserves to be reappointed as athletic director. Price presented letters from about 10 other local athletic directors who all commended Dillenbeck for his work in the position.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 2 July 2019 at 8:34 am

Shane Price said Dillenbeck has helped transform Lyndonville’s athletic program, pushing for excellence. Price asked for the board members opposing Dillenbeck to resign.

LYNDONVILLE – Many Lyndonville community members on Monday expressed outrage that Lee Dillenbeck, a popular school athletic director, hasn’t been reappointed to the position.

The Board of Education didn’t reappoint Dillenbeck during a June 10 meeting. More than 100 people attended Monday’s organizational meeting, where the athletic director appointment was again on the agenda. The big crowd forced the district to move the meeting from its usual location in the library to the auditorium. There were 17 speakers – teachers, coaches, former students and parents – who spoke in favor of Dillenbeck.

“It was a travesty he was let go, an absolute travesty,” said Mark Hughes, a retired teacher who continues as a volunteer baseball coach with Lyndonville.

When he heard Dillenbeck wasn’t reappointed last month, “I was the most disappointed man I’ve been in 47 years.”

Shane Price, the varsity baseball coach and president of the Lyndonville Teachers’ Association, said the baseball team wouldn’t have won three Sectional titles and seven Genesee Region championships without Dillenbeck.

Price presented letters from about 10 other nearby athletic directors, praising Dillenbeck for his work in the position.

After the comments from the public, board went into an executive session for more than an hour. When the board returned to public session, the members voted 4-1 to not reappoint Dillenbeck.

Ted Lewis, the BOE president, said the board can’t discuss personnel matters publicly. “We are hamstrung by some of these rules,” he said. “We can’t respond to false information.”

Harold Suhr, Ted Lewis, Sue Hrovat and Kelley Cousins voted against Dillenbeck while Vern Fonda backed him. New board member Kristin Nicholson abstained and board member Steven Vann was unable to attend the meeting.

Jason Smith, the district superintendent, reaffirmed his recommendation that Dillenbeck, a physical education teacher, stay on as athletic director. Smith said his recommendations are thoroughly vetted and made with consultation of the principal and other staff. He said Dillenbeck exceeds expectations.

Ted Lewis, the board president, said the board can’t speak about personnel matters publicly. He thanked the community for their comments and concern.

“We are hamstrung by some of these rules,” he said. “We can’t respond to false information.”

Lewis said “miscommunication runs rampant” with the issue.

He said the board members are focused on doing what’s best for the district.

“This is a small community,” he said. “We all care about our school district. That’s why we are here.”

Some of the speakers didn’t think the board was being fair to Dillenbeck, not only for not reappointing him as athletic director but for not giving a reason for his ouster. People will think Dillenbeck did something wrong and will assume things, said Gary Kent of Albion. He attended the meeting on behalf of family in the district.

Jason Smith, the district superintendent, reaffirmed his support for Dillenbeck and recommended he be reappointed as athletic director. Smith also thanked the BOE members for their volunteer service and asked the community to continue to support students and the district. Lori Lamay, the district clerk, is at left, and Ted Lewis, the BOE president, is at right.

“It is an outrage to me that Lee would be ousted without a stated cause,” Kent said.

Dillenbeck was a great athlete at Holley, and has been exceptional as a coach and AD for Lyndonville, Kent said.

Dillenbeck was praised by parents for his dedication, for pushing for excellence and for his caring ways with students and the coaches.

Kate Draper, the girls varsity basketball coach, is Dillenbeck’s sister-in-law. She said he is a man of high personal character who has proven his dedication to the district. He and his wife Michelle have five children in the district.

“Lee has been an incredible influence to me and I am so proud I get to know you,” she told Dillenbeck, who attended the meeting and wore a Lyndonville Tigers shirt.

Eric Neace graduated two years ago and is now studying education to Cortland State College. He said Dillenbeck inspired him to want to be a teacher.

Neace said Dillenbeck turned around the Lyndonville basketball program, turning a team with few wins each season into a powerhouse that draws big crowds to the games.

“He has given his absolute best effort to athletic director,” Neace said. “He knows exactly what it takes to build a successful sports program.”

Dillenbeck volunteered to run a youth basketball program that has been the key in developing players in high school.

“He is in a position to inspire kids and he excelled,” Neace said.

Jeff Gress, a Lyndonville teacher and former wrestling coach, said he would resign as modified track and field coach after 27 years if Dillenbeck isn’t reinstated. “He has always been steadfast in doing what’s best for the school district,” Gress said.

Tara Neace, Eric’s mother and a former Board of Education member, said the board shouldn’t “micromanage” personnel decisions, especially when the superintendent recommends a reappointment.

Neace was on the board in 2012 when the district and Jason Smith, the superintendent, gave Dillenbeck goals for improving the athletic program. Dillenbeck, the coaches and athletes have exceeded those expectations, she said.

“The proof is all the banners on the walls,” she said. “You can’t find a seat now at the basketball games.”

The Rev. Dan Thurber is Lee Dillenbeck’s father-in-law. Thurber said the community doesn’t understand the board’s decision given the positive recommendation by the superintendent for Dillenbeck and the success of the athletic program. Thurber asked the board to reconsider its decision.

Ed Urbanik, another former board member, said the board wasn’t following its policy by not acting on the recommendation of the superintendent.

“This is a friends and family employment agency,” Urbanik said.

Wes Bradley, a retired teacher, said he emailed the board members seeking explanation about Dillenbeck not being reappointed. Three responded and one said Dillenbeck “had done nothing to deserve losing his position.”

Bradley said there are 63 teachers at Lyndonville, and Dillenbeck is one of only nine who live in the district. Bradley also faulted the board for recent decisions to not reappoint Jim O’Connor as girls soccer coach and Jeff Gress as the wrestling coach. Those two also live in the district.

Bradley said “personal vendettas” from the board are hurting the district.

Gress addressed the board and read a letter from Eric Valley, Medina athletic director, in support of Dillenbeck.

Gress said he would resign as modified track and field coach after 27 years if Dillenbeck isn’t reappointed as AD.

Jim O’Connor, a math teacher and the former soccer coach, also spoke in favor of Dillenbeck.

“Lee is one of the finest young men I’ve had the pleasure of working with in my career,” O’Connor said. “He came in as a kid and I’ve watched him become a man.”

Gary Derwick said the many testimonials of Dillenbeck’s strengths should warrant a reconsideration from the board.

“Lee has been a great kid growing up,” Derwick said. “He has many attributes many schools would want. It seems it would be irresponsible to not look at all of these attributes.”

When the board voted not to reappoint Dillenbeck, many in the crowd yelled their outrage. Several people burst into tears.

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