CONWAY — Cheri Sullivan announced Monday "with a heavy heart" that she is stepping down from her seat on the Conway School Board.
Sullivan, who is just finishing up the first year of her three year-term, said the impact of the COVID-19 virus, which has forced two of her college-age children to return home and study remotely, prompted her to look for a larger place to live, and that may mean moving out of Conway.
School board members Courtney Burke, Michelle Capozzoli, Randy Davison, Joe Lentini, Joe Mosca and Jess Whitelaw accepted Sullivan’s resignation as they met remotely using the Zoom app on Monday night.
Sullivan announced her resignation by email to Superintendent Kevin Richard.
“With my children being out of school so early I have to find something a little bigger for us,” Sullivan told the Sun in a phone interview Tuesday. “I have to find another place, probably outside of Conway."
Last April, in a four-way race for two seats, Lentini, an incumbent, and Sullivan were voted in, garnering 638 and 484 votes, respectively. Despite being an incumbent, Mark Hounsell found himself being the odd man out, along with Michael Callis. Hounsell received 402 votes, and Callis received 276.
Sullivan, who served as the board’s representative to the Conway Municipal Budget Committee, has run for the seat on a platform of increasing parent involvement and encouraging public input.
“My goal over the next three years is to serve the interests of the community by listening to their input and concerns,” she stated last April in her candidate profile.
She also said she would "work to engage our local representatives to support increasing the state's contribution to school districts to fund education."
On Tuesday, Sullivan said: “I did learn a lot, and I did enjoy it. The issues I was looking at are more long-term (measuring student achievement). I hope that some things will change, but that’s for another day."
With SAU 9 students now doing remote learning from home, she said, "Right now, the focus needs to be on being as supportive as we all possibly can for the students.”
Sullivan added: “I learned a lot about how politics work and how people can be good people and have their own bias and not see the bigger picture to benefit everyone.”
Board members did not comment on Sullivan’s resignation but did talk about how best to fill the seat.
The election for school offices is scheduled to take place on April 14, with Capozzoli, Mosca and Whitelaw all running unopposed for three-year terms.
“It’s too late to add this position to the ballot,” Lentini, the board chair told the rest of the board on Monday.
He said Sullivan’s seat would be advertised as a one-year term from April to April and also would be a one-year term the year after that.
“We will need to come up with a plan to replace this position, ultimately,” Lentini said.
His suggestion was, "We appoint somebody for the first year, and then because it's too late to get someone on the ballot, and in a year, at the next election, they can run for that additional year of that seat and then go back into the normal rotation."
He said the board can discuss it at their next meeting, set for April 12.
Richard said in the past when a seat opened up in the middle of a term, "One of the things that typically would happen is you put an advertisement in the newspaper for people who are interested in a school board position, and then the board kind of interviews people and appoints somebody accordingly."
Capozzoli pointed out in a previous instance when a board member (Syndi White) stepped down, the seat was filled by the person who received the next most votes in the previous election (Bill Aughton).
“Both of those procedures since I've been on the board have happened,” Davison said. “I guess it depends upon the board and what advice Mr. Richard presents. I do know one year, even myself, I had to apply. There was an ad in the paper. We went that route and then a couple of different times depending upon how the board looked at it, they appointed a person also that was interested."
Mark Hounsell, who finished third in the 2019 election, said Tuesday he would be interested in serving on the board again.
“Absolutely,” he said by phone. “I’ve always been an advocate of public education. If the board is interested in me, I’m interested in serving.
“I kind of miss doing it,” he added.