Cancer-Fighting Secretary Served 30 Years
By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERSTOWN – Friends, colleagues and the Marine son of Laurie Pestar, a 30-year elementary school secretary fighting cancer, confronted the Cooperstown Central School board this evening – not so much for rejecting her request for a six-month unpaid leave of absence, but by doing so in such a cold and impersonal way.
“I will never forgive this board for this callous and budget-driven decision,” her son, Jeremy Denmeade, told the school board.
In response to an audience question, school board President Theresa Russo would only say the school board has various reasons to give unpaid leaves, and declined to discuss the issue further, saying it was a personnel matter.
Denmeade told the board his mother was diagnosed with cancer in March, and went into treatment with a determination to beat the disease.
She and her family were proceeding with optimism, but after a final body scan, he reported, “the technician grimaced, then said: ‘I’m sorry, but the cancer has moved to her lungs’.”
After that, Mrs. Pestar applied to the school board for a six-month unpaid leave of absence, in hopes of beating the disease and returning to her life’s work, her son said.
This letter came in response:
“Dear Mrs. Pestar:
“At its regular meeting on November 2, 2016, the Board of Education denied your request for a six- month unpaid leave of absence for the period on or about November 28, 2016, through May 26, 2017.
“Theresa Russo, President
“Board of Education.”
It was the matter-of-fact nature of the letter, no thanks for 30 years of service or good wishes for the future, that bothered him – and his mother, the son said.
In part, he said, denying the leave is part of a budget-driven school board strategy to move older, more expensive employees into retirement and replace them with less expensive newcomers.
After the meeting, Barb Lindholm, a member of the custodial staff and vice president of the non-teaching bargaining unit, said the school board has granted many unpaid leaves over the years, for vacations, hunting trips and other personal reasons.
“Hope to a cancer patient is one of the best fighting tools they have – and they took it away from her,” Lindholm said.
Another friend and colleague, Mary Boland, reported Laurie telling her that returning to work “was my hope to get myself better.”