Son Challenges CCS Board On Impersonal Note To Mom

Cancer-Fighting Secretary Served 30 Years

Son Challenges CCS Board

On Impersonal Note To Mom

Laurie Pestar's son, Marine Jeremy Denmeade, share his disappointment with the Cooperstown Central school board at the impersonal letter sent to his mother. Seated counter-clockwise from left are board members Tony Scalise and Marcy Birch, Interim Superintendent Mike Virgil, board President Theresa Russo, and board members xxxx (Jim Kevlin/
Laurie Pestar’s son, Marine Jeremy Denmeade, shares his disappointment with the Cooperstown Central school board at the impersonal tone of the letter sent to his cancer-fighting mother. Seated counter-clockwise from left are board members Tony Scalici and Marcy Birch, Interim Superintendent Mike Virgil, board President Theresa Russo, and board members Mary Leonard, Marielle Ainsworth and Tim Hayes.  (Jim Kevlin/

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to

Mrs. Pestar's colleagues and friends filled the seats at tonight's meeting.
Mrs. Pestar’s colleagues and friends filled the seats at tonight’s meeting.

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.”

Seated in proximity, Pestar's son Jeremy and her boss, elementary Principal Ann Meccariello avoided eye contact.
Seated in proximity, Pestar’s son Jeremy and her boss, elementary Principal Ann Meccariello avoided eye contact.

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.”


23 thoughts on “Son Challenges CCS Board On Impersonal Note To Mom

  1. ron shapley

    Who are these slugs on the school board ? Shame on them. They are an embarrassment to the community and don’t deserve the honor of service to community. They should resign and get out of town…

  2. Anonymous

    This is Cold, Callus and Just Plain Mean! What about Family Medical Leave, isn’t she entitled to that. What kind of Thanks is this for her 30 years of Service! You didn’t mind using her for 30 years. This is just so wrong! And How about we are so Sorry for you and your Family! Don’t they have any Compassion? I am loosing a lot of hope and pride for this School. Allowing Bullying, Changing our team Name and now No Compassion for a fellow worker! Shame, Shame on you CCS!!!!! She is asking for unpaid leve, so no cost to you or should I say us as Taxpayers! Let her have her last hope and time with her Family! Really!!!!!

  3. Maureen Barrow Davidson

    I think a letter of apology is owed to Mrs. Pestar, not for denying the leave, but for the callous tone of the response and the absence of appreciation for her loyalty and service to the district. As a school secretary, Lori is the hub of the school, completing many, many duties above and beyond her title. She has reassured many a parent and teacher with professionalism and grace. I am hoping this was an oversight. And, personally, while I certainly do not know the considerations the board took into making their decision, how inconvenient would it have really been to let one of the district’s qualified subs fill in for her (barring union issues)? This is a community of about 2,000+, not a big city; however, because Cooperstown is a tourist destination, I’ll bet many people outside the town will read this poor reflection of the district.

  4. Jay

    How very uncaring. Prayers to all on the board that this will never be you. Unfortunately this is the direction our country has gone. Since the middle of the 20th century, year after year, we the people have gone from caring for one another to leaving people to deal with problems on their own. I hope you are all proud of yourselves. I, myself, am ashamed of you all and am ashamed to say that I am from there.

  5. Anna Pote

    It is disgusting that they would deny leave for such a good reason! This community has gone down hill when the only thing that matters is the “bottom-line” and the next dollar.

  6. David S

    Ccs board…….shameful behavior! What’s happened to that once wonderful school? God bless Laurie, Jeremy and the whole family.

  7. Anonymous

    I would hope that the NY State Dept of Education is made aware of this brainless decision. One by one, as their terms expire, they should all be voted out of office. Start with…” Vote for Robert Makofske for School Board.”

  8. erica1064

    After giving 30 years of her life, Mrs. Pestar deserved better. The heartless creeps in the photo should be ashamed.

  9. Dz

    Glad I don’t work at that school with heartless board Kudos to the son for standing up to the board and continued support and love for his mom. God bless

  10. Kim Soule

    Shame on you Ms Russo and board of CCS! Laurie gave 30 years to the children and staff of your school district, and she did so with love and devotion! You could not find it in your heart to draft a letter with some gratitude and compassion? You should all be ashamed. I am so very sorry to learn of this situation.

  11. Rose Mazzio

    I thought FMLA (family medical leave act ) was to be granted to anyone requesting it. Especially , for medical emergency leaves.
    I would look into this on a federal level if I were you, son.

  12. Carol Starr

    I am in awe. Not yet fully recovered from the recent Presidential election, I must say that this local piece of news regarding CCS denial of UNPAID time off for a 30 year staff member who is battling cancer, is more disturbing on many levels. I’ve so much to say, but will simply say SHAME SHAME SHAME to Theresa Russo and the Board of Education at CCS for not only their heartless decision, but for the cold and insensitive way in which the decision was delivered. Karma will prevail.

  13. Mary Bellew

    One of the saddest pieces I’ve read in a while. I will say it, even if they won’t:
    Mrs. Pestar, I wish you strength, faith and hope in your journey to restored heath. My prayers are with you and you family as you fight! A three time cancer survivor.

  14. Anne Campbell

    As a former village resident of Cooperstown, this story saddens me, but does not surprise me in the least. Unfortunately for Mrs. Pestar, she was not born into, nor did she marry into, the proper lineage to afford her the common decency she deserves. I’m positive if her maiden, or married, name was among the multi generational family names associated with Cooperstown, she’d have received a very different response from the school board. I can think of at least a half a dozen teachers currently on staff with CCS who are, to be frank, worthless. Yet, they maintain their employment due solely to village family ties. The amount of people Mrs. Pestar has helped from her position at CCS is immeasurable! Now, when all she is asking for while she fights her battle with cancer is a small measure of basic courtesy, she gets treated like her 30 years of service are meaningless. The high school type cliques that are pervasive among the adult village residents have clearly penetrated the CCS school board, and the message, “You are not one of us,” was conveyed loud and clear to Mrs. Pestar.

  15. Reginald Higgins

    Hearing this denial by the CCS BOE to a 30 year employee wanting a 6 month leave of absence to fight cancer, makes me ashamed to admit that I am a CCS alumnus.

  16. Scott

    What a bunch of heartless souls. You teach and preach to your students to treat ours fairly and with compassion yet you can’t. 30 years this women has given to the education of children in your school district and she gets a letter like this. My wifehas been battling stsge r cancer gor 2 1/2 yrs and thank GOD her employer hasn’t pulled crap like this. It just goes to show you that people these days are a numbernot a face. Every member on that board that agrees with the decisson should be removed at the next election. So much for small town values.

  17. Anonymous

    What harm would an unpaid leave be. She’s fighting for her life. Hope is the one thing that keeps a cancer patient going. I know, I’m a survivor

  18. Betty Anne

    Isn’t it amazing that a lowly school secretary, paid a pittance, is even denied an unpaid LOA? I am ashamed to admit I know several of these school board members. Never thought they would value the “bottom line” more than the health of a 30 year employee. Karma is true, even if it takes time.

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