Johnstown school district to keep former interim business manager around

The Greater Johnstown School District has hired Ralph Acquaro, the district’s former interim busines

The Greater Johnstown School District has hired Ralph Acquaro, the district’s former interim business manager, as a business consultant whose jobs will include finishing negotiations for a new teachers’ contract.

The school board voted 7-1 at its Jan. 21 meeting to hire Acquaro for another year at $50 per hour, up to a maximum of $24,000 per year.

School district officials said Acquaro was unavailable for comment Friday.

School Board Member Ron Beck, a retired teacher, opposed bringing Acquaro back for another year. He said the district has hired Alice Dillenbeck, the district’s former treasurer, to be the new business manager and it no longer needs Acquaro. Another district employee, Melissa Baker, was hired as the new district treasurer to replace Dillenbeck.

“He’s done some good things and now it’s time for him to leave. For $24,000, we could hire a part-time teacher,” Beck said.

School Board President Robert Curtis was absent for the vote. He said he would have voted to bring back Acquaro because of his experience and because he’s helped save the district far more money than they are paying him.

“He’s got 35 to 40 years of experience. He’s transitioning Alice into his old job and she’s training [Baker] to do her old job [and Baker] is training someone to do her old job,” Curtis said. “This is a transitional period. It’s not like we’re paying two business managers. It’s misleading to say we’re paying two people to do the same job when in fact that’s not true.”

Acquaro is the former superintendent of the Mayfield Central School District. As interim business manager for the 2008-09 school year, he advised Johnstown to unilaterally drop the high-priced Blue Cross Blue Shield indemnity plan, without the consent of the district’s teachers union. The indemnity plan was scheduled to cost $24,897 for family coverage this year, about double the national average. The district offered the Blue Cross Blue Shield Preferred Provider Organization plan instead, which costs taxpayers and district employees $17,820 for a family plan this year.

Dropping the indemnity plan saved the district $584,000 in health insurance premiums for this school year, although some of those savings will be reduced from an agreement with the teachers to pay all of the co-pays of teachers and retirees who had the plan. Curtis said the savings from dropping the indemnity plan should measure in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and the district has Acquaro to thank for it.

“Ralph was the major architect behind that entire process,” he said.

District officials said the Johnstown Teachers Association in September signed a memorandum of agreement permitting the insurance change, backing down from the union’s previous position of taking the issue to an arbitration panel.

JTA co-president President Louise Carville did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday. The district’s teachers’ union contract ran out in June, but state law mandates that all of its provisions remain in place until a new agreement is signed. The district’s CSEA contract has also run out.

Dillenbeck said Acquaro has taken heat from some of the district’s teachers for his role in the health insurance switch. She said his status as a temporary consultant gives him the ability to negotiate with the unions without regard to office politics.

“A lot of districts hire consultants to do negotiations for them. It allows the people who actually work in the district to maintain better relationships because they aren’t perceived to be adversarial,” she said.

Superintendent Katherine Sullivan said she agrees with Dillenbeck that it’s better for Acquaro to conduct the negotiations. She said he’s also helped the district save money on other issues.

“He’s very knowledgeable with building projects. We’ve had two major building projects over the last 10 to 15 years, and looking back retrospectively to some of those projects, there were things that probably could have been done better. Because they involve so much money and paperwork, we want to make sure we have someone on board who can help us with that process,” she said.

Sullivan said Johnstown hasn’t had a permanent business manager since at least 1999. She said she hopes the appointments of Dillenbeck and Baker will provide stability in the business office.

Categories: Schenectady County

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