Schenectady school chief urges cutting 2 top posts

Schenectady’s school district doesn’t need its assistant superintendents, its current chief said.

Schenectady’s school district doesn’t need its assistant superintendents, its current chief said.

Interim Superintendent John Yagielski has asked the school board to eliminate both positions. That would give principals and teachers more authority over how they teach their students, he said.

The move, which would go into effect next school year, would save the district $275,000. Board President Cathy Lewis said the board is ready to support the change.

Yagielski said the motive isn’t primarily financial. He said principals are now wrongly forced to get superintendent-level approval for many programs and initiatives.

Assistant Superintendent William Roberts is involved in many discipline cases and parent complaints. Assistant Superintendent Matthew Weinheimer is in charge of curriculum and instruction. They could not be immediately reached for comment.

Principals have said the process of getting the men to approve changes in instruction is so cumbersome that they have held secret meetings to outline the flaws or weaknesses they’ve found in the curriculum they’ve been given. In some cases, they said, they simply implemented changes secretly.

Yagielski said he has come across evidence of that during his four-month tour of the district. Rather than cracking down — like the past two superintendents did — he wants to give them more autonomy.

“I don’t ever shortchange our principals,” he said. “I’ve come to respect and admire our school principals.”

Former superintendents Eric Ely and Raymond Colucciello threatened to move administrators to other, less desirable buildings if they were caught making unapproved changes to the district curriculum.

Yagielski said he won’t give them completely free rein.

“It’s not, ‘Do as you want, folks,’ ” he said. “The district will give them expectations on reading, math — those are non-negotiable.” Then the principals and teachers will be encouraged to meet those expectations in creative ways.

He said he doesn’t need the assistant superintendents to keep teachers focused on student achievement.

“You expect the principal to be the keeper of those expectations, providing the constant reminders,” he said. “What I want to do is empower them.”

Lewis supports Yagielski’s plan.

“It’s necessary for us to do some things in a different way,” she said, adding that the current organization is so difficult to understand she still doesn’t know which responsibilities are assigned to which people.

Yagielski has also asked the board to consider replacing school attorney Shari Greenleaf with a law firm. The firm might provide a wider range of expertise for the same cost, he said. The district currently pays Greenleaf as well as contracting out for complex issues, including the recent lawsuit over whether a student can wear rosary beads in school.

Greenleaf played an awkward role in the removal of Superintendent Ely. As the district’s attorney, she was technically representing both sides: Ely and the school board. Some board members viewed her as Ely’s personal legal adviser, going so far as to say that she should be removed with Ely. New board member Andrew Chestnut compared her to a cavity.

The school board ended up hiring its own attorney to discuss ways to get rid of Ely. He eventually accepted a $144,500 settlement and took a job as superintendent in Southbridge, Mass.

Lewis and Yagielski said that controversy had nothing to do with the proposal to end Greenleaf’s contract.

Law firms will be asked to submit proposals to represent the district. If the cost is similar to the current arrangement, the board may switch to a law firm next year, Yagielski and Lewis said.

Yagielski said Greenleaf is being asked to do too much.

“We expect that attorney to handle, frankly, a wide variety of topics,” he said. “You have, through the law firm model, wider expertise. As good as any one attorney is, I think it’s pretty tough to expect them to cover all those things.”

Some local municipalities have switched back and forth between a full-time attorney and a firm. At times, the firm has been more expensive.

Yagielski said the expense will be critical.

“Let’s take a look at the cost,” he said. “We’ll make a reasoned decision.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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