Fulton County

Former St. Johnsville principal in dark on cause of exit

One of the school administrators suspended in the midst of investigations and a controversial merger

One of the school administrators suspended in the midst of investigations and a controversial merger earlier this year said Wednesday that he never even heard the allegations against him.

St. Johnsville Elementary School Principal Christopher Fatta and Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District Superintendent Dan Russo were both placed on paid administrative leave following an investigation in February.

Oppenheim-Ephratah school staff confirmed that Russom has since retired, but Russom could not be reached for comment.

Fatta on Wednesday said he resigned last month but still isn’t certain why he was suspended or what the allegations were.

“I still don’t know what exactly transpired,” he said. “I just enjoyed working with the kids. I loved the community.”

In January, Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel, who at the time was handling a merger process between the two districts, got wind of rumors concerning Fatta and Russom. He and St. Johnsville Superintendent Laura Campione-Lawrence investigated the claims, eventually handing out a pair of suspensions.

Very little information concerning the nature of the claims was released at the time. Months later, Herkimer BOCES Superintendent Mark Vivacqua — who took over the Russom probe because Oppenheim-Ephratah is part of his BOCES — couldn’t really clear things up Wednesday.

“The problem,” he said, “is Russom was put on leave while we investigated claims made against him, but those claims never turned into official charges. Since they’re still just claims, we can’t say what he did.”

What comment Vivacqua could offer pertained only to Russom’s case, as he was not investigating Fatta.

But the suspensions were similar in nature. Any claims made against the men, Vivacqua said, must have been fairly serious to warrant suspensions. However, he added, no criminal charges have since been filed, so no laws were broken.

Beyond that, Vivacqua could not speculate.

“I don’t want to say anything negative,” Fatta said, “but I think Laura [Campione-Lawrence] had a vision for where she wanted the new district to go and maybe who she wanted to help her.”

Fatta worked at St. Johnsville for less than two years, previously serving four years as a principal at Oppenheim-Ephratah.

Now, the father of four is looking for work.

Vivacqua could not say whether Russom’s suspension had anything to do with the merger but noted that “the man retired of his own free will.”

According to Oppenheim-Ephratah Business Manager Karen Mettler, Russom served as district superintendent for eight years, with his 2012 salary coming in at nearly $130,000.

Usually, retired superintendents are entitled to keep their school health insurance, but in this case, Mettler said, the district is off the hook.

“He never got health insurance through us,” she said, “so we don’t have to continue paying it now that he’s retired.”

She said they called it retirement basically because he is old enough to not have to get another job.

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