Fulton County

O-E-STJ school superintendent steps aside

The monthslong standoff concerning the future of the superintendent at the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Jo

The monthslong standoff concerning the future of the superintendent at the Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville Central School District ended this week with an agreement for the two sides to part ways, officials said.

Superintendent Laura Lawrence resigned on Wednesday. Details of the separation agreement between the school district and Lawrence were not released Thursday, including what, if any, payout Lawrence will receive for the two years left on her contract.

District officials said Thursday that those details could be released soon, pending a provision to notify Lawrence’s attorney, Kevin Luibrand, of the request to release the document.

The agreement for Lawrence to formally resign was approved Wednesday night by the district’s Board of Education in a unanimous vote, officials said. The vote was in contrast to split 4-3 votes the board consistently had on issues concerning Lawrence’s future.

The board placed Lawrence on leave in November just six months after she was appointed superintendent of the district that was the result of a merger of the St. Johnsville and Oppenheim-Ephratah districts. She was given a three-year contract with an annual salary of about $110,000. Her contract wasn’t to expire until June 2016.

Lawrence continued to receive full pay while on leave.

Board members never gave an explanation for why Lawrence was placed on leave. Lawrence’s supporters, however, have suggested old district lines and resentments sparked the action.

Lawrence took over the merged district after previously serving as superintendent of the old St. Johnsville Central School District.

In January, the board appointed Thomas Gallagher as acting superintendent. He has served as superintendent for districts in Rome, as well as in New Jersey and Vermont. His appointment runs through July.

The agreement with Lawrence now formally leaves the superintendent seat open and allows the board to seek a full-time replacement, said Joseph DeTraglia, the district’s attorney.

“It’s a time to heal,” Gallagher said, “and what I’ve suggested to the board is that we make every effort to end this civil war and begin reconstruction. As Lincoln said, ‘With malice toward none and charity toward all.’

“That would be my theme and I think the board has adopted that.”

Gallagher’s contract with the district ends June 30. If asked to continue, he said, he will have to speak with his family before making a decision.

DeTraglia, though, praised Gallagher’s work since joining the district.

“I believe the board is very pleased with the leadership that Mr. Gallagher has brought to the school district,” DeTraglia said.

Despite placing Lawrence on leave, the district praised her in a press release issued after Wednesday night’s vote accepting her resignation.

In the release, which also did not give details of the agreement, officials wrote, “Lawrence’s dedication to students and contributions to the educational community are noteworthy.”

The release also noted she led the district through the merger process and worked “very hard on a successful launch of the new district.”

“Ms. Lawrence has many accomplishments and has achieved many goals not only as an administrator but also as a teacher during her career in education,” the release read. “The board thanks her for her service to the School District.”

The press release was in stark contrast to the board’s stance less than two weeks ago.

In another 4-3 vote, the board gave Lawrence a deadline to accept its latest settlement offer or face formal administrative charges. The exact nature of the formal administrative charges was never disclosed.

That deadline came and went April 11 with no charges filed.

Lawrence’s attorney said then that the two sides continued negotiating. He also said there was no basis for any charges to be filed against Lawrence.

He said Lawrence also intends to move on.

“She did a fine job for the district,” Luibrand said. “She enjoyed her time with the district and she is eager to get back into educational administration.”

Luibrand also declined to release the separation agreement Thursday.

Interest in running for the district’s school board appears to be high. Three seats on the board are up for election next month. Seven candidates filed petitions to run, according to the district’s website.

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