Niskayuna school board allows superintendent to carry over vacation week; move draws criticism

Niskayuna School Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, right, is pictured last year in the Gazette editorial boardroom. (Gazette file photo)

Niskayuna School Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, right, is pictured last year in the Gazette editorial boardroom. (Gazette file photo)

Niskayuna schools Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. on Tuesday secured a sixth week of vacation time for this school year after the school board agreed to retroactively roll forward a week of vacation Tangorra did not use last year.

His contract explicitly prohibits the rollover of vacation time from one year to the next, but he asked for an amendment to his contract after not using all of his vacation time last school year in the face of dramatic challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The board unanimously approved the change to the contract Tuesday night, along with other “consent agenda” items that do not go up for board discussion.

“He had not been able to use vacation days because of all the craziness going on and asked if he could push those five days forward to next year, and we said sure,” Niskayuna school board president Howard Schlossberg said in an interview Wednesday.

Tangorra’s contract grants him 25 days of vacation time each year, five of which he can exchange for cash payment at the per-day rate of his current salary; the board’s decision effectively lifts his vacation time for the current school year to six weeks — one of which he can exchange for just over $4,000.

The board’s action comes as it braces for potentially devastating budget cuts over the coming months and amid a recent slate of personnel actions limiting the hours of district support staff such as teaching assistants. Some community members questioned the wisdom of the board and superintendent focusing on the missed vacation time. In the spring, as the board grappled with budget challenges, Tangorra volunteered to take a pay freeze, noting he would not ask other employees to do something he was not willing to do himself.

Patricia Lanotte, a district resident and former board member, criticized the board’s decision on Tangorra’s vacation time as a bad look for the board and superintendent during a moment of shared sacrifice, as well as an unnecessary expense at a time when district officials are warning of a challenging budget.

“I think a lot of people that are in schools are doing a lot of work and working overtime and above and beyond, and people are not getting compensated for that,” she said in an interview following the meeting. “When you are asking people to go above and beyond, for you to come back and say, ‘I lost vacation time last year, can you amend my contract?’ I don’t think that’s a good look.”

Lanotte, who previously served as school board president in the district, also questioned why the board included the contract amendment on the consent agenda and not as its own item with board discussion.

In defending the board’s decision, Schlossberg said that allowing the unused week of vacation time to be rolled forward “has zero financial impact” and noted vacation would give Tangorra a chance to “recharge,” and that Tangorra is reachable while on vacation.

But Lanotte argued the board’s decision did carry a financial impact since the board agreed to an extra week of paying Tangorra while he is on vacation.

“There is a financial impact. He will be paid for not working,” Lanotte said. “If there was not a financial impact, you would not have it in the contract in the first place. It’s a benefit.”

Tangorra declined an interview Thursday but district spokesperson Matt Leon, in response to questions, said “it was a straightforward request” to use five unused days from last school year to this year, but did not address Lanotte’s criticism. Tangorra used 15 of his 25 vacation days last school year, Leon said.

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News, Schenectady County

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