Incoming Schenectady school board member Jamaica Miles and a handful of community members on Wednesday suggested the school board hold off on hiring an interim superintendent until Miles and another new board member are sworn in at the beginning of July.
The board has been holding multiple closed meetings in recent weeks to interview people to potentially take over the district as interim superintendent ahead of current interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak’s planned departure at the end of August.
But some community members at Wednesday night’s board meeting urged the board to wait until Miles and incoming board member Erica Brockmyer join the board July 1 before making such a critical decision, pointing to the community’s recent election of new members.
“I want to make a plea to you folks that you not make any decision on a temporary superintendent or other arrangements until the new board is in place,” community member Brianne Brinker said in public comments at the beginning of the board’s Wednesday night meeting.
Brinker also urged the board to do a better job of soliciting and including public input in the process of a search for a new permanent superintendent. Brinker said the board should be more transparent and better communicate the process employed in the search going forward.
“I was part of a discussion on a Zoom but that was done after all of the candidates were searched and vetted, there was really no input from the community,” Brinker said, indicating participation in the public input portion of the previous superintendent search. “I believe there should be input from the community in the next superintendent search.”
Shawn Young, a district parent who formed the community group All of Us alongside Miles, also called on the board to wait until the new members were seated next month before making “any long term decision” that the new board members would have to live with.
“The community has spoken,” Young said of the recent election, which ousted current board member Andy Chestnut and filled the seat left vacant by outgoing board member John Foley.
Miles, who also made public comments at the meeting, said other community members at an open forum she hosted Sunday indicated a desire for the board to wait until next month on major decisions – such as hiring an interim superintendent for an extended period of time.
“I believe that we heard loud and clear from residents and voters during the campaign and last school board election that they want new voices at the table when major decisions are made,” Miles said in an interview Thursday. “We serve the community, we serve the students and parents of the city of Schenectady, and we should take their lead.”
The board did not appear ready to heed the recommendations. Board members convened into executive session at the close of the public portion of Wednesday’s meeting to continue their discussion on finding an interim leader for the district. None of the board members publicly stated a position on whether the board should wait until next month to fill the interim superintendent position. Bochniak is slated to leave the district for a job with Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES at the end of August.
At the outset of the meeting, prior to the public comments, board President John Foley, offered a brief update on the search. Foley said the board was “keenly aware of the urgency” to fill the position but that no decision had been made and there was not a timeline for making a decision. He did indicate the board has met with multiple people interested in the position and experienced in districts similar to Schenectady.
“We have met several individuals with experience and strong interest in serving urban communities,” Foley said at the meeting.
During the meeting, the board did not respond to or discuss public comments suggesting it hold off on filling the interim superintendent position until the new board members are seated next month. In an interview Thursday, though, Foley said he has heard from more people in the community who think the board should move with greater urgency to fill the position than those who think the board should wait. He said the board was “actively working to fill the position,” highlighting the critical nature of the leadership role coupled with other vacancies an interim superintendent will help fill.
“That leadership void is critical,” Foley said Thursday. “It’s a critical position to fill, and the board has an obligation to continue to work to try and fill it.”
Brockmyer, who like Miles formally joins the board July 1, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday by press time.
The school board at Wednesday’s meeting approved a resolution enabling current interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak to carry forward 28.5 unused vacation days from the last two school years, days he can exchange for direct payment by the end of August.
The board has approved similar allowances to other staff members who did not use vacation days over the last year as they worked to plan for the current school year.
“Similar to other employees, we are allowing Aaron to get 28.5 days vacaiton time that he was not able to use because of COVID,” Foley said. “We don’t want to penalize them for working through this rather stressful time.”
Bochniak gets 25 vacation days each year – part of the district’s broader managers contract that he worked under as a district official – and had carried forward a small number of days from the 2019-2020 school year into this school year, according to district spokesperson Karen Corona.
The board resolution enables Bochniak to carry the unused vacation time beyond the June 30 end of the current school year, utilizing it before he departs the district Aug. 31 or exchanging it for payment at the per-day rate of his salary.