The Niskayuna school board will kick off its search for a new superintendent at a special meeting scheduled for July 22 at 4:30 p.m.
District officials announced the planned meeting Tuesday, giving the board its first chance to discuss how to move forward with a search since Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. last week announced he was leaving the district for the superintendent position at the New Hartford Central School District near Utica in the fall.
The meeting will be held at the district’s central office board meeting room and will also be live streamed in a manner similar to how meetings have been streamed throughout the pandemic. The meeting will be open for in-person attendance.
“The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the superintendent search process,” according to a notice of the meeting.
It’s not clear, though, how far the board’s public discussion will go at the meeting. Board President Kim Tully on Tuesday said Capital Region BOCES Superintendent Anita Murphy would join to share an overview of superintendent searches and the different approaches available to the board. She said the board does also “expect to go into executive session for a portion of the meeting.”
In an interview with The Daily Gazette last week, Tully indicated the board may convene into an executive session to discuss how to move forward, citing an open meetings law exemption that applies to personnel matters.
But Kristin O’Neill, the assistant director of the state Committee on Open Government, last week said the exemption only applies to discussions about specific employees or prospective employees not general process or policy.
“It has to be focused on specific individuals, not policy,” O’Neill said of the open meetings exemption allowing closed personnel discussions.
The board will have to establish how it wants to move forward with a search and whether to seek the help of a professional search firm or rely on the search services provided through Capital Region BOCES, which conducts most of the superintendent searches in the region. The board will also have to decide how it plans to involve community members and other stakeholders in the process.
When the district conducted the search that landed on Tangorra’s selection, the district hosted community forums to gather input into the desired characteristics of a new leader and also included students, parents and staff members on interview committees that probed three final candidates. Tangorra was announced as the finalist for the position and invited to visit the community before he was formally approved for the position. He started in the district June 2015.
Pat Lanotte, who served as school board president at the time of the search that resulted in Tangorra’s appointment but in recent years as a community member has grown critical of his leadership, said she thinks that 2015 search process resulted in a consensus choice but called on the board to use a private search firm this time around.
Lanotte said she supported the use of a private search firm because of the tight superintendent hiring market and the need to aggressively vet the background of candidates.
“This is a very difficult time to find a superintendent, and you have got to be able to have a firm that is casting a very wide net, using all of the resources they have,” she said.
Lanotte also said it was critical the board utilized community members and other stakeholders in interviewing candidates to ensure the board finds someone supported by the broader community. (During its 2015 search, the board had multiple stakeholder groups involved in interviewing three finalists, asking participants to sign an agreement to not disclose details of the process.)
“As a group, the board will know what they think they are looking for, but they could be way off, they need to choose someone that represents what these other groups want,” Lanotte said.
Tangorra last week informed the school board that he had accepted the superintendent position in New Hartford, near where he grew up and has lived throughout his tenure in Niskayuna. Just a few weeks earlier the Niskayuna board extended Tangorra’s contract and highlighted the importance of maintaining consistent leadership as the district set out on a recently-approved $80 million capital project.
In a message to the Niskayuna community, Tangorra said that he was not actively seeking a new job but decided the move to New Hartford was best for him and his family after the opportunity presented itself. He said he plans to stay at Niskayuna until early-October, when he will start in New Hartford.
“In addition to the progress that we made together in that time, I have personally enjoyed working with all of you – outstanding students, faculty and staff, caring and committed families, and a community that supports and values education,” Tangorra wrote in the community message.