School officials are saying little about why two administrators from the soon-to-be-merged Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville districts have been suspended with pay.
Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School District Superintendent Dan Russom and Christopher Fatta, principal of D.H. Robbins Elementary School in the St. Johnsville Central School District, were both placed on administrative leave Thursday.
Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel is supervising the merger of the two school districts. In a statement on the Facebook page for the new merged district Thursday afternoon, Michel told parents that the two suspensions “are not related to students or any financial improprieties.”
On Friday, Michel said he received phone calls Wednesday night regarding allegations made about Russom and Fatta. He could not be reached for further comment to explain why he was receiving these complaints and not their respective school boards.
“I asked the superintendent at St. Johnsville to look into some allegations that have been made. She reported back to me and she said some things occurred that I needed to look into,” he said.
Michel interviewed staff members at both Oppenheim-Ephratah and St. Johnsville. He brought the information to the Oppenheim-Ephratah board, which suspended Russom following an executive session on Thursday.
The board appointed Michael as interim superintendent. Michel is required to assume the responsibility of superintendent in any Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES district when the position becomes vacant. He will remain acting superintendent until the board appoints someone else to the position.
Michael also placed Fatta on leave. It is not clear why he performed that action and not St. Johnsville Central School District Superintendent Laura Campione-Lawrence. She will take charge of the elementary school for the time being.
The St. Johnsville Board of Education also met in executive session on Thursday to discuss the situation following a joint meeting with the Oppenheim-Ephratah board. The statement on the district’s website said that “further information regarding Mr. Fatta’s status will be released if and when appropriate.”
Michel said he did not know if or when Russom and Fatta would be able to return to work.
“It’s really up to the boards,” he said.
The St. Johnsville district will look for an interim principal for the elementary school, according to Michel. He anticipated that the process would take a few weeks.
“We’re going to work this all through and the merger will move forward,” he said.
Michel said he could not elaborate on the substance of the allegations but reiterated that they are not criminal in nature and do not require police involvement. The complaints against the men indirectly relate to each other, according to Michel.
“I don’t want people jumping to conclusions,” he said.
Both school boards issued a follow-up statement later Friday afternoon that indicated that the primary complaints were directed at the superintendent.
“Members of the Oppenheim-Ephratah board feel strongly that the allegations made against Mr. Russom in no way should detract from his past accomplishments as an educator and administrator,” Michel said. “However, the board also recognizes that his recent actions have compromised his ability to be an effective leader for our schools.”
Russom has been the district’s superintendent since July 2005. Before that, he was principal of Northville High School. His current contract is due to expire in June. He was making $120,000 a year in salary as of the 2008-09 year; a more recent figure was not available.
Russom did not return requests for comment left at his home or through his Facebook page.
Fatta has been principal since January 2012. Before that, Fatta had worked under Russom as interim building principal of Oppenheim-Ephratah Central School. He replaced Campione-Lawrence, who was promoted to superintendent at St. Johnsville.
A telephone listing for Fatta could not be found.
Neither Oppenheim-Ephratah Board of Education President Ben Conte nor St. Johnsville Board of Education President David Christopher Mosher returned messages left for comment.