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Galway principals slated for early tenure

Item on agenda for Thursday night meeting

Thursday, May 23, 2013
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— The Galway Board of Education appears poised to grant early tenure to three administrators who have been with the district for less than a year, far faster than the customary two- or three-year probationary period.

Thursday night’s Board of Education consent agenda includes awarding tenure on July 1 to Michael Healey, junior/senior high school principal; Michelle McDougall, elementary school principal; and Brita Donovan, associate principal at the junior/senior high school and also the athletic director. The consent agenda contains multiple items, usually routine, that are all accepted at once.

All three principals were appointed within the past year for a three-year probationary period. Donovan was hired effective July 1, 2012; McDougall’s first day was July 16, 2012; and Healey was hired effective Aug. 27, 2012.

State education law says administrators must undergo a three-year probation at their new job before they are granted tenure, but districts do give tenure earlier to some people who have attained it in another job, said Jay Worona, general counsel for the New York State School Boards Association.

But two years, not one, is the typical probationary period in those cases, Worona said.

“The general thought is that someone is supposed to have longer than just one year,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a common occurrence [to grant tenure after just one year], but that doesn’t necessarily make it legally problematic.”

Early tenure is a gray area not fully tested in the courts, leaving the ultimate decision up to school boards. And the law isn’t likely to be challenged, he said — the employee getting tenure early won’t complain about it, most of the employee’s co-workers won’t mind and the general public has no legal standing to contest it.

The three years is written into the law more as a protection to employees, letting districts know they must consider tenure after three years, he said. To get tenure, an employee must be recommended by the superintendent, undergo an evaluation hearing and be approved by the school board.

A spokeswoman from the state Education Department wouldn’t comment on the tenure matter.

Board members previously have praised the three principals for working to make the school system better and coming up with new ideas, but district resident Stacy Morey said granting early tenure to the three would be unethical even if it’s not illegal. “They should prove themselves just like everybody else,” said Morey, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board this week.

She said she believed the sitting board was rushing to give the three principals tenure because a new school board might not give it to them in the future. The board will be getting two new members soon: One incumbent chose not to seek re-election and one lost a bid for re-election Tuesday.

Morey said the principals have made important decisions without seeking parents’ or teachers’ input, including an administrative decision — which also involved central office administrators, not just principals — to consolidate bus runs and have children of all ages ride on each bus.

“The community members feel that they’re not important, that they’re not valued,” said Morey, who has one son in kindergarten and one who hasn’t yet started school.

Board member Joan Slagle said the principals’ tenure likely will be discussed in executive session at 5:30 this evening, before the 6:30 p.m. meeting.

“I think we may very well have to table it,” she said, noting that there is “some concern” among the board members about tenure.

But she noted that at the candidates’ night before the school board elections, none of the seven candidates expressed displeasure with the three principals, and no one has done so at school board meetings, either.

“[Board President Cheryl] Smith has been very generous, allowing people ample time to voice their opinions,” Slagle said.

Interim Superintendent William Scott was out of the office Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

 
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