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Niskayuna superintendent, school board parting ways

Saturday, April 5, 2014
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Niskayuna schools Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio and the school board decided to part ways on Friday. Salvaggio agreed to leave effective April 15.
Niskayuna schools Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio and the school board decided to part ways on Friday. Salvaggio agreed to leave effective April 15.

— Tensions between Niskayuna schools Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio and some members of the school board ended Friday with Salvaggio agreeing to leave effective April 15.

The agreement ended Salvaggio’s contract as superintendent and includes a $139,000 lump-sum payment to the outgoing superintendent to end her time as the district’s top administrator 15 months early.

District officials Friday called the agreement a “voluntary separation” between Salvaggio and the district.

The approval of that separation came with a 4 to 3 vote at a brief special board meeting held early Friday morning. That vote also came only nine months after the school board voted 4 to 2 to extend Salvaggio’s contract one year, through June 30, 2015.

According to the agreement, Salvaggio will get health insurance through the extended contract expiration date, or until she receives comparable coverage.

A prepared letter of recommendation was included, as well as a provision that the district will make no disparaging remarks about her.

A district statement, which was also approved by both sides, however, appeared to hint at those tensions.

“The agreement acknowledges that Mrs. Salvaggio and the Board have disagreed as to the best course of action to ensure the continued success of the District and that certain philosophical differences have arisen relating to expected performance,” the statement reads.

The statement did not detail those differences further.

Salvaggio’s salary by contract was $192,000, reduced by voluntary concession to $189,785. She was hired in May 2011 after serving seven years as superintendent of the Sodus Central School District in Wayne County.

Voting in favor of accepting the agreement were board members Barbara Mauro, Patricia Lanotte, John Buhrmaster and Deborah Oriola. Voting against accepting it were board members Robert Winchester, Deb Gordon and Kevin Laurilliard, the district spokesman said.

Officials said the board is expected to name an interim superintendent soon.

Tensions between some board members and Salvaggio had simmering for some time. Mauro and Oriola were the two board members who voted against extending Salvaggio’s contract last summer.

Buhrmaster voted in favor of the June 2013 extension, but Friday voted to part ways with Salvaggio. Lanotte and Laurilliard joined the board the month after the June vote.

Salvaggio was unavailable for comment Friday, according to the district spokesman.

Buhrmaster declined to comment Friday on his vote to accept the agreement. Mauro also declined comment, referring questions to Oriola. Oriola could not be reached.

The vote to separate from Salvaggio comes after a tumultuous year in the district that included the public soundly defeating the original 2013-2014 budget proposal last May. That proposal was over the tax cap. Voters then approved a paired down plan last June.

Then the district went through a lengthy process to determine whether to close an elementary school to save money because the district was facing a budget gap. Included in that process was a committee of the public and district officials to determine the best options.

But, at the end of the months-long process, and as the board faced mounting pressure from parents to keep the all the schools open, members of the board questioned whether the committee itself met the requirements of the district’s school closure policy.

Oriola and Mauro were among those who said they believed the committee did not meet the requirements. Ultimately, the board tabled any closure discussions for this school year.

Then, after the school closure process was tabled, the need for the estimated $400,000 a closed school would have provided seemingly evaporated.

District officials had feared a budget gap of as much as $2.6 million. But in March, Salvaggio presented a $77.3 million budget that stayed well within the tax cap and kept all student programs.

The budget proposal, which included input from members of district administration and the board, used a slimmed down administration, retirements and district fund balance to produce a budget with a proposed 2.81 percent tax increase, well below the district’s 4.52 percent tax cap.

That number could be reduced further at Tuesday’s meeting with an unexpected $500,000 in extra state aid the district received.

The agreement approved Friday outlines Salvaggio’s “separation benefits,” as well as what exactly each side can say about the other.

Section 10 of the agreement, titled “Goodwill,” states how Salvaggio and the board “agree that they will not make or publish any written or oral statement or remark, including, but not limited to, derogatory rumors, allegations, negative reports or comments,” that are disparaging or damaging to either side.

Any public statements from the district were also agreed to be “strictly limited to the content of a mutually agreed upon statement.”

The district will only provide that statement and the letter of recommendation for any employment inquiry about Salvaggio.

In that statement, Oriola is quoted as saying the two sides agreed to part ways “on an amicable basis.”

“The Board of Education wishes Mrs. Salvaggio the best in the future and we thank her for her efforts over the past few years,” Oriola’s statement reads.

Salvaggio is also quoted in the statement: “I am confident that the leadership provided over the past three years positions the Board to move forwarding a manner that will support the success of students, families, staff and the administrative team.”

Friday morning’s meeting was called mid-week, with notice posted on the district’s website Wednesday afternoon, a district spokesman said.

Officials with the state Committee on Open Government cited state open meetings law, which requires public notification for meetings scheduled less than one week in advance “at a reasonable time prior” to the meeting.

The Open Meetings Law also includes a provision to notify the news media of the meeting. The Daily Gazette, which frequently covers Niskayuna school board meetings, was not notified of Friday morning’s special meeting.

In a statement issued late Friday afternoon in response to an inquiry, the district called the lack of notification to the media an “oversight.”

“Although notice was published on our website as soon as the meeting was scheduled,” the statement reads, “this was an oversight and it will not happen in the future.”

 
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comments

April 4, 2014
8:15 p.m.
Warm says...

This is why people hate the school system and officials in general. They treat the law like a suggestion and there is never enough cream for them to skim off the top while at the same time they are crying poverty. The meeting violated the law so any items passed are not legal. Call a mulligan and invite the people in to speak before you vote again. In the payoff included a line barring her from taking another job the 15 months they are paying her for in the settlement. Cut all this double dipping.

April 5, 2014
11:28 p.m.
cpossin says...

Thank you to the school district for settling differences in a civil manner. And thank you for the outstanding education my children received in this district. It is imperative that we preserve this same opportunity for children in the future.

April 7, 2014
9:37 p.m.
jjhehir says...

When Mrs. Salvaggio was hired in 2011, the school district’s scholastic ranking was number three, according to a report by the Albany Business Review on June 28, 2013. In her second year it was number two, and in her third year it was number one. Now, the Board is requesting that she leave. That makes no sense at all.

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