Whitehall superintendent James Watson was lauded during his final Board of Education meeting Monday evening while the choice of his successor was flogged by teachers and a former board member.
Ben Reynolds, president of the teacher’s association and technology teacher at Whitehall High School, spoke fondly of Watson and congratulated him on his retirement after more than 27 years in the district.
“We would like to thank you for keeping the district afloat during tough economic times and for always keeping your door open to talk to us,” Reynolds said, before adding that the teachers association had made a $400 contribution to the elementary school playground fund in Watson’s honor.
District clerk Martha Bascue and former board members Francis and Mike Putorti also thanked Watson for his dedication to the district and his “financial wizardry” during the fiscal climate of the last seven to eight years.
Reynolds, however, was not as glowing in his assessment of the board’s decision to hire Elizabeth Legault as his successor.
“We are very concerned with the candidate for superintendent. The board has jumped through hoops to hire someone who does not have the proper qualifications,” Reynolds said. “If a non-certified teacher without experience in New York applied for a job would they get it? I think not.”
Last month, the board announced it had hired Legault, a former Rhode Island teacher and administrator who hails from Hudson Falls to serve as the district’s next superintendent despite the fact she lacks the proper credentials to hold the position in New York.
The requirements to be a superintendent in New York differ from those in Rhode Island, and the board has applied for a waiver from the State Education Department to allow Legault to serve as superintendent while she completes graduate level courses to obtain the necessary credentials.
The waiver process typically takes four to six weeks, but the state normally issues waivers only twice a year, and the next time it is scheduled to do so is February.
The state could issue a waiver before that time, but as of Monday evening, had yet to do so.
Board president Virginia Rivette said last month that Legault should have the necessary credentials when she completes her course work at SUNY Plattsburgh in December.
However, if the state doesn’t issue a waiver, there would be a month-and-a-half gap between the time when Watson retires on Oct. 30 and when Legault could assume the position in mid-December.
“What happens if the waiver is rejected?” Reynolds said, asking if the district was prepared to spend money on an intern superintendent.
Andy Gordon, a former board president, also questioned the choice of Legault.
“You are going down a dangerous path hiring a non-certified candidate for a position they aren’t qualified for,” he said.
James Brooks, board member, thanked the teachers association for its thoughts and comments, but said the board had to make the best decision with the information it had at the time.
The board did make concessions Monday in the event the state doesn’t issue a waiver, approving a recommendation from Watson to appoint James Dexter, superintendent of the Washington, Saratoga, Warren, Hamilton, and Essex County BOCES, as acting superintendent, effective Oct. 30.
The board also appointed Watson to serve as administrative assistant effective Oct. 31. He will be compensated at his current salary, but will only work three days a week.
Budgetary projections favorable
Watson told the board that after an early review of 2014-15 budget projections that he is confident the district can stay within the 2-percent tax cap.
“We don’t anticipate having to make significant staffing cuts like previous years,” he said.
In fact, the district may have the financial latitude to restore several positions and programs that have been eliminated in previous years, namely a number of special classes at the elementary school and the realignment of several administrative positions.
Watson said the district should have more refined numbers in December after Governor Andrew Cuomo releases more information on the state budget.
District says goodbye to Palmer
The board accepted the resignations of Chris Palmer and Cynthia Hollister.
Palmer, who has served as choral director, head of the drama club, and most recently, dean of students, has accepted a new position as assistant principal at Monticello High School.
Watson commended Palmer for the path he had taken. For the last three of four years, Palmer has worked toward earning his administrative certification, taking college courses during evenings and school breaks.
“In this profession, we are in need of administrators who look out for the best interests of the students and Chris has demonstrated through his work in the classroom that he does that.” Watson said.
Mike Putorti whose children had Palmer has a teacher, also thanked him for his time at Whitehall and when board member James Huntington asked if there was any objections to accepting Palmer’s resignation, one student said “we all do.”
Hollister a GED teacher has accepted a new position in the Saranac School District.
Both resignations are effective Nov. 1.
The board approved a bid from O’Connor Construction to replace a catch basin along the western edge of school property that collects much of the district’s storm water and runoff.
The total bid amount was for $7,400 and the work is expected to be completed before winter.
The next meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Nov. 18.