by Susan Mikula Campbell
Change was rife at the Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education meeting last week.
Not only were four new board members sworn in, but as the new majority, they changed the rules, elected one of their own as board president, reinstated the school district's athletic director, hired a new law firm and returned to a two meeting a month schedule.
Mark DiFilippo, whose job was cut from the 2011-12 budget, will return as the school district's athletic director.
One result will be that Laura Palka, principal of Edward Town Middle School, will continue to serve double duty as interim principal of both the high school and the middle school, due to the departure last spring of former high school principal Jeff Hazel.
New on the seven-member board are Steven Sabo, David Breier, Rich Halleen and Christopher Peters.
By a 5-2 vote, with incumbents Kathy Fleming and Kristin MacKenzie voting against the measure, the new board lifted the previous rule requiring that school board officers have two years experience.
New board member Steven Sabo was then elected board president, and Mike Brock, who has been a board member since 2010, was elected vice president.
The board, which has been meeting once a month, will return to a two meeting a month schedule (the first and third Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the high school's Adult Learning Center), as part of the new board members' campaign promise of more transparency in board and school district actions. Harris Beach was chosen as the school district's new law firm.
Sabo is a Wheatfield resident and North Tonawanda School District teacher and coach.
"Obviously, transitions and changes are hard," Sabo said, but promised, "We'll be able to work as a team and make sure Niagara-Wheatfield is able to offer the quality of education it has in the past."
Superintendent Carl Militello also predicted a good year with a board and administration that will work well together.
"I think we're going to have a very successful school year ... because we're very student-centered in all our decisions," he said. "We want to build high student achievement, with fiscal responsibility. I think the future looks bright."
Adding back the athletic director's position to the budget costs about $105,000 including the insurance benefits, so at this point the school district won't immediately look for a new high school principal, especially with the state's 2 percent tax cap looming.
A tax cap "will definitely change the dynamics of creating a school budget," Sabo said.
Militello and Sabo said they were confident Palka will do an excellent job supervising both buildings. Militello said there are two vice principals at the middle school and three at the high school. Sabo added that the athletic director's office is at the high school and DiFilippo also will be available to help where needed.
Militello thanked Palka for taking on the challenge.
"She's going to be very busy, but I'm sure she will do a great job," he said. "I think it will bring continuity to both buildings."
"Dr. Palka definitely has the supervisory skills, the educational background and the experience to manage both buildings," Sabo said.
He added that the reinstatement of the athletic director has been a major issue with people he's talked to in the community. Niagara-Wheatfield is in the upper classes of play in major sports such as football. Not having an athletic director to handle things such as eligibility, scheduling and making sure athletes get safely to sporting events, not only affects Niagara-Wheatfield, but surrounding school districts as well, Sabo said.