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N-W hires new interim superintendent

by jmaloni
Thu, Jun 28th 2012 02:55 pm
Niagara-Wheatfield Board President Steve Sabo, left, welcomes the school district's new interim superintendent, James Knowles.
Niagara-Wheatfield Board President Steve Sabo, left, welcomes the school district's new interim superintendent, James Knowles.

Photo and story by Janet Schultz

The Niagara-Wheatfield Board of Education named James Knowles as interim superintendent last week, replacing current Interim Superintendent Kerin Dumphrey.

Knowles has been brought on during the search for a permanent superintendent. His is contract will cover the time period of July 1, 2012, through June 30, 2013, at $500 per day.        

Knowles has most recently been serving as interim superintendent for the Warsaw School District. He previously worked for more than 40 years in the Iroquois Central School District and at the State School for the Blind in Batavia.

The board also extended the contract of Dr. Richard Hitzges at $650 per day for three days the first week of July. Hitzges took over Dumphrey's responsibilities while he was serving as interim superintendent.

When district resident RoseMary Warren questioned this appointment, Board President Steve Sabo explained it was for a smooth transition for Knowles. Dumphrey will resume his duties as business manager but will be on vacation for the first three days of Knowles' employment. Therefore, Hitzges will be available to assist Knowles.

The board also passed several personnel actions, which included the abolishing of six administrative positions, laying off four administrative staff, and laying off 38 instructional positions, all part of the budget cuts that were part of the now approved 2012-13 budget.

In addition to the above cuts, 39 positions were abolished through resignations and retirements.

The board tabled actions on several other appointments, including several coaching positions.

Prior to going into executive session, board member Kathy Fleming brought to the table information she received that 12 to 15 confidential managerial administrators were receiving a bonus of about $500 each. The amount came to a total of $7,000.

"I don't know if it is true or not," said Fleming. "But we just asked the public to rescue us and now we're spending $7,000 on bonuses."

Her question was directed at Dumphrey, who replied that the bonus was part of policy and governance and that it was for the current year and would not be given out in the coming year.

Sabo said the board would investigate.

On June 27, Sabo issued a press release noting that the bonus payments are actually performance stipends totaling $6,500 and given to 11 confidential staff members to compensate for having fewer benefits than their unionized counterparts while having more duties, as well as to recognize outstanding performance. They have been in existence for decades in the district.

"When the members of the confidential staff were informed that the performance stipends were not appropriately brought before the board for a vote, and knowing the financial situation of the district, these individuals honorably agreed to return the performance stipends. This action of these staff members demonstrates their deep commitment to assist with ensuring that Niagara-Wheatfield continues on its path to financial stability," Sabo said. "The Board of Education would like to publicly thank these individuals for their actions in this matter and for the tremendous job they do each day to make sure that the central office operates in an efficient and effective manner."

At the June 20 meeting, Sabo thanked everyone who worked so hard on the budget and the people who voted. He also told the public that the board would begin working on next year's budget immediately.

Answering several inquiries, Sabo announced that the board had accepted a tentative school calendar for 2012-13, that adjustments were going to be made, and that the calendar would be approved at a later date.

Board member Rich Halleen expressed his thanks to the voters and the children for what they have been put through, referring the to the need for a second vote on the budget to win approval of voters.

The board also thanked outgoing board member Kristin MacKenzie for her three years of service on the board, Kerin Dumphrey for serving as interim superintendent since the retirement of Carl Militello, and Hitzges for his service.

The board heard a presentation on the Edward Town Middle School Service Learning Project, which has students researching, fundraising and using that money to help disadvantaged people throughout the world.

Four sixth-graders explained that each student had selected a charity, researched it and then wrote and delivered a speech on why they felt it was the charity to support. The held a walk-a-thon and raffle, which raised $8,000 that was distributed to several charities, including Make-A-Wish, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Steadfast, Humane Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

The seventh-grade class took a hard look at bullying and discrimination personally and globally and then fundraised and shared their resources by filling stockings for soldiers serving in Special Forces in Afghanistan. They also purchased a granite brick that is part of the 9/11 Memorial in New York City and gave the balance of the money to UNICEF.

The eighth-grade class went to Storybird.com and created storybooks from the photographs/drawing available there. They sold these high-quality printed books to family and friends and with the money raised, invested it in KIVA, an organization that lends money to disadvantaged groups to create opportunities for themselves to grow. Once those groups start to grow, they repay the money and KIVA repays the organization that loaned the money to them. In this case, Niagara-Wheatfield.

The eighth-graders loaned $200 and at this point have had $136 returned. Their plan is to take that money and reinvest it with KIVA again next year.

"We have over 1,000 kids that understand what it means to be selfless," said Principal Laura Palka. "We haven't advertised some of the wonderful things that have gone on, but feel with what the district has gone through this year it's time to share this.

"We have also helped numerous families in the district who have fallen on hard times," said Palka. "Our students are very active in making the world a better place."

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