By Ted Waddell
FALLSBURG April 16, 2002 Two controversial issues boiled to the surface during last Monday nights (April 8) regularly scheduled board of education meeting in the Fallsburg Middle School.
Amidst some angry allegations of threats made by the superintendent and other administrators against faculty and parents who allegedly didnt tow the line, Superindendent Gary Holbert announced that a well-respected teacher wouldnt be recommended for tenure and the district was still wrestling with the awkward situation that they dont really have a director of physical education as required by the New York State Education Department (SED).
Community Voices Support of a Teacher
Three years ago, Dan Gallo was hired by the district as an elementary level teacher and girls volleyball coach.
After unofficial word hit the streets that the popular teachers contract wouldnt be renewed, several hundred people signed a petition in support of Gallo, and vitriolic words were spoken during the last board of education meeting in support of keeping him at Fallsburg.
During Mondays meeting, the public held the superintendents and boards feet to the fire as they pleaded for a stay of execution.
Kevin McDaniel questioned why embattled athletic director Randy Squier under fire for a job title was involved in Gallos evaluation, a process McDaniel said the AD was barred from, as he was in essence evaluating another teacher.
Holbert replied that, while not a director of education, Squier was authorized to conduct faculty evaluations as a certified administrator (he has a teaching certificate in social studies and an administrative degree).
Several members of the audience then raised questions about a scramble to get Squier certified.
Donna Rae Robitalle is in her 28th year teaching at the local central school district. She started teaching in 1973, along the way taking a year off to go to law school.
According to Robitalle, she has locked horns with the administration in the past.
A former superindendent didnt like my opinion. . . . After 21 years at the elementary school, I was involuntarily transferred to the middle school, she said.
In the wake of arbitration challenging that decision, Robitalle is now back teaching the little kids.
Speaking on behalf of several veteran and recently hired teachers in support of Gallo, Robitalle said, He is very dedicated to the kids.
Andrea Roberts has two childeren attending classes in the Fallsburg district: one in elementary school, the other a middle schooler.
I am very disgusted. . . . Its a horrendous mistake. she said. Mr. Gallo is a wonderful teacher and respected by the community.
Elementary teacher Richard Chiger blasted the board and Holberts forthcoming final decision moments before the board went into what was reportedly the longest executive session in recent Fallsburg history.
Ive taught many of the children of [the members] who sit on this board, and I have watched teachers come and go here, and if you let this man go, I dont know how you sleep at night, he said. I would not fight for anyone I didnt think was wonderful for a child.
On April 9, the day before Gallo got the axe, Trish Rowland, the mother of a couple of Fallsburg students (a nine-year-old 4th grader and an 11-year-old in 5th grade), e-mailed the state ed. department expressing her support for a teacher that our superintendent chose not to grant tenure.
This young man is an outstanding member of our community, she continued. He brings new ideas and programs to our physical education department. He has the respect and admiration of all his peers, as well as the students and parents throughout the district. The community has bonded together to keep this young man within our district.
Mr. [Robert] Scheinman [the board president] just doesnt seem to care what anybody is saying, said Rowland on April 10 while the board was in executive session.
According to Rowland (a former substitute teacher at the elementary school), when she raised questions to the former board about possible mold and asbestos contamination in the building, two days later she was never called back to work.
For more than two hours, the public and Gallo stood outside in the cold hallway or sat on the dusty floor while the superintendent and board discussed the two main issues of the evening.
Around 10:45 p.m., the meeting was again opened to the public. Holbert announced he was recommending to the board the granting of tenure to nine new teachers and also recommending that Gallos contract be terminated effective June 30.
With that, Gallo approached the board and handed in a terse letter of resignation to take effect June 30. The board accepted his resignation, an action that visibly upset some members of the board.
Shame on you people, said Valerie Sitz, one of the most vocal residents regarding the Squier/Gallo situations. This is a disgusting display of futility.
Holbert talked briefly about his personnel recommendations the following morning. Asked why he voted no on Gallos bid for tenure, he replied, Ill never discuss that with anyone. . . . Im not going to evaluate someone in public.
According to the superintendent, three certified administrators evaluated Gallo (based on interviews): Allan Lipsky, Daniel Prenderville and Randy Squier.
Its a sad situation, Holbert said of his call not to recommend tenure to Gallo.
Gallo said he was thankful for the grassroots support from students, faculty and parents.
But they [the board] didnt listen to it. . . . It seemed like it didnt have any effect on the board or the superintendent, he said.
According to Gallo, he considered fighting the decision, but decided its not worth it for my career. . . . I guess Ill get a job teaching someplace else.
Its disappointing after three years, but Ill be all right, he said.
Theres No Fame in the Name Game
Tempers flared yet again during Mondays board of education meeting when several parents, faculty and concerned citizens challenged whether the district is in compliance with SED regulations concerning the qualifications of the head of the districts athletic department.
Randall Randy Squier was hired three years ago as the districts athelic director. He is a certified secondary social studies instructor and has administrative credentials but lacks a teaching degree in physical education. As AD, his salary for the 2001-2002 school year is $67,700.
According to Chapter 11 (Part 135.4 (4) (iii) of the Regulations of the Commissioner (NY SED), Each school district operating a high school shall employ a director of physical education who shall have certification in physical education administrative and supervisory service. Such director shall provide leadership and supervision for class instruction, intramural services and interschool athletic competition in the total physical education program. Where there are extenuating circumstances, a member of the physical education staff may be designated for such responsibilities, upon approval of the commissioner. School districts may share the services of a director of physical education.
According to several knowledgeable sources who requested anonymity, the issue of Squiers holding the position and the districts lack of a director of phys. ed. came to a head when word spread that Dan Gallo would probably not be granted tenure.
Superintendent Holbert acknowledged the district is not in compliance with the letter of the law pertaining to having a certified director of physical education but said he has written three letters to SED Commissioner Richard Mills seeking relief from the controversial situation.
On Oct. 31, 2001, Holbert asked Mills to grant a waiver for Squier, an action that in essence would put the district into compliance with the regulation.
Bruce Robinson of the NY SED Office of Training replied on Nov. 14 on behalf of Mills, stating in part, I am unable to accede to your request [for a waiver]. You should instead seek to identify an individual whose certification status meets the standards imposed by Education Law.
On Nov. 21, Holbert fired back a letter to Robinson reminding the folks at NY SED of the extenuating circumstances provision in the published regulations.
The district has reviewed the files of all its teaching staff, he said. None of our employees are certified in both physical education as well as administrative and supervisory service.
During the board of ed. meeting, several people challenged this, claiming that, if faculty are taking courses in these areas, this action can be considered during the selection process.
I think the board owes us an explanation, said Valerie Sitz. He was hired without the proper qualifications and given responsibility beyond the job title.
Sitz alleged a switch in job titles/descriptions as a way that the superintendent/board were trying to get around the regulations, an allegation Holbert later denied.
The athletic directors job description doesnt include evaluations, supervision and disciplinary actions, she said.
Holbert replied that in reality we dont have a director of physical education, adding he sent a third letter to the commissioners office seeking to resolve the matter in the best interests of the district.
According to board president Robert Scheinman, The [athletic] department has not suffered from Squiers running of the program, as opposed to a certified director of physical education. . . . After a wait of five months for a response [from NY SED], we havent found anything wrong in the way the districts programs are being run.
When we interviewed for this position, we hired the best person, he added.
Donna Rae Robitalle is a veteran teacher at Fallsburg, and she didnt pull any punches when addressing the board and her boss.
We run this show, she said of the athletic program. Weve had athletic directors, but were on our own 90 percent of the time. . . . We need a director of physical education.
Robitalle later said the main public concerns focused on the district being in violation of the commissioners regulations. . . . Its been a known fact for years that he [Squier] doesnt have the credentials. . . . Theres a significant difference between an athletic director and a director of physical education, and people tend to run the two together.
My main concern is a lack of honesty on the part of the superintendent and the board [over] hiring somebody who wasnt qualified, she added.
After the meeting, Holbert said that, while Squier doesnt currently meet the requirements to be district director of physical education, he is more than qualified to be athletic director (the position for which he was reportedly hired).
Squier declined comment, referring all questions to the superintendents office.
Andrea Roberts, the mother of two Fallsburg students, said, Holbert seems to be dictating to the board. ... Its our board, not his.
According to Roberts, The staff is scared. . . . Theyve told us theyve been threatened by the overload of principals and our administrative superintendent. . . . Were not children, and were not going to sit quietly anymore. . . . Were not going to stop fighting.
Roberts said teachers have been threatened if they speak out.
If they fight, theyve been told they will lose everything . . . or will have their grade [assignments] changed, she alleged.
Holbert said that Fallsburg is one of some 200 school districts in the state without a certified phys. ed. director.
Were trying to get it resolved as soon as possible, he added, noting the last communication from the commissioners office was about four months ago.
He said the district is looking at two options: an internal posting of the position within the structure of their contract with the teachers union, and the possibility of a shared position with another district.
On the subject of alleged threats, Holbert said in essence it was a matter of perception.
Im usually very specific in the way I try to deal with people, he said. I say, if you have an issue, bring it in and lets deal with it lets get it resolved.
If I tell people what their options are the consequences sometimes they take it that way, he added. Its human nature. . . . Hearsay and rumors are different things.