Resignation Surprises Springs School Board

Superintendent, criticized for salary, cites personal reasons for his early exit
John J. Finello

News that John J. Finello, the Springs School superintendent, will step down at the end of 2016, about a year and a half before his contract was to end, made for a surprising Springs School Board meeting on Tuesday, for which the agenda had called for discussion of general organizational topics, as well as whether an ad hoc committee should be formed of predominantly Spanish-speaking parents who could tackle issues Latino children and families face.

Liz Mendelman, a board member who had served three times as board president, said Mr. Finello told the board that “he has some new things going on in his life, in his family.” She said the board respected his decision to spend more time with his family and hopes to have a new superintendent on hand by Jan. 1, 2017.

Mr. Finello had previously retired from a superintendent’s post in Huntington and first came to Springs in 2013 as a part-time administrator. He initially needed, and received, a New York State waiver to be able to work, and was eventually given a full-time contract in June 2015. It was to extend until July 2018. During recent school board meetings, a handful of community members had taken issue with his $215,000 salary and suggested he was not adhering to certain parts of his contract. The board and several faculty members defended Mr. Finello, and during the most recent budget cycle, he took a voluntary pay cut of $15,000.

Barbara Dayton, the newly elected school board president, said the board had met in executive session to discuss hiring a new superintendent. It was unclear whether the meeting was held in compliance with a requirement that such sessions are to be called in public with the subject announced beforehand. Mr. Finello did not comment during Tuesday’s board meeting and said yesterday by email that he is “retiring for personal reasons.”

The district is also seeking a successor to Carl Fraser, the interim school business administrator, who was hired last summer for one year. The board had extended his initial appointment through Aug. 31 and the district has posted the opening with the Online Application System for Educators seeking “an outstanding financial leader” with a minimum of three years’ experience and the appropriate certifications. The salary is in the $100,000 range, plus benefits.

After Ms. Mendelman pitched the idea of an ad hoc committee of Latino parents, a question emerged about whether such a committee would tear down walls or build a new one. The idea had a mixed reaction.

“I think we have a lot of parents in our community that want to be involved, and having a language barrier limits a lot of our parents to be involved and give input,” Ms. Mendelman said.

Tim Frazier, the board vice president, however, disagreed with Ms. Mendelman that an ad hoc committee was appropriate. “I see the site-based committee as a stronger way to advocate for all the members of our community,” he said, referring to the committee of parents, board members, and staff and administrators who discuss a wide variety of issues.

When Eric Casale, the Springs School principal, said the site-based committee meets only once or twice a year, Mr. Frazier simply suggested it meet more frequently. “Whether it’s talking about how we can improve our school, whether it’s with our Latino community, or overcrowding, or class sizes, or whatever, I think if we had something that met more than once or twice a year that’s a more appropriate process to go through than creating another committee right now,” he said.

Ms. Dayton also expressed doubt. “If you create a group for a people with a different language, they may think that is the only group they can be part of, and we want to make sure these parents are taking the opportunity to become involved in any committee or school activity they want.”

Amy Rivera, a new member of the board, agreed with Mr. Frazier and suggested Mr. Casale recruit Latinos to be members of the site-based committee.

Those familiar with the concerns of the Latino community in Springs, from which about half the student population emerges, are known to have said that families have had trouble registering students and understanding information sent out by the district.

One of those advocating for better communication is Minerva Perez, the executive director of Organizacion Latino-Americana of Long Island. Ms. Perez urged the district to create a separate committee.

“There has not been an organic path for your Latino parents to grow leadership from within, and leadership from within would be something that would ultimately aid all the children, not just the Latino children,” Ms. Perez said. “We need to hear their voices. It’s not a matter of just translation.”

Ms. Perez said that if the district did not form a Latino committee, parents themselves might form one of their own. “Then you have this sort of shadow of groups kind of doing their thing because you guys aren’t welcoming them to the table,” she said. ‘Welcome them to the table. What is the worst that’s going to happen? . . . It’s not going to go bad.”

The school board ultimately agreed to seek public opinion, and tabled further discussion until its next meeting, which will be on Aug. 29 at 7 p.m.