Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

January 9, 2013

Hire draws jeers

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — NEWFANE –– The hiring of a laborer is under extensive scrutiny in the Newfane School District.

A group of Newfane residents aired concerns to the Newfane Board of Education about the appointment at a meeting Tuesday night. Issues rose about the hiring process, as well as a pair of memos which had been leaked to the public. The release of those memos was a breach of confidentiality, district officials said.

As for the hire itself, Peter Cocco said his son, Joseph, had been interviewed and chosen by the hiring committee as the recommended appointment. But, Cocco said his son did not get the job.

Instead on the meeting’s agenda, the board was going to appoint Stephen Dunn to the laborer position, effective Jan. 28. Ira Wolfe of Newfane also voiced his displeasure of the alleged switch.

“Integrity is at an all time low,” Wolfe said.

The memos and subsequent rumors made it seem the position was given to Dunn as a favor, the men said. The first memo, drawn up by Daniel Connolly, Newfane’s director of operations and facilities, then written formally by Connolly’s secretary, listed Dunn and a second candidate as the two recommended candidates for the job. Connolly ranked them, with Dunn as the top choice of the committee.

“I shouldn’t have ranked them,” Connolly said to the board.

The district declined to name the other candidate on the memo.

The first memo was sent to Superintendent Christine J. Tibbetts, who then had Business Administrator Bart Schuler contact the candidates’ professional references. Tibbetts told the board she could not contact current employers without the permission of the job candidate or if the employer was not listed as a reference.

Connolly told the board only one candidate had a professional reference that was an employer. That candidate also had extensive experience as a substitute cleaner in the Newfane district, he added.

The second candidate did not have a professional reference listed, Connolly said to the board.

The second memo was the results of the reference check. Dunn had a supervisor listed as a reference, which Schuler contacted. Dunn received a “glowing reference,” Connolly said. In total only one reference was contacted.

Tibbetts said the district’s process for hiring a laborer, which is a CSEA position, includes posting the position and forming a hiring committee to look at applications. The committee does interviews then makes two recommendations to district administration, who then recommend a person to the Board of Education. The board makes the final decision.

But, Connolly said, in the past a hiring committee has made one recommendation to district administration.

Tibbetts also acknowledged the job posting was not on the Newfane website immediately due to a glitch, but was shortly after the problem was resolved. Connolly, said 17 applications were received and eight were interviewed by the committee.

The motion said there would a 26-week probationary period for the laborer appointment, ending July 28, at a rate of $14.29 per hour. A laborer would handle any type of unskilled work, which mostly includes cleaning.

Prior to taking comments from the public in the early forum of Tuesday’s meeting, President James Reineke said an executive session would be needed before the laborer position was appointed. Board members went into executive session for 50 minutes or so to discuss the appointment.

Board members voted 6-1 to enter into executive session. Trustee Frank Westgate voted against the measure, citing that most of the discussion concerning the position needed to take place in public.

“The taxpayers deserve that,” Westgate said, to applause.

Following the executive session -and a lengthy discussion- Dunn’s appointment was approved 5-2 by the board. Westgate and Trustee Patrick Kilcullen voted against the measure.

Board members were not happy about the leaked memos, which led to a series of rumors Tibbetts said she was receiving calls about for the previous two days.

Residents took issue with the appointment, as well as Tibbetts’ explanation about not being able to contact employers without the applicant’s permission. Districts officials also confirmed Connolly’s secretary knew Dunn, which some in attendance didn’t like.

Cocco said, in the end he was glad his son didn’t get the job. He didn’t want him to work for the district after this.

“You all know what you did,” Cocco said.

Board President James Reineke said he felt Newfane’s hiring policy was fine, but the actual practice needed some work. Reineke said a committee will be set up to look at the implementation of the district’s hiring policy.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241.