The three years that Superintendent Scott Martzloff has run the Williamsville Central School District have been outwardly harmonious.
School Board members typically vote unanimously. Recent budgets have passed with little controversy. Employee unions, including the 800-member Williamsville Teachers’ Association, have quietly renewed contracts.
But behind the scenes, deep cracks have developed in the relationship between Martzloff and leaders of the teachers’ union.
That division became public this week through a series of letters distributed widely to teachers that detailed deep distrust of the superintendent among leaders of the Williamsville Teachers’ Association.
“As strong as we are, we feel our district is in danger of slowly collapsing from the top down,” the executive board of the Teachers’ Association wrote to the School Board president Aug. 23. “The superintendent of a large and prestigious school district such as ours needs to possess exceptional leadership qualities.”
The letters – spurred by the suspension of a top human resources administrator – are a rare public airing of a leadership rift in a district in which teachers, administrators and board members pride themselves on being one of the top performing districts in the region.
The union’s leadership team said in the letters it had asked the School Board to privately hear details of the teachers’ concerns about Martzloff, including what they described as a “pattern of retaliation and intimidation against those who oppose him.”
Union leaders viewed the decision by Martzloff and the board to place Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Kim Kirsch on paid administrative leave as evidence of that retaliation and urged the board to begin an investigation into what they described as Martzloff’s “abuse of power.” According to the union letters, Kirsch had brought employee concerns about Martzloff to a board member over the summer before her suspension.
The board voted to place Kirsch on leave in August but has not publicly explained the personnel action.
“After several months of examining information from many sources, we have come to the conclusion that our superintendent lacks the necessary leadership skills to lead our district into the future,” members of the Teachers’ Association executive board wrote.
Union leaders said in the letter that “no substantial, productive relationship” has ever developed between the Teachers’ Association leadership and Martzloff since he came to the district three years ago.
The Board of Education rejected the request for an investigation into Martzloff, instead reiterating its support for him and offering to have a few board members sit down with union leaders and the superintendent to hear their concerns and “find common ground in setting forth a plan.”
“In sum,” School Board President Patricia M. Losito wrote in an Aug. 20 letter to the union president, “the board unanimously supports Dr. Martzloff’s continued leadership of our district, and we hope you will consider productive steps for addressing your concerns, rather than the obvious mudslinging and character assassination that you resorted to in the most recent letter to your members.”
Losito said Tuesday that the board anticipated “having conversations in order to work through any concerns in a professional manner.”
Martzloff, through a district spokeswoman, declined an interview request.
But two letters distributed to union members detail fears by members of the union’s leadership that they will see retaliation if they air their concerns in front of Martzloff. Instead, the board asked for board members to meet privately with the union and to conduct an “independent investigation” into the superintendent.
The letters state that union leaders have three primary concerns. They claim Martzloff has sought special treatment for his children, who are students in the district, and has “interfered in the hiring process numerous times on behalf of people he knew personally.” They also contend that Martzloff retaliated against some employees, including attempting to transfer an employee to another school because of comments expressed on social media.
The union also claimed that Martzloff “gained access to the district email system without going through proper channels.”
“Every single accusation we have made can be substantiated and corroborated, and many can even be supported with written documentation if only you would accept our request to hold an investigation,” members of the union’s executive board wrote to the School Board president.
Losito, in her letter to the Teachers’ Association, disputed the claims of favoritism or retaliation.
“Concerns we have heard from you about his legitimate desire to exercise his responsibilities as supported by either education law or managerial best practice strike us as misguided and lacking context for the contemporary demands of the position,” Losito wrote.
In regard to hiring, Losito wrote in the letter to the union that claims that Martzloff has shown favoritism in hiring are “without foundation.
“Of the numerous appointments that have been recommended over the past three-plus years of Dr. Martzloff’s time with us, he has been familiar with four individuals who ultimately were appointed by the Board of Education,” Losito wrote. “The fact that Dr. Martzloff is acquainted with other individuals in this profession is both likely and expected, and hardly represents grounds of disqualification of a specific individual’s candidacy nor demonstrable evidence of favoritism on his part.”
Losito also told the union leaders that they had provided “no credible evidence” of retaliation behavior.
Leaders of the Teachers’ Association were not available Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss the letters, which The Buffalo News obtained through several sources.
“First of all, we never wanted this issue to become public,” members of the Teachers’ Association executive board wrote to the School Board. “We wanted a confidential meeting with the board members. By repeatedly discounting the seriousness of the situation and turning a blind eye to the concerns of many different stakeholder groups the Board of Education has limited our options.”
Losito, in her response, contended that the board had “respectfully and properly engaged” union leadership.
“No professional in our district is entitled to a private audience with the board in a context that may not be supported by education law and attempts to circumvent the authority of the superintendent of schools,” Losito wrote.
The teachers’ union sought to express its concerns about its view of Martzloff’s management by asking union members to abstain from clapping for the superintendent during a teachers’ opening day assembly last week.
“We have a crisis of leadership in this district, and we feel it is our obligation to intervene on behalf of all of the students, employees and community members in this district,” wrote Williamsville Teachers’ Association President Michelle Licht in an Aug. 18 letter.