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Williamsville School Board OKs neutral consultant to assess frayed relations with teachers union

No one denies that the once-pleasant relationship between the Williamsville school superintendent and the teachers union has disintegrated over a year and a half.

There was the involuntary transfer of a teacher, accusations that the superintendent accessed email inappropriately, and a union letter to the School Board president citing concerns about the superintendent’s lack of integrity and abuse of power in 2014.

Last year, three candidates backed by the Williamsville Teachers Association won election, defeating two incumbents.

But this week there was an overture by the board and Superintendent Scott G. Martzloff. The board agreed to conduct an “independent assessment by a neutral consultant” who would look at the relationships among – and actions by – the board, the superintendent, the assistant superintendents, union leaders and employees.

“It’s no secret that we have had a difference of opinion in the district when it comes to certain issues,” Martzloff said. “We wanted to put this forward in an effort to put them to rest and to recalibrate the relationships among all the key stakeholders.”

Martzloff said it is anticipated that a consultant will talk with individuals and groups in the district, looking at the “recent history” to point out actions that have been taken, and look at how the relationships can be changed. He said that there is no timeline for finishing the assessment and that it has not yet been decided whether there will be a verbal or written report.

Michelle Licht, president of the teachers union, said she does not know why the board has suggested the independent assessment at this time. The union has been asking for an independent investigation for 18 months, she said.

“It’s an acknowledgment there is a crisis in the district,” she said. “It’s really the first acknowledgment of that we’ve had.”

Teachers have been attending board meetings for months, sometimes asking for an independent investigation. At Tuesday’s meeting, they presented board members with hundreds of notes written on index cards from teachers to show that the unhappiness is widespread.

“We have been asking the Board of Education for help in solving the crisis in this district for more than a year and a half,” she said. “One of the most common excuses we have heard for the board’s failure to address the issue is the concerns we share are ours alone, and the rest of the WTA members do not share those concerns.”

Martzloff said the challenge will be to find a “sufficiently neutral” consultant who is acceptable to all parties to handle the assessment.

“This is just an indication of the board’s willingness and my willingness to bring folks together to develop a process for this upfront and then implement that process we all agree is best,” he said.

The resolution comes on the heels of action last month to rescind the retirements of two well-respected administrators.

Anna R. Cieri, assistant superintendent for exceptional education and student services, and Thomas R. Maturski, assistant superintendent for finance and management services, had submitted letters of retirement effective the end of the school year, which the board acted on in January.

However, the School Board took back the retirements and gave them raises and three-year contracts.

Licht said she hopes the assessment comes sooner rather than later. It is not in the best interests of students and the district, she said, “to have this drag on forever.”