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HIRING DELAY HAS PUPILS, TEACHERS ON PINS AND NEEDLES

It's been a long week for more than two-dozen teachers hoping to get hired by the Orchard Park Central School District, their current employers, and children wondering who their teachers will be.

Their appointments were put on hold last week by the Board of Education, after one trustee said he needed more time to go through their files.

Some sixth-graders entering the middle school couldn't meet their teacher this week at an orientation because of the delay. Teachers working in other school districts can't submit resignations until they are hired by the board, and their districts can't hire replacements until the openings occur.

"A couple superintendents let me know what an extremely difficult position I have put them in," Superintendent Charles Stoddart said.

"The administration knew in February these people were retiring," said Trustee Richard Jablonski, adding he received all the information on the candidates Aug. 13. "They wanted me to make a decision in three days. Nobody had a chance to look at the evaluations. I felt one more week isn't going to hurt the educational process."

The board scheduled a special meeting at 7 p.m. tonight to hire the 27 staff members.

The district was looking for replacements for 13 teachers and other staffers who gave retirement notices in February. Then the board offered an early-retirement incentive in June, and another 15 teachers left.

The district was selecting candidates for the first round of retirements when the second round came, and more replacements were needed. Administrators said board members had the pertinent information nearly two weeks before their Aug. 18 meeting.

Jablonski said he has a problem with the hiring process, but he declined to go into specifics because he believes it should be handled in a closed executive session of the board.

"I do not think you heard anybody say there was a bad apple in that bunch," Jablonski said, although he said last week he was concerned about possible nepotism in the district hiring practices.

Administrators pore over resumes of job applicants, and select likely candidates for the interview process. The first interview is before a committee of principals, teachers, support staff and parents. Successful candidates then are interviewed by a second committee of several principals. A recommendation to hire a teacher is written by a principal and submitted to the superintendent, who under normal circumstances submits the name to the board president to be included on the board's agenda.

Trustees have asked the personnel committee to review the hiring process and suggest improvements.

One job applicant criticized the process during last week's meeting and blamed School Board members for not including her name on the agenda. Mary Devine, an Orchard Park resident, was a regular substitute for 1 1/4 years at Eggert Elementary. She told trustees last week that the nine-member interviewing committee recommended her for a second interview, and after the second interview, Eggert Principal Peter Walders wrote a letter to the superintendent recommending the district hire her.

Her name never made it to the agenda.

"I was told it was because I was a friend of Peter Walders. I am a friend of many people in Orchard Park," she said. "I don't apologize for making friends with anyone at Orchard Park."

"I felt she was more than qualified," Walders said.

"Her name was not put on the agenda. The agenda is set by the board president," Superintendent Charles Stoddart said. "There have been other times people did not clear the agenda because they did not clear this desk."

President Richard McKenica could not be reached to comment.

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