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The appointment of third-grade teacher Patricia Waruch as interim principal at North Hill Elementary School will appease the state Education Department and conform to the letter of the law, according to Olean City School District officials.

Before the board voted 6-2 Tuesday night for the appointment, School Board President Lou Nicol noted the action was embraced by a state Education Department official.

The Education Department will soon begin reviewing the district's request for a variance from state regulations to manage North Hill and Boardmanville elementary schools with one principal. The

The district applied for the waiver more than 10 months after board members authorized a shared principal at a cost savings of $70,000 -- and only after state education officials and the Commissioner urged the district apply for a waiver and warned the district would be considered out of compliance with regulations.

"They said this person could have additional duties," Nicol told board members, referring to Waruch.

Certified to work as an elementary principal, Waruch has acted as teacher-in-charge of the North Hill building since the July retirement of Boardmanville's principal. Former North Hill principal Maureen Donahue has served as the dual principal since then, spending most of her time at Boardmanville.

While several board members agreed with Nicol that the appointment could bring the district into a temporary state of compliance until the waiver issue is decided, two members voted no, arguing Waruch must continue teaching third grade and won't be a full-time principal.

Michiko McElfresh said the interim appointment doesn't fulfill the requirement to provide a full-time principal in each building.

"To have someone named as principal with no administrative or principal duties is a little odd," said Zimmerman.

District Superintendent Ralph Kerr said after the meeting that Waruch's appointment was advised by the district's lawyer. He added that BOCES District Superintendent Robert Olczak concurred with this opinion on two occasions in the week leading up to the board meeting.

"We want to be in compliance," said Kerr.

Laurie Branch and Earl McElfresh, parents who complained formally to the state Education Department about the shared-principal arrangement, condemned the move during a public comment portion of the meeting. Kerr said Waruch's appointment as interim principal should render the parents' appeal moot.

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