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District denies impropriety in the hiring of Massaro

The city school district has denied any impropriety in the recent hiring of Maria A. Massaro as its $120,000-a-year administrator for human resources and has asked that a petition for her removal be turned down.

School Board member Johnny G. Destino filed a petition with the state Education Department complaining that the search for an administrator was done improperly, that the job specifications were changed to favor Massaro -- daughter of school district attorney Angelo Massaro -- and that she should be removed until a more complete search can be undertaken.

Destino's petition argues that School Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco acted beyond her powers in changing the job requirements to make Massaro eligible for hiring. He said that he had asked others on the nine-member School Board to delay Massaro's hiring Oct. 28 but that the board voted to hire her, anyway. Destino and board member Arthur L. Jocoy Jr. voted against the hiring.

"I just wanted time so we could do it the right way. They'd still have the votes to hire her, but at least then it would have been more transparent," Destino explained. "And they didn't want to hear it."

His petition asks state education officials for a determination whether Massaro is ineligible for the job because she lacks state certification to be an administrator and a master's degree in the subject area. He said the certification and the degree had been part of the job description before the superintendent changed it.

Destino said that he reviewed the applications of others for the appointment and found that they had extensive experience in human resources. But, he said, the school administration had not given all board members complete information about why none of the other eight candidates was selected.

The school district's official reply to Destino's petition, made public Monday, was filed by James C. Roscetti, a Niagara Falls attorney who was retained to represent the district in this matter. Earlier, Roscetti had declined to comment on the issues because they were in the early stages of litigation.

Now, however, the district's position has become part of the record with a "verified answer" supported by sworn statements from Bianco, School Board President Russell J. Petrozzi and Philip J. Mohr, the recently retired administrator for human resources who was Massaro's immediate predecessor. Although retired, Mohr has continued to work with the district to smooth the transition.

Besides denying any wrongdoing, the answer says the petition is deficient on several legal grounds, including failure to name certain essential parties and failure to file it by the deadline.

The answer denies that Massaro "does not possess the qualifications to hold the New York State permanent School District Administrator certification but admit[s] that she does not currently hold one." It also denies that the minimum qualifications for the job were "substantially modified."

In an accompanying affidavit, Bianco says, "I recommended [Massaro] as she was the best choice for the district. I stand by that decision. Given her credentials and experience, she is more than qualified for the job."

e-mail: rbaldwin@buffnews.com

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