Williamsville Central Superintendent Scott Martzloff publicly defended himself this week for the first time after the teachers union called for his ouster citing poor leadership.
Unsteady relations between the superintendent and Williamsville Teachers Association simmered over in 2014, when the union issued votes of no confidence in Martzloff and the School Board, accusing him of abuse of power and lack of integrity.
Union members, who had regularly criticized the superintendent at board meetings a year ago, have said little about the discord in recent months. That changed during Tuesday night's regular meeting, when they let loose on his leadership, background and fiscal prowess.
"When is this leadership vacuum going to end? When can we, the students, parents and taxpayers and employees of this district expect a permanent and positive solution to our leadership crisis?" said teachers association President Michelle Licht. "Dr. Martzloff conducted himself in a manner that blurred the lines of ethics, integrity and truthfulness."
Complaints about the superintendent were brought to the School Board in 2014 by Kim Kirsch, who was the assistant superintendent for human resources. Less than two months later, she was put on leave. The district is seeking to fire Kirsch through a disciplinary hearing that has been going on since May, 2015.
Union leaders said the district has spent nearly $1 million on the hearing and paying two people to do the human resources job. They also criticized the board for hiring Martzloff when there were two "red flags" in his backgrounds: lawsuits against him. And union leaders wondered what happened to an investigation into the complaints, which was approved by the board earlier this year.
"If he was truly innocent, he would have had nothing to fear from an investigation," said Sam Campanelli, a member of the teacher association's executive board.
Martzloff said the teachers association speakers didn't mention that union leaders were present at meetings where it was decided to postpone the investigation. The meetings were held last spring with the leaders of the teachers and administrators associations, a representative of the assistant superintendents, the board president and himself, Martzloff said. He said it was "mutually determined" that there would be no investigation until there was a resolution in the hearing on removing Kirsch, who is not a member of the teachers union.
"Once that case was resolved, people said they would feel more comfortable coming forward, speaking freely, sharing information with a neutral third party so that everything could be out in the open," Martzloff said.
He said the cost of the hearing has been "exorbitant," and has "dragged on for a tremendous amount of time." The district has rested its case, he said.
As for the lawsuits against him, one was filed by a teacher who had sued his district and union multiple times, had a $270,000 judgment against him for filing frivolous lawsuits, was arrested for stealing items from his school and had pornography on his school computer, Martzloff said. He said the other was filed by a teacher from another district who gave money and assistance to "vulnerable female students" and resigned his tenured position from that district, and who was unhappy with Martzloff's recommendation of him.
"I gladly and always will stand up for what’s right and be willing to be sued for it, because it’s the right thing to do to protect students to protect teachers, to protect public education in New York State," Martzloff said.
On the criticism of wasting money, he said the district's reserve fund balance has gone from $50 million to $70 million in the last five years.
"I would argue that we are in as strong a financial position as any school district in New York State, all along the way reducing class sizes at various grade levels, bringing back fifth grade foreign language, otherwise known as LOTE, adding 18 college credit bearing courses, more aide time at all our schools, more supplies, more equipment, new capital projects, the list goes on and on and on," Martzloff said. "In this environment of fiscal challenge, to be able to do those things as a district speaks to the ongoing collaboration that takes place."
School Board President Toni Vazquez said after the meeting that the board will address the concerns of the teachers union. None of the board members commented during the meeting about the union's demands.
In the School Board's latest evaluation of the superintendent last spring, before the current majority took over, Martzloff was given a final rating of 3.4 out of 4. Board members rated him on general job performance, improving educational direction and leadership, relationship with the board, managing operations and staff relationships, working with the community and professional and personal responsibility.
Three union-endorsed candidates swept out two incumbents in the 2015 board election, and in May three other candidates backed by the union were elected to the board. They now form a majority on the board, which also includes four teachers from other districts.
Union leaders said the board has been given a mandate from the community to resolve the issue.
"We also ask the community to support the board in ending this immediately, as enough damage has been done fiscally and otherwise," Licht said. "Solving this issue with a change in leadership is the first step toward healing for all involved. Remember to to place the blame on those who created the problem, not those who spoke up or the ones who woke up."
In addition to criticizing the superintendent, teachers slammed the previous School Board.
"Unfortunately, that board wasn’t interested in the truth. That board didn’t consider the long term impact on our community. We believe the current board will," Licht said. "That board only cared about feeling they were in the right, and protecting their reputations. We know the current board is interested in honesty, transparency and integrity."