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Retiring Ken-Ton superintendent oversaw complete transformation

During Dawn F. Mirand's two-and-a-half-year tenure as superintendent of Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda schools, the district underwent changes in nearly every regard.

Three schools closed, leaving the district with nine. Grade level configurations changed. More students became eligible for bus transportation after voters approved relaxing the limits, which, in turn, necessitated changes to the district’s daily start and end times. Attendance boundaries were redrawn. And a $55 million phase two to its capital project began.

Most importantly to Mirand, Ken-Ton is no longer designated by the state as a "focus district" requiring extra oversight.

"That was very, very monumental for the district," Mirand said.

So when she announced on Jan. 5 that her retirement would take effect five days later, it took many by surprise in the district of just under 7,000 students – the largest suburban school district in Erie County behind Williamsville.

Although her relationship with the district's powerful teachers' union was strained at two key moments, the separation agreement reached between Mirand and the district indicates she left on good terms.

"As a result of being hired to make all those changes, change upset people, especially when so many have to happen at the same time," she told The Buffalo News. "But I believe there's great people there that are going to carry on the work that was started. The district, I think, is on a good path."

In March 2015 and less than a year into her tenure, the School Board voted unanimously to "seriously consider" boycotting teacher evaluations and standardized testing in the district as an act of open defiance toward Albany and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s education reform agenda. Mirand and other administrators opposed the proposals, while the Kenmore Teachers Association endorsed them.

Almost exactly a year later, the union flexed its muscles at the April 2016 School Board meeting when dozens of teachers publicly unleashed a litany of criticisms on issues such as curriculum and assessment and a perceived lack of collaboration between the union and district administrators on those issues. Turnout was so large the meeting was adjourned and moved to an auditorium next door.

The relationship between Mirand and teachers appeared to have improved since then, with Mirand accommodating teachers' requests to develop a Ken-Ton curriculum and doing away with mid- and end-unit assessments. But district insiders say the relationship was never fully repaired and she remained unpopular with some teachers.

So rumors swirled earlier this month that Mirand, who was under contract through 2020, was pressured to leave by the board at the union's behest. The board's five members were all endorsed by the union when they ran for their seats.

But Board President Jill Y. O'Malley denied that the separation was anything but "amicable."

"It's interesting because you hear a lot of theories about why she's leaving and none of them are true," she said. "We have to remain professional and respect confidentiality so we're just sticking to the information that we've put out there."

The separation agreement negotiated between Mirand and the district appears to support the conclusion that Mirand simply wanted to retire.

She receives a payment of $135,682, which includes a prorated portion of her $173,400 annual salary through the end of the district's fiscal year on June 30 and redemption of 44 sick days and 38 vacation days. A copy of the agreement was obtained last week by The Buffalo News under the Freedom of Information Law.

There was no big payout nor protracted battle for the remaining years left on the contract, which could have been the case if Mirand didn't want to leave.

"There was a lot of money still sitting on the table and I think both parties just wanted to move forward," O'Malley said. "If somebody wants to retire, we obviously want to honor that but we also have to think of the future as well."

Mirand, 56, also receives health insurance coverage for 10 years, or until she becomes eligible for Medicare, with the self-insured district paying 71 percent of claims and Mirand paying 29 percent. She is also provided with an annual health reimbursement account contribution of $3,500 from the district while the coverage is in effect.

"No matter what, when a superintendent leaves there's always some negotiated separation," O'Malley said. "In our case, we were lucky that she had a very long time on her contract. If she wanted to go for some reason that could've taken a long time to work through. But we kind of reached an amicable agreement."

Meanwhile, Stephen A. Bovino, former assistant superintendent for human resources, who retired Sept. 30 after nine and a half years in the role, was hired on Jan. 11 to lead Ken-Ton on an interim basis. He is paid a daily per diem rate of $650, according to an employment agreement.

"The vibe has been just incredible," she said of Bovino's return. "He's been in the buildings, and I think it was just good timing for everybody."

O'Malley said last week said she would like to have a new superintendent chosen by May, before the school board elections. She said she would like the board members involved in the search to be the ones who vote on the final candidate. Two seats are up for election. But O'Malley said she would not insist on that timeline if board members do not find a qualified candidate in time.

Board members, who held a roundtable information session on Thursday to plan the search for a new superintendent, voted to use Erie 1 BOCES to oversee the search process, rather than a private firm for the search, as was done in 2014, but stressed they want a national search.

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