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Editorial: Decision backing Martzloff should put years of turmoil to rest

Williamsville Superintendent Scott G. Martzloff, who might be the epitome of the word “embattled,” has found relief in a decision by a hearing officer that should end the district’s bizarre yearslong internal struggle.

Trouble began after Martzloff took over as superintendent in 2011. He started shaking things up the district, something well within his rights to do. As he found out, accepting change can be difficult, especially for those determined to keep things the same.

Kim A. Kirsch, one of the assistant superintendents, was upset by the changes and orchestrated a campaign against Martzloff involving the teachers union beginning in 2014, according to hearing officer John T. Trela. He found her guilty of insubordination, misconduct and other charges. Trela backed Martzloff’s attempt to fire Kirsch and, as News staff reporter Joseph Popiolkowski wrote, the decision was accepted by the Williamsville Board of Education.

Kirsch spent nearly three years on paid administrative leave collecting her $170,000-a-year salary.

The ordeal cost the district an estimated $500,000 in legal bills, plus the pay for an interim assistant superintendent for human resources while Kirsch was on leave.

Beyond the expense is the turmoil that has rocked the district for years, pitting the superintendent against the teachers union. Such infighting seemed especially out of place in the area’s largest suburban school district with its strong academic reputation.

Trela’s 140-page decision cited plenty of reasons for the firing, including that she worked with the teachers union to get rid of Martzloff. The hearing officer quoted from a June 2014 email from Kirsch to the Williamsville Teachers Association president in which she wrote, “Evidently it is possible that our discussions could be viewed as insubordination – so we should probably not share them with others as much as possible.”

There was much more. In fact, the hearing officer declared that Kirsch was a “gatekeeper” of the movement against the superintendent, and when it came to a list of complaints compiled against Martzloff, she was “ ‘the glue’ in the fabric in keeping this movement going forward.”

Kirsch had portrayed herself as a “whistleblower” bringing problems to light, but Trela said she was just “an insubordinate employee.”

Kirsch’s attorney said she will pursue an appeal in court, so the district’s ordeal may not be over. And all nine members of the new School Board taking over July 1 were elected with the support of the teachers union. But for now what Martzloff called “a dark cloud” has been lifted, and the district should be able to better focus on the business of educating students.

On another matter, Martzloff deserves credit for trying to turn down the honor of having the new athletic complex at Williamsville North High School named for him.

It was a curious choice by the School Board. Sports facilities are usually named after long-serving and retired coaches or athletic directors.
The decision, sprung on the public without notice at Tuesday’s meeting, should be rescinded. After all, the complex was paid for by taxpayers. They should get a chance to weigh in with their selections and opinions.

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