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Pioneer Schools remains mum on status of superintendent on administrative leave

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Benjamin Halsey (copy)

Pioneer Central Schools Superintendent Benjamin Halsey, pictured when he was superintendent of North Collins, was placed on administrative leave June 3.

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When the Pioneer High School Class of 2022 graduates Saturday, at least one absence is expected: School Superintendent Ben Halsey.

Three weeks after he was placed on administrative leave by Pioneer's Board of Education, the district still has released no additional information on his status.

Acting Superintendent Nicholas Silvaroli on Wednesday again cited Halsey's absence – and the reasons for it – as a "confidential matter."

"I know that people are curious and interested, but I can't comment," Silvaroli said. "We will comment as appropriate." Silvaroli, who served as assistant superintendent prior to the board's action, could not provide a timeline for when a decision on Halsey's future would be determined. 

Melissa Nocera-Collins, president of the Pioneer Board of Education since 2015, did not respond to requests for comment by phone or email. 

The Arcade Herald's report on the June 7 board meeting noted that Pioneer's school board "voted unanimously to continue Superintendent Ben Halsey’s placement on paid administrative leave." SeeThroughNY.net, a website dedicated to transparency for state taxpayers, lists Halsey's 2020 salary as $171,755. 

Pioneer saw its state aid threatened last year over the school's handling of state Covid-19 regulations. On June 7, Halsey's post on the school website said mask-wearing for students, staff and faculty on-campus was optional, citing actions by New York's Department of Health.

Two weeks later, when the district was threatened with fines, loss of state aid and possible closure, Halsey reinstated mandatory mask wearing for the district for the final week of school. Halsey said he initially abided by a letter sent in early June from state Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that indicated New York would drop its mask mandate for schools June 7, but that rule was never implemented.

The uncertainty surrounding Halsey's future mirrors that of Pioneer High School principal Mark Schultz, who was placed on administrative leave the Herald reported in April. According to school board meeting minutes for March 15, the board passed a motion by Halsey's recommendation to "continue the administrative leave of a particular person."

In the board meeting April 5, Katelyn Welker, previously the high school assistant principal, was named acting high school principal, retroactive to March 8.

Schultz has spent the last 15 years as high school principal, according to his LinkedIn profile. The Herald, in its report April 15, could not determine whether the leave was for disciplinary reasons. There is no confirmed association between the administrative leaves of Halsey and Schultz.

The Pioneer Central School District serves students in three counties – Erie, Cattaraugus and Wyoming – and enrolled 2,307 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in the 2021-22 school year, according to state data

Ben Tsujimoto can be reached at btsujimoto@buffnews.com, at (716) 849-6927 or on Twitter at @Tsuj10.

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