VCSD’s first choice for superintendent backs out at the last minute, search is back on

VOORHEESVILLE — At Monday’s Voorheesville School Board meeting, Anita Murphy, the district superintendent of Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services, told the public that the board had found a superintendent candidate “who they very much liked” to replace the retiring Brian Hunt, but that person had to decline the job at the last minute for health reasons.

It’s now “back to square one,” Murphy said. The position will be reposted and the search process will begin again.

The other 18 candidates who had applied are not being considered because: “If the candidates were not deemed appropropriate for this position the first time a board would not go back to those candidates,” Murphy told The Enterprise in an email.

According to the district’s own timeline, it would have liked to have had a candidate in place by last month to start work in July.

Hunt stopped working on June 1, taking a medical leave, and was replaced by Mark Doody, a retired superintendent, hired through BOCES, being paid $700 per day.

At the June 10 meeting, Murphy said that the candidate pool for superintendents is small and that the pool for Voorheesville was even smaller. In a follow-up interview with The Enterprise, Murphy said that just four years ago there could be as many as 50 applications for a position; today, there could be fewer than 10.

Nowadays, she said, a lot of would-be candidates have chosen lifestyle over career advancement, preferring to see their own children grow up. “You miss a lot of things in your life when you become [a superintendent],” she said.

“There’s not a lot of people who want to do this work,” Murphy said, adding that it’s a demanding job for which the person in the position is expected to be available 24 hour a day, seven day a week.

It was only April, when Murphy told The Enterprise that the district had received 19 “certified and qualified” candidates for its open position.

“I want you to know that I think we have a very good applicant pool, with highly-qualified folks to interview,” Murphy said at the time. She also said that the 19 applicants Voorheesville had received was a “good number in a search.”

Changing the narrative

Kathy Fiero, president of the Voorheesville Teachers’ Association, told the board at Monday’s meeting that she “wanted to talk about the narrative” that has emerged around the prescription-drug problem the district is facing, specifically, that it came completely out of nowhere in March.

Voorheesville’s self-funded prescription-drug plan, after years with barely any increase, saw a 35-percent spike in its costs — a number that has subsequently increased — which led to deep budget cuts to balance next year’s school budget.

It appears, Fiero said, there were signs of a problem as early as four years ago. Then, in the last couple of years, the district had been “outwardly advised” by the people who “we count on for that advice,” to make some changes because premiums weren’t keeping up with spending.

Asked for data supporting her assertions, Fiero said she would make it available once the New York State United Teachers had finished compiling it.

After this story had gone to print, The Enterprise had its call returned by Francis Rielly, Voorheesville’s assistant superintendent for finance and operations. He said that, as soon as the district found out about the rate increases, all interested parties were notified.

Rielly said that he had “no knowledge” with regard to Fiero’s claims of there being problems four years ago and then two years ago; Rielly has worked at Voorheesville for two years.

And, in those two years, Rielly asserts, no one had come to him to say that premiums needed to be raised. He said that the premiums the district had been charging allowed it to build up a $681,000 reserve, which the district has been depleting.

“The previous year, we were growing money in the reserve — people get sick,” he said. “How do you know somebody is going to get sick and go on a prescription that’s going to cost you a lot of money? There’s no way to predict that.”

Rielly continued, “To me, it seems like people got sick and got on these high-cost specialty drugs, and that’s the root of the cause: People weren’t on [high-cost specialty drugs] and now they are.”

“I find it disturbing on several levels,” she said, because she had been on the district’s health-insurance committee (a multi-union contractual committee) since its inception, in 1999. And the drug problem never came before that committee, she said.

“So, some significant decisions, in my mind, were made outside of that committee,” Fiero said, and, now, there will be a push for everyone to come together and hash out a new drug plan.

If the board wanted to establish trust, Fiero said, paraphrasing Murphy’s sentiment: “A district that is going places and has a direction,” then “we” need to contemplate how issues like the drug plan are handled.

“And I don’t think it was handled well,” she said.

Saia bids farewell

In her last meeting, outgoing board President Doreen Saia, who had lost her re-election bid in May, took a minute to thank the community and issue a warning.  

“I want to thank the community; it has been an honor and privilege to serve you the last five years,” Saia said.

She then turned to the prescription-drug problem, saying that the district is facing an “existential crisis,” which, she said, “is not an exaggeration … At least based on the numbers I’ve seen.”

In her five years on the board, Saia said, the board had never seen anything like the problem the district is facing with its drug plan. She fears that, if it is not resolved in six months, then, next year, there will be a lot of full-time employees getting axed.

“This is an amazing community; there are a lot of amazing people in it, and I’m praying,” she said, that the district works out its prescription-drug problem.

 

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