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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, November 13, 2008

BKW’s principal problems continue

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — Richard Wheeler, Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s acting high school principal, is leaving on Friday.

He replaced Mary Petrilli after she was arrested at her home on Aug. 9 for menacing and possession of a weapon. The district’s investigation of Petrilli’s arrest has ended, though she remains on paid leave, as the legal process continues.

“We’re sorry to see him go, that’s for sure,” Superintendent Steve Schrade said of Wheeler yesterday. “It has nothing to do with how he feels about our school; it’s a personal decision. He likes the district, but he’s got personal responsibilities outside of work,” Schrade said.

Wheeler will be helping to complete the ongoing graduation-rate study before he leaves, said Schrade. In addition, Wheeler has volunteered to periodically return to BKW, unpaid, to help the new acting principal.

As far as finding Wheeler’s replacement, Schrade said the district is running background checks on a group of candidates, and hopes to have a new principal in place by Monday. Schrade is making use of the same resources he used to find Wheeler.

“We’ve once again searched the online application system, which is a [Board of Cooperative Educational Services] service set up statewide that districts can subscribe to,” Schrade said. “We’ve also made phone calls to other superintendents that I know, and we’re looking for recommendations. Word of mouth sometimes yields a good candidate,” he said.

The board, Schrade said, is not inclined to reinstate Mary Petrilli. But, until legal processes have ended, her employment cannot be terminated.

Petrilli had returned to her $73,000-a-year job last month after nine months on medical leave. She had been on medical leave since October 2007, and returned to work on July 1, about five weeks before she was arrested.

“When a determination is being made about the employment of an individual by a school district, and it’s the desire of the school board to terminate their employment, the employee can’t be discharged without going through a legal process,” Schrade said. “In the meantime, the law requires that the person remain on the payroll.”

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