After an evening of emotional speeches, the Pine-Richland School Board decided in a split vote Monday night not to renew Superintendent Dr. Mary Bucci's contract when it expires at the end of June.
The 5-3 vote split mostly along the lines of newcomers vs. veteran board directors.
Voting not to renew the contract were four directors with less than a year's experience. Directors Peter Lyons, Laura Ohlund and Virginia Goebel were elected in November 2011. Director Katie Shogan was appointed in May to fill the vacancy left when Director Richard Herko resigned.
The veteran director who also voted against renewal was Treasurer Dennis Sundo, who has served on the board for seven years. He was the only director to vote against Bucci in May 2009 when she was hired to replace Superintendent Dr. James Manley.
Voting Monday in support of Bucci were President Stephen Hawbaker, Vice President Dr. Jeffrey Banyas and Director Therese Dawson. They were elected in 2001, 2009 and 2007 respectively.
Director Mark Casciani, who was appointed to the board Sept. 20, abstained.
“I have considered it a privilege to work for this district, to serve the students and staff and parents of the school district and the school board members who have supported me. I will always be grateful for the opportunity.
“I still say Pine-Richland is a great place to live, to learn and to work,” Bucci said with a smile.
Coming Out of the Blue?
Before the vote, Hawbaker said that although it might seem the issue “appeared from nowhere,” it did not.
A school board is required to express its intent on a superintendent’s contract renewal five months before the contract expires, he said, and the board was in the process of evaluating Bucci.
Apparently, the school board met in executive session on Monday, Sept. 24, to discuss Bucci’s contract.
Bucci was advised Tuesday that the board would not renew her contract and she advised her staff of that on Wednesday, Hawbaker said.
Lyons, who made the motion to notify Bucci that her contract would not be renewed, said:
“This is not a vote against Dr. Bucci. To me it is a vote to simply choose not to renew a contract that expires at the end of the (school) year and to vote to engage in more growth and perhaps more change— but with an eye toward continuing improving this school district while keeping all the improvements and all the changes and all the accomplishments that we have achieved in this district.”
Dr. Jeffrey Banyas countered by showing a slide show that summarized a long list of Bucci’s accomplishments and said he believed Bucci should be retained.
Dawson left her director’s seat and moved to the podium to give an empassioned speech that praised Bucci and her accomplishments, then asked fellow board members to “do what is best for the students.”
Hawbaker echoed Banyas’ and Dawson’s sentiments.
Katie Shogan noted the data board members received from community members who filled out evaluation forms.
“Steve alluded to the fact that we asked for some community input, in an evaluation form for this,” Shogan said. “As the newer board member, that was a piece of data I took seriously.”
Shogan said the comments showed a divide “that really took me by surprise.”
“I have gotten some community feedback, again from various sources, ... and I think there is a divide and a mistrust that is pervasive and that it is too much to overcome.”
“I think we need to clear up that distrust that seems to be out there," Shogan said. "The data that I have indicates a desire for more of a community presence than what exists currently. And I am disheartened that this is the way this is happening.”