Move to rein in Rachlin

Julie Lane file photo
Dr. Stuart Rachlin, Oysterponds superintendent, in 2005, when he had just signed a new five-year contract.

Five years after Dr. Stuart Rachlin was greeted by the Oysterponds school board and the community as a savior, and three years after his contract as school superintendent was extended another five years, something appears to have gone sour.

Several board resolutions in recent months seem to indicate a willingness to more closely scrutinize the superintendent’s work, the latest being an attempt to strip Dr. Rachlin of his principal’s responsibilities and two resolutions on Monday night’s agenda questioning his absentee record.

For as long as anyone can remember, the superintendent’s and principal’s duties were combined in one position. But Monday night, a resolution appeared on the agenda seeking to wrest the principal duties from Dr. Rachlin and to hire a new principal.

The effort failed, but those who supported it — board president Walter Strohmeyer and members Linda Goldsmith and Carl Demarest — insisted it’s all about complying with a New York State Education Department mandate that the two positions be separated.

Others insisted that the Oysterponds’ long-standing double-job practice was temporarily permissible and could continue through an appeal to the state education commissioner.

But Mr. Demarest said he can find no record that the district ever asked for or received permission to continue linking the two jobs. A parent could sue the district on the premise that a child was denied a proper education through the lack of a principal, Mr. Demarest said.

Board member Kathy Syron said in conversation with Eastern Suffolk BOCES district superintendent Edward Zero, she learned that there’s a move afoot to make the waiver easier to obtain and that in the future, it’s likely to fall to local BOCES boards, not the state to make such determinations.

The superintendent questioned the board’s timing.

“Why is it important now when it hasn’t been important for 40 years?” Dr. Rachlin asked the board. “I think your bringing this out in public is inappropriate.”

But board member Linda Goldsmith said the district’s attorney advised the district to hire a principal.

After much argument, board member Nancy Williams demanded and secured a vote to turn back the effort to strip the principal’s responsibilities from Dr. Rachlin. But Mr. Demarest said in a telephone interview Tuesday he still wants to protect the district, either by appointing a principal or obtaining the necessary waiver from the state.

The brouhaha over the post erupted after a lengthy discussion earlier in the meeting over resolutions to approve the time Dr. Rachlin had taken to attend conferences, a personal day and a sick day — the type of decision other school boards routinely address in a closed executive session. Mr. Demarest said he thought the district would be better served by having the superintendent in the building rather than at a conference. Despite Dr. Rachlin’s explanation that one of the conferences, involving all East End superintendents, was called by BOCES officials with little notice, some board members were critical of his failure to secure prior approval. The vote was four to three with Ms. Syron, Kathy Caffery, Krista de Kerillis and Ms. Williams approving the allocation of time and Mr. Demarest, Mr. Strohmeyer and Ms. Goldsmith voting no.

Dr. Rachlin’s recommendation to grant tenure to a music teacher also met with resistance, with board members insisting that they had insufficient information and wanted to study the teacher’s personnel file. They also refused to grant the superintendent’s recommendation to approve a K-6 writing curriculum until they have studied it. In past meetings the board has resisted Dr. Rachlin’s and teachers’ textbook recommendations without a board review.

Neither Dr. Rachlin nor Mr. Strohmeyer were willing to comment this week.

When the board approved a new five-year contract for Dr. Rachlin in 2007 Mr. Strohmeyer said, “We’re getting value for what we’re paying. He’s a man that we need at this time, without a doubt.”

A few months before Mr. Strohmeyer made that comment, Dr. Rachlin told The Suffolk Times, “Board relationships with superintendents can sometimes go sour. I’m thankful that we are so far from that issue that it is never on the radar.”

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