Oysterponds superintendent voted into early retirement

JULIE LANE PHOTO | The Oyster Ponds School Board voted Tuesday night to cut a year off Superintendent Stuart Rachlin's (pictured here) contrac

Over protests from taxpayers, the Oysterponds Board of Education narrowly approved an early retirement package for Superintendent Stuart Rachlin Tuesday night. Board members voted 4-3 to allow his full retirement in June 2011, one year earlier than his contract was due to expire.

Dr. Rachlin will work full-time until Dec. 31, then be required to put in 20 hours a week, working Tuesdays and Thursdays and attending board meetings as needed, until June 30, 2011.

Board members will seek an interim principal to begin work in January while they hunt for a full-time principal and part-time superintendent.

Dr. Rachlin will receive a one-time payment of $100,000 next June, full health insurance coverage for himself and his wife for the rest of their lives; and another one-time payment of $29,000 for unused vacation and sick pay.

Former board member Carl Demarest asked board members why they were “giving away the barn,” referring to the package structured for Dr. Rachlin. Others called for Dr. Rachlin to fulfill his full contract or walk away with nothing.
Board members didn’t respond to audience comments.

But before voting, most chose to explain why they would or wouldn’t support the resolution granting the superintendent early retirement.
“We’ve got to stop the madness and we’ve got to stop it now,” board member Thom Gray said. Noting that he has been on the board only since July, he that said during Dr. Rachlin’s tenure, which began in 2006, budgets and teachers’ salaries have increased by 40 percent and the superintendent’s salary has escalated from $155,000 to what would be $198,000 if he stayed to the end of his contract.

“I am here at the tail end, which I’m going to say is a mess,” Mr. Gray said. The district has lacked “appropriate leadership,” he said. Given the challenges the district faces, with upcoming teacher negotiations and questions about its future operation, a change is needed now, he said.

“You reach a time in a business where you cut your losses and move on,” Mr. Gray said.

Board president Deborah Dumont praised the outgoing superintendent for his work in getting the district back on track after a rocky time with former superintendent Rita Mattus. Ms. Dumont voted in favor of granting the retirement package that she and board member Walter Strohmeyer had negotiated with Dr. Rachlin. She told taxpayers Tuesday night that she understood their concerns about its cost. But in a typical negotiation, both sides give something, she said.

“Our job is to think about what is best for the children in the most cost-effective way,” Ms. Dumont said. Because the board is examining new directions for the school district, the board president said it’s important to have a leader on board who would stay with the process.

“You don’t have the capacity to evoke change when you’re leaving,” she said.

Mr. Strohmeyer, despite having helped to negotiate the settlement with Dr. Rachlin, voted against it.

“This proposed settlement is not in the best interests of the district,” he said.

Board members Linda Goldsmith and Krista de Kerillis joined Mr. Strohmeyer in voting against the resolution. Kathy Syron and Dorothy-Dean Thomas joined Mr. Gray and Ms. Dumont is voting in favor.

Dr. Rachlin declined comment after the meeting.

Moving forward, the board is examining various alternatives to restructuring the district. An option Mr. Strohmeyer brought to the table Tuesday night, which he said needs further exploration, is sending Oysterponds students in grades three through six to the same district that educates its junior and senior high school students. He speculated that this could save taxpayers $1 million. And if the district tuitioned out all its students, the savings could approach $2 million, Mr. Strohmeyer said.

Parents in the audience let it be known they wouldn’t like to see elementary school students sent to another district. And Mr. Gray repeated a suggestion he made previously to offer Greenport the opportunity to send some of its elementary students to Oysterponds on a tuition basis.

Any such actions would have to be approved by the commissioner of the State Education Department, said the district’s attorney, Warren Richmond of Ingerman Smith LLP.

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