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Story - News

Jul 3, 2012 11:10 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent And Board Member Abruptly Announce Resignations

Jul 4, 2012 10:51 AM

Sag Harbor Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Gratto, a short time after taking the oath of office for another term at a School Board reorganization meeting Monday night, announced that he would retire next month, prior to the start of the next school year.

Veteran School Board member Walter Wilcoxen, who just won reelection to the board this spring, also announced his resignation the same night.

Dr. Gratto’s last day with the district will be August 17, although his contract runs through June 30, 2013. He said he has accepted a job as a professor of educational leadership at the Graduate School of Education at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more commonly known as Virginia Tech, starting in late August.

Dr. Gratto, who said his current base salary is $217,350, was hired as Sag Harbor’s superintendent in 2008 amid district turmoil. His surprise hiring came after teachers, parents and district residents were left in the dark regarding the School Board’s search for a new superintendent.

His employment history quickly came to light, and it was discovered that he had been fired from one school district, his contract was not renewed at another, and his last position was as an assistant superintendent rather than the top spot.

The outgoing superintendent this week said he made the decision to leave in an effort to be closer to his three children. His daughter Kristie Gratto, 22, just graduated from the University of Florida and is getting married and settling down in the Sunshine State. His younger daughter, Stephanie Gratto, 18, is headed to Georgia Southern University as a soccer player, and his son, Nicholas Gratto, 20, is going into his sophomore year at Virginia Tech. “Being closer to my family made this a quality of life issue for me,” Dr. Gratto said.

He said he there was no other reason for his departure, and that no one had asked him to step down. “Prior to my deciding to retire,” he said, “the board had talked about extending my contract.”

Board members had already been aware of his pending departure, but an item announcing his retirement was not officially added to the agenda, not even among items that were added after the agenda had already been set.

The superintendent sent an email to all district employees shortly before 10 p.m. on Monday. “This was a difficult decision, because I have enjoyed my work in this wonderful school district and community,” he wrote, listing several accomplishments he said he was pleased to have played a role in, such as implementing the College Advancement Program that allows students to take college credit-bearing courses on the Pierson campus, and helping Pierson High School win acceptance as an International Baccalaureate World Diploma school.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gratto’s sudden departure coincided with Mr. Wilcoxen’s, but it remains unclear whether the two were related.

Mr. Wilcoxen, who had been a supporter of Dr. Gratto during the 2008 hiring of the superintendent, won a third straight three-year term as a board member just this past May, when he and fellow member Gregg Schiavoni held off first-time challenger Tom Gleeson.

The second-highest vote-getter in that election, Mr. Wilcoxen would have taken the oath of office for his next term at Monday’s regular meeting. Instead, his seat at the table was already vacant.

On Monday, Mr. Wilcoxen emerged from behind the closed doors of a private executive session prior to the start of the public meeting, asked to speak to District Clerk Mary Adamczyk in the hallway, and then left. Ms. Adamczyk later read a brief letter he had given her announcing his resignation. It simply stated that he would not take his seat on the board and did not give a reason.

Mr. Wilcoxen did not return requests for comment following his announcement.

“In my opinion, he did a wonderful job,” Dr. Gratto said on Tuesday of Mr. Wilcoxen. “He’s bright, thoughtful, articulate, and I think the board was well served by him. I think he didn’t want to spend another three years on it.”

Dr. Gratto said an interim superintendent likely would lead the district through the 2012-13 school year, while a search for a permanent superintendent is under way. As for the open board seat, the district will seek letters of application for a board member to fill the seat until May’s election, Dr. Gratto said—although, technically, the seat would not be a replacement, since Mr. Wilcoxen was never sworn in.

Mr. Gleeson, who lost his first bid for the board by 219 votes to Mr. Wilcoxen, said when reached on Wednesday, “If I had supported Mr. Wilcoxen, I’d be a little disappointed that he resigned beforehand. I really don’t know what to say.” He said he was not sure if he would seek appointment to the open seat.

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What a mess. Let me see if I understand this correctly: If Dr. Gratto was let go against his wishes he would retain an attorney and sue for damages under the contract he signed with the district. But since he has chosen to unilaterally break his contract with the District, ostensibly to "retire" to a professorship with the University of VA (sounds like he's just found a better-paying position), he expects the District to just search for a replacement and that he has no further obligations to ...more
By Funbeer (269), Southampton on Jul 3, 12 3:36 PM
1 member liked this comment
He isn't going to UVA, he's going to Virginia Tech. Big, big difference. I would have been shocked if the University of Virginia had anything to do with that character.
By East End 2 (150), Southampton on Jul 3, 12 4:42 PM
now if they wouldl only get rid of nichols and skippy.......they are part of the problem,not part of the solution....
By citizenmoving (2), sag harbor on Jul 3, 12 4:52 PM
Ok...you mention Nichols. So who is "skippy"? Just wondering.. This all smells verrrry fishy!
By AnonymousSgh (183), Sag Harbor on Jul 3, 12 5:14 PM
You are either a Cavalier or plain ignorant of VT.
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Jul 3, 12 5:56 PM
...that's addressed to EastEnd2
By zaz (197), East Hampton on Jul 3, 12 6:06 PM
Who is Skippy?
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Jul 4, 12 7:42 AM
Hmmmm, Super resigns, board member resigns, and the business manager resigns a few weeks ago? Trouble right here in River City!
By Spikeland67 (25), Sag Harbor on Jul 3, 12 3:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Base salary of $217,350, plus benefits and retirement costs, projected out over time?

Wow, no wonder municipalities are starting to declare bankruptcies all over the place.

Have a good Fourth!
By PBR (4946), Southampton on Jul 3, 12 4:10 PM
2 members liked this comment
Good riddance to Verneille and Gratto. I never liked the way Gratto was hired and am glad to see them both go. I do agree there is much more to this story than we are being told.
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Jul 3, 12 6:46 PM
1 member liked this comment
Gratto and Wilcoxin are good people. I can see Gratto wanting to be closer to his kids. Walter is a surprise. The school budget for 2012-13 does seem short on the salary lines based on the contracts in place and in a few other places, but I'm sure that had nothing to do with what were probably personal decisions.
By hohum123 (91), springs on Jul 3, 12 8:01 PM
And by the way, if the Board of Education does not hire High School principal Jeff Nichols as the new Superintendent they will be making a very large mistake - he is the perfect person to take over the reigns of the district. There is no need to go through an excruciating search for someone else when you have the perfect person right in the building.
By hohum123 (91), springs on Jul 3, 12 8:27 PM
do your kids go to pierson? if so remove your head from the sand and pay attention.
By double-D (96), southampton on Jul 9, 12 9:14 PM
how naive...;) nichols has been and continues to be part of the problem....
By citizenmoving (2), sag harbor on Jul 3, 12 10:54 PM
Are you telling me that the school board member attended a private meeting then left right after and did not attend the public meeting to announce himself that he was resigning (six weeks after being re-elected)? Sounds like he did not want to be asked any questions or provide any reasons. This is very strange. If he was mad at the Superintendent for resigning then he should have stuck around for the meeting and discussed his disappointment etc., etc., but to leave and not be there, that's crazy. ...more
By mrmako61 (148), southampton on Jul 4, 12 10:31 AM
No public school employee should make more than the Governor. It's the only law we need. Peg pay to 90% of the Governor and if these people think they are worth more. TOUGH. go find a real job
By maxwell (169), speonk on Jul 9, 12 1:09 PM
is that with or without backdoor lobby payoffs?
By double-D (96), southampton on Jul 9, 12 9:16 PM
I feel John Gratto and the business manager leaving suddenly without leaving proper notice means something is going on with Pierson's financials that they don't want to take responsibility for. Curious to find out what really is going on. Now the board members left have a big job ahead of them to find a new superintendent and a new B.O. before September comes around.
By lulu631 (7), Sag Harbor on Jul 10, 12 10:35 AM
I think it's BS that the board let him be sworn in so his new raise would take effect, knowing hours later he was going to resign.
By bubby (236), southampton on Jul 10, 12 10:49 AM
Just to be clear, Dr. Gratto DIDN"T receive a raise.
By skruel (23), Sag Harbor on Jul 11, 12 8:58 AM
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