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Story - Education

Jul 29, 2009 2:45 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Tuckahoe superintendent resigns amid furor

Jul 29, 2009 2:45 PM

Tuckahoe School District Superintendent Linda Rozzi effectively resigned on Monday night at a School Board meeting riddled with personal attacks, internecine squabbles, tearful appeals and procedural bumbling.

After School Board members failed to extend her contract beyond its current expiration date in 2010, Ms. Rozzi agreed to step down from the district’s top post at the end of 2009 in exchange for being paid her full contract salary of $150,000 for the 2009-10 school year. Under the terms of the agreement, she will not officially resign until December 31, 2010.

The letter of resignation she first submitted on Monday called for Ms. Rozzi to leave the position immediately, on July 31, meaning she would not be at the school for the preparations for or the opening of the coming school year. But after pleas from parents and teachers, and a confused board vote on whether they would accept her resignation, the School Board and Ms. Rozzi met in private for 45 minutes. After that, Ms. Rozzi announced she would stay on until December.

Dozens of outraged parents and teachers demanded the School Board do whatever it could to keep Ms. Rozzi indefinitely and hurled criticisms and calls for ousting two of the members, Susan Riccardi and board Chairwoman Sharon Grindle, whom they accused of pushing the popular superintendent out by planning to vote against renewing her contract.

“If it is the wish of the parents in this room to keep Ms. Rozzi, I would urge you to not accept her resignation,” parent Tanya Luss said, her eyes welling with tears.

“As a parent, I am really disgusted with this board,” Maggie Marcincuk said. “I think we need to make changes so this doesn’t happen again.”

The audience loudly accused Ms. Riccardi and Ms. Grindle of colluding to force Ms. Rozzi to resign so they could replace her with a new administrator of their choosing. Some said they would demand, through Freedom of Information requests, to see the minutes of executive session meetings in which Ms. Rozzi’s contract was discussed in recent months as well as e-mails between the board members.

Several parents called for Ms. Riccardi and Ms. Grindle to resign their posts on the School Board immediately and asked the third board member, Robert Grisnik—a 25-year veteran of the board who several times voiced his support for Ms. Rozzi—if it is possible to forcibly unseat the other board members before their terms were up through a petition. It is not.

“How do we go about removing board members,” Amy Plum asked. “Obviously, we need to move forward to overhaul the board. How many signatures do we need?”

Monday night was the last night the board could have voted to extend Ms. Rozzi’s three-year contract, which is set to expire after the 2010-11 school year. If they had not voted by August 1 the contract would have automatically renewed for an additional year.

Two years ago, a two-member majority of the School Board voted against extending the superintendent’s contract. Then, under pressure from many of the same angry parents and teachers as were present Monday night, the board rescinded its decision and allowed the contract to renew automatically. Mr. Grisnik was the only board member to vote in favor of Ms. Rozzi then. Ms. Grindle and then-School Board President Theresa Grimaldi voted against her. It was the first time since Ms. Rozzi was hired in 2002 that the board had voted against extending her contract. Both board members said their reasons were based on Ms. Rozzi’s performance evaluations, but Mr. Grisnik said Ms. Rozzi’s evaluations were positive.

Several members of the audience on Monday night said they have been told that Ms. Grindle and Ms. Riccardi are planning to hire Ms. Grimaldi, who is currently the director of assessment and reporting in the East Hampton School District, to replace Ms. Rozzi.

The board members denied having any specific candidates in mind.

Ms. Rozzi clearly expected that Ms. Riccardi and Ms. Grindle were poised to reject her contract again this year and informed the board of her plans to resign last week. The initial discussions with board members and her attorney took place on Wednesday, July 22, and focused on her stepping down in December, Mr. Grisnik said on Monday night.

But, according to Ms. Grindle, Ms. Rozzi’s attorney had proposed a new arrangement on Friday that would have her leave by the end of the week. Mr. Grisnik and Ms. Riccardi said they had no knowledge of the new agreement until just before Monday’s meeting.

Mr. Grisnik, who was out of town over the weekend, accused Ms. Grindle of agreeing to the new stipulation without consulting other board members and the chairwoman alternately accused Mr. Grisnik of lying about not having been aware of Ms. Rozzi’s plans to resign.

“You talked to me on Wednesday morning, but after I left I was not aware of what happened until today,” Mr. Grisnik said. “And a lot of things happened.”

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