Need to know

Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill

Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill

The Onteora Central School District board of education has made it plain that it will not rehire current district superintendent Dr. Phyllis Spiegel-McGill when her contract runs out at the end of June, 2016. Actually, the board signaled its clear intention when it refused to extend her contract by June 30, 2014, something school trustees will do routinely when satisfied with the performance of the superintendent, thus maintaining a three-to-five year cushion on its head administrator, avoiding the stasis of lame duckness.

We are perturbed by the Onteora board’s reluctance to say why it will begin a new search and not retain Dr. McGill. If the board is worried that giving its reasons for not wanting her to stay on will reduce her effectiveness over the next year and a half, well, they’ve already done that. And just as surely, a buyout for her, perhaps costing the district a year and a half salary, is not in the cards.

We might not be wondering all that much if, from this perspective, it was all that clear why she would be let go. But from this perspective, it is a bit puzzling. Dr. McGill’s tenure has been generally successful. By all appearances (and we do watch these things closely) the district is running smoothly. When many other districts are in financial difficulty (the state comptroller this week listed 90 school districts as being ‘fiscally stressed’) Onteora has managed to keep its budgets on point and manage renovations without needing to bond and without tax cap recriminations. Don’t forget, when financial difficulty appeared to be on the horizon, Dr. McGill accepted a $10,000 per year pay cut.


A Daily Beast survey listed Onteora as one of the top 750 high schools in the entire nation (526th to be precise). There have been successful negotiations with the unions, academic performance is improving and the district is coping better than most with changing face of education. At the board’s behest, Dr. McGill effected the change in the district’s configuration, creating primary schools at Woodstock and Phoenicia and an intermediate school at Bennett, and kept the Phoenicia school open. Certainly the board of education gets some of the credit for this performance, but the hands on, day-to-day work is the superintendent’s.

It hasn’t all been terrific. There was a serious controversy over the Phoenicia School principal in which her performance divided elements of the community. There are always the usual complaints over which days are declared snow days.

Here’s the part you’ve heard before. The school tax amount is approximately 60 percent of your total property tax bill. Unless there’s a big controversy going on, very few citizens attend school board meetings. This makes it hugely important that the board of education work ever harder to maintain transparency, to get every piece of pertinent information into the hands and minds of the constituency that elects the members and pays the bills.

We believe it is of vital importance to the public to know why the board has decided to seek a new superintendent.