Saugerties school board faces replacing superintendent and business manager at the same time

Seth Turner and Lissa Jilek.

The Saugerties school board ia getting down to the job of replacing schools superintendent Seth Turner and business manager Lissa Jilek. 

Jilek’s resignation letter was submitted on the same day that Turner was formally offered the job of superintendent of the Amagansett Union Free School District, a single-school district with fewer than 100 students in grades K-5. Amagansett students move into the East Hampton Union Free School District for middle and high school. 

Previously a teacher with BOCES in Plattsburgh, Turner came to Saugerties in 1997 as a special education teacher in the alternative education program at the high school. In 2000 he became an assistant principal before becoming principal at Grant D. Morse Elementary in 2003. Turner was hired as superintendent following the retirement of Richard Rhau in 2009. Turner’s current contract, approved in 2015, runs through 2020.

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While Turner and Jilek will remain with the Saugerties schools through late September, the school board’s search for permanent replacements could take longer. The district may want to hire an interim superintendent and/or interim business manager. 

During a special meeting on July 3, board president Robert Thomann said trustees planned to continue their dialogue about the parameters of their superintendent search during workshops in July. Presentations on how the process works may be made both by Ulster BOCES superintendent Charles Khoury and by Jamie McPherson, leadership development manager with the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA). The school board has already received some information from both. 

“It’s something you don’t want to rush through, so it would be good to spend a couple of hours working on which direction the board wants to go,” said Thomann. Thomann said that NYSSBA has already provided Saugerties with a list of firms in the state which specialize in helping school districts search for superintendent candidates, as well as a link to a webinar on what to look for during a search. 

Jilek is leaving the district to become the business manager in the Highland school district, where she’ll earn $128,000 per year. Her contract in Saugerties pays $114,322 each year.

Jilek said that she was resigning “with a heavy heart,” but that as per the terms of her contract, she would remain with the district until Friday, September 28. 

“I would personally like to thank you for your confidence in hiring me five plus years ago,” Jilek wrote Turner in a letter dated June 18. “It has been non-stop from day one to present. I have enjoyed the leadership team meetings with yourself, and [deputy superintendent] Larry Mautone, and also the support staff members in your offices.”

Jilek has been the district’s business manager since 2013, having previously served in the same capacity in the Cairo-Durham (2007-13) and Catskill (2000-07) school districts. 

The school board also has paperwork pertaining to Highland’s recent search for a new superintendent. The district officially hired Thomas Bongiovi in February of this year after he served for four months in an interim capacity following the departure of former superintendent Deborah Haab, who retired. Thomann said the Highland materials included, among other things, what he called “the most important document,” a timeline of how the entire process unfolded. 

“There’s an initial planning day for the board, the development of a vacancy announcement, an online survey from the community, meetings with constituent groups,” Thomann explained. “That search took place from August of last year all the way to January, so it’s quite an extensive process.”

Trustees are still determining the costs of various options. Thomann said BOCES charges would largely cover the cost of ads, administration of a community survey, and other similar charges. Those services would cost less than if they were provided by a private professional firm. 

Trustee Elena Maskell expressed concern about the cost of a superintendent search. “Do we have a budget for this?” she asked. “Do we have money to be doing superintendent searches, paying outside agencies, all that hullabaloo?”

Trustee Damion Ferraro said he wasn’t sure what to do. “Personally, I don’t know what the best route to go is,” said Ferraro. “Do you go to a nationally recognized firm or something that’s close to the northeast? What do we do in that situation?”

No one presently on the school board was a trustee the last time the district conducted a superintendent search nearly a decade ago. Thomann suggested the board move forward as deliberately as possible. “Since it’s a new process for all of us, I think we’re going to have to get more information before we jump in,” he said. “Because we’ve had two resignations in one evening, I think there’s a tendency to say, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’ve got to do something quick.’ And I’d rather act on the side of caution rather than proceeding rapidly.”

Thomann said that BOCES can help with a temporary business manager should the search extend beyond late September. Presently, no other school district in Ulster County is without a business manager. Thomann said Khoury plan to reach out to BOCES supervisors in neighboring counties to see if any other districts could help.

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