The Onteora Central School District Board of Education appointed candidate Kristy Taylor to fill a vacant seat in its roster after the state Commissioner of Education denied a recount of the May 17 election. At its August 16 meeting, the board also hired a new middle school principal, James DiDonna, and an interim athletic director, Jennifer Simmons, to temporarily replace Ryan Naccarato, who resigned after being hired last year.
Taylor came in fourth place for the three seats available in the May, 2022 board election, behind Leon Savage by seven votes. But Savage, a college student, learned that he was unable to serve, when his college rescinded approval for him to take a year-long leave of absence and still retain his scholarships. The board offered the position to Taylor and she accepted.
Onteora trustees had requested a recount after election officials discovered the machines recorded eight more votes than were on the poll lists. Steps taken to correct the situation caused incorrect voter tallies to be certified.
Per state education law, once the ballots are sealed, only the commissioner of education can order a recount. But Commissioner Betty A. Rosa did not find sufficient evidence to indicate the outcome of the election would have been different or that the fairness was impaired. “The inaccurate vote count resulted from mere negligence, which does not satisfy this demanding standard. Thus, petitioner’s claims must be dismissed,” Rosa wrote. The commissioner’s ruling left the board free to make its own appointment.
Board seeks new athletic director, appoints interim
The board appointed Jennifer Simmons as Interim Director of Physical Education, Health and Athletics effective August 22 at $800 per day. Compensation will include travel expenses for meetings outside the district and hotel accommodations for up to two nights per week.
Trustee David Wallis, who cast the only dissenting vote, said it was too much. “I think this contract is troubling and overly generous. I would recommend highly that it be as short as possible and that we quickly find our permanent person to do this job,” he said.
Board President Emily Sherry weighed in. “I think that I recognize the absolute need to have an athletic director. We hired someone last year who was unable to stay and we’re in a difficult position,” she said. “So I’m grateful that Superintendent (Victoria) McLaren was able to find someone. I think that the salary, while high, is in line with what per diem is happening around our area…I’m very glad that our students are going to be able to start their athletics next week on time.”
McLaren defended the choice, and explained the terms. “This candidate, Miss Simmons, is incredibly experienced and really going to be a valuable member of our team,” McLaren said. “She does not want to work here long-term. She is retired and she would like to be retired, but she is very enthusiastic about helping us to find someone for this position…I know she is reaching out to contacts that she has around the state to try and identify some people who might be interested in applying here who maybe hadn’t seen the job posting.”
Trustee Valerie Storey spoke to the difficulty of attracting and keeping athletic directors in the region. “Just this morning, I was talking to another board member from another school district and between the two of us, we figured there was at least five athletic directors that schools need around the area right now. So this is something that is well needed. It’s not just us,” Storey said.
“I would just remind everyone that there was one candidate that was brought forward who was not willing to work at the salary that we are able to offer. So a tremendous amount of work has been put into finding a new athletic director. So this is not a bandaid that happened lightly,” Sherry said.
Simmons replaces Ryan Naccarato, who has been athletic director since January at a salary of $120,000 per year. Naccarato replaced Kim Pilla, who was placed on paid leave in December 2020 without public explanation, prompting outcry from coaches, students, parents and members of the community who considered her a role model and someone who rebuilt the athletics program.
Pilla’s leave expired on January 26, 2021, and board votes on a separation agreement and McLaren’s recommendation to appoint Nicholas Mills as interim AD resulted in ties, so they both failed. With no separation agreement in place, Pilla returned to the position, but the board soon appointed retired Kingston AD Glen Maisch as a consultant to look into the workings of the department.
Board hires new middle school principal
The board hired James DiDonna to replace retiring middle school principal Jennifer O’Connor effective August 29 at a salary of $135,000.
“We want to welcome Mr. DiDonna to Onteora. He comes to us with years of instructional and administrative experience and we are really excited that he has decided to join our team,” McLaren said.