After a rally where hundreds of educators from school districts throughout Westchester joined a group of parents and teachers from Katonah Lewisboro to protest the hiring of Paul Kreutzer as the next superintendent, the school board unanimously voted to appoint the Wisconsin educator as the district’s next chief of schools.
Union representatives from such districts as Yonkers, Briarcliff, Yorktown and White Plains wore shirts that said “celebrate excellence,” and chanted “We are One,” and “not here, not anywhere,” in support of the K-L teacher’s and support staff unions, who attacked the district’s candidate of choice because of his alliance with Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to end collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin.
About half of the crowd—500 people, by some estimates—made it inside for a standing-room-only open forum with Kreutzer. A heated question-and-answer session lasted a more than an hour and contained as many impassioned speeches as it did questions for the candidate.
Kreutzer responded to a range of questions including his stance on collective bargaining and the rights of unions, his views on gifted education and lowering taxes, his reasons for applying for the job and his interests in coming to this district.
For highlights of the Q & A, click on the video posted with this story.
He said he wasn’t here to “union-bust,” and that he “worked collaboratively” with union leaders in Wisconsin. He said as an agent of the school board, he would stand with Gov. Walker again if his board asked him to do it. “I was acting as an agent of the school board there, and I will do that here,” he said.
Several community members said they were angry at not being brought into the process earlier and regretted the school board’s actions at hiring a candidate that had not met with a committee of community members or district faculty.
“We’d like more time to vet this candidate,” said Donna Walsh, a former school board member who helped to organize the community group protest.
Walsh said she wished the process had been more collaborative. “There are so many ways they could have made our voices heard—they could have had a confidential meeting with the candidate and a small group of faculty, which we’ve done in the past.” During the forum, Rachel Asher presented the board with the group’s petition which had almost 600 signatures.
A second petition was presented by a representative of Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Change Campaign Committee, who carried a sign that said “Stop the War on Working Families.”
The school board defended their actions—though they said they could have improved their communications—and said they had done an exhaustive search and did not want to delay the vote further and risk losing Kreutzer as a candidate.
The school board was unanimous in their support of Kreutzer. Board member Peter Treyz said the only thing he was concerned with was the economics.
“It’s not whether Dr. Kreutzer is going to do a good job or a fantastic job, I feel we are overcompensating our administrators. But this is the going rate—if Cuomo comes through on a cap, that might be a step in the right direction,” he said. “But I’m going to vote for this…we have done our due diligence and quite frankly Dr. Kreutzer is the person that we believe will be the best. We’ll have to do something about the economics later on.”
“We worked very hard for you on this,” said Mark Lipton, vice president of the school board. “And seven people have come to the same independent conclusion about this candidate.”
Kreutzer begins a 5-year-contract on July 1 at an annual salary of $245,000. He will contribute 50 percent of his health care costs. After three years, he will be an at-will employee—either side may end the contract.
See previous stories on the search and selection: