LAKE PLACID - In a surprise move Tuesday night, the Lake Placid school board appointed Roger Catania as interim superintendent, effective July 1, 2013.
Catania is a Saranac Lake resident and former Lake Placid school guidance counselor who now works as an assistant visiting professor at Alfred University in western New York. He will take over for current district Superintendent Randy Richards, who will leave the district on June 30, 2013. The board chose not to renew Richards' contract earlier this year in the wake of a conflict between him and a former principal that caused some turmoil in the district and contributed to the election of three new board members.
"I welcome the opportunity to again serve the Lake Placid community working with the Board of Education, teachers and staff in creating an engaging, stable and dynamic education environment for all students," Catania said in a press release issued after Tuesday night's regular board meeting.
The board voted 5-2 to appoint Catania, with Phil Baumbach and Herb Stoerr voting no, following a 25-minute executive session. There was no public discussion about the appointment, although school board President Mary Dietrich, reading from a prepared statement, did say the board thinks Catania has the "strengths the district especially needs to establish a stable and dynamic educational system."
Dietrich listed several reasons for making the appointment.
"The process involved in securing the proper certification allowing Dr. Catania to serve as superintendent was very complicated," she said. "It really could have fallen apart at any point. We didn't want to raise expectations until all issues had been resolved. The one-year appointment addresses the concern of having to make a three-year commitment to an individual who was an unknown quantity to the community, though Dr. Catania doesn't necessarily fit that characteristic."
As to the sudden nature of the appointment, and the lack of community input on the decision, Dietrich said it wasn't possible to include the public "at this time.
"Neither the board nor Dr. Catania was comfortable with the three-year commitment without that involvement," she said. "By making this decision now, it allows the board to focus its full attention on the issues facing this district. The budget process looks to be very difficult, building a leadership team at the middle-high school is the top priority, complying with the (Annual Professional Performance Review) requirements and (national) Common Core standards, and it really allows the district a long period of time to put into place a very smooth transition from the present leadership to the next.
"We're very excited to have Dr. Catania return to Lake Placid," Dietrich added.
Asked this morning if the board had concerns about the transparency of the decision to appoint Catania, Dietrich said, "It was an opportunity that we felt was too good not to take advantage of.
"We think Roger brings all of the qualities that this district is in need of," she said. "The school community knows and trusts him. The faculty has worked with him. He's a collaborative kind of person: He knows how to talk to people and knows how to move people forward.
"We thought that the fact the community did have experience with him would appease the fact that the community was not involved. That's why we did the one-year appointment, not the three-year one."
Dietrich indicated that Catania could be with the district for the long term.
"That's our expectation," she said. "But neither side wanted to jump into that without the community's input."
Reached by phone this morning, Baumbach declined to comment on why he voted against the appointment. Stoerr could not be reached for comment this morning. Neither commented on his vote at the meeting.
Speaking during a public comment period following Tuesday's meeting, Lake Placid resident Linda Wallace, a frequent board critic last year, said the appointment will provide the district with the leadership it needs.
"I'm glad that that decision has been made," she said.
Catania will start as interim superintendent on July 1, 2013. The one-year appointment ends June 30, 2014. He'll be paid $115,000 plus benefits.
Catania worked as a guidance counselor for the Lake Placid school district for more than 10 years. During that time, he was a permanent member of the Committee on Special Education and was involved in coordinating curriculum development, school officials said. He received his Ph.D. in education from the University of Virginia earlier this year, and he's currently enrolled in the Certificate of Advanced Studies in School Leadership program at Niagara University's School of Education.
His wife, Amy, runs Historic Saranac Lake.