January 31, 2014

Soap opera continues at Katonah-Lewisboro

“Energetic, seasoned executive leader with extensive successes in critical project completion. Well-established in building and/or transforming infrastructures and revitalizing underperforming operations. Exceptional record of driving performance, fostering positive community reputation, and enhancing stakeholder’s value.”

Dr. Paul Kreutzer’s LinkedIn profile sounds like just the type of person who could lead the Katonah-Lewisboro school district. But this week he and the district separated, faster than the Packers were ousted in the NFL playoffs.

Dr. Kreutzer made a name for himself union-bashing in Wisconsin, where he was a superintendent in a school district outside of Milwaukee. There he aligned with Gov. Scott Walker in the governor’s successful bid to deprive unions of collective bargaining privileges, a tune that didn’t play very well in New York.

From the start we wondered what the board’s affection for him was: In 2011, at the time of his hiring, we wrote in this space: “Board members say Dr. Kreutzer was the best candidate. Based on what? Was it his success in achieving academic excellence? Test scores, college admissions and advanced placements in the New Berlin School District? His ability to bridge conflicting viewpoints? How did other leading candidates fall short?”

Well, we may never get to know the answers to these and other more local questions, judging by the brevity of the district’s announcement this week of Dr. Kreutzer’s departure and interim replacement by assistant superintendent Michael Jumper.

But along with the opposition from local unions and the powerful teachers’ association, Dr. Kreutzer did little to support his own cause during his relatively brief sojourn in the Katonah-Lewisboro School District. During that time, the ride was a bumpy one. Although the district won one aspect of a legal battle to transfer special ed teacher Kristin Peterson, the State Education Department mediator chided Dr. Kreutzer for failing to put Ms. Peterson on notice prior to her transfer — “the administration gave up the moral high ground in saying she’d been warned,” wrote the mediator in August.

More publicly, the closing of Lewisboro elementary school was poorly received, and, many felt, poorly communicated. In 2013, the school board assembled a school closure task force charged with performing research and studying the potential impacts of the closure on students and the community. Many Lewisboro parents felt the school board and administration had decided to close the school months ago.

Katonah-Lewisboro is probably lucky to have enticed Dr. Kreutzer to leave for a mere $90,000. After all, neighboring Bedford Central got stuck with a $1 million tab to part ways with their superintendent, Debra Jackson, in 2008.

“It became apparent over the last period of time that he and the board had different visions for the future of the school district,” stated Katonah-Lewisboro board president Charles Day upon announcing the decision on Tuesday. “And those differences became too wide to bridge.”

This sprig of information is just not enough for Katonah-Lewisboro residents, who not only pay the second-highest per-pupil cost in Westchester County (behind Scarsdale) but are being asked to swallow an imminent and wide-ranging redistricting plan, which includes the closure of Lewisboro Elementary School and the transfer of hundreds of students from their current classrooms.

Were the differences about the upcoming 2014-15 budget plans? The response to the Kristin Peterson charges? The closing of Lewisboro Elementary School? Union pressures? A personality clash? All of the above? None of the above?

We’re not saying Dr. Kreutzer’s departure is a good thing or a bad thing. And the way that public employee records are protected, it’s unlikely we will ever find out.

We still don’t know the full story of Dr. Jackson’s departure from Bedford Central in 2008, despite a persistent, dogged legal attempt by this newspaper and community members, and it’s unlikely we’ll find out why Dr. Kreutzer is leaving.

To the credit of Bedford Central, the current administration led by Dr. Jere Hochman and school board president Susan Wollin has demonstrated an unprecedented transparency and built a renewed trust at every level. It can be done.

Unfortunately for Katonah-Lewisboro, this is just another black eye in a district that has experienced a decade of bitter board fights; unsustainable budgets; chidings from the state comptroller’s and attorney general’s offices; and lawsuits from present and former employees.

The district owes us an explanation, and not just another one-sentence response from Syntax, its PR firm. That would be unfair to the hundreds of hardworking teachers, staff and administrators tasked with the education of our children and unfair to the thousands of parents, children and taxpayers of the district.


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