OSWEGO — Not everyone in the Oswego City School District is so optimistic about the hire of Mathis Calvin, as union leaders expressed frustration with the selection process and concerns about his educational history.
“Our membership is quite distressed and have reservations about the candidate’s leadership,” said Carrie Patane of the Oswego Classroom Teachers Association, one of four local bargaining units which last week sent a scathing letter to district Board of Education members. The letter also decried the “closed door process” behind the superintendent selection, calling it “flawed.”
“Leaving stakeholders out of the process is a slap in the face,” the letter reads.
Leadership of local chapters of the Association of Assistant Principals (AAP), Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) and Central Office Administrators and Supervisors Association (COASA) cosigned the letter. Union officials said despite the constraints posed on educators and administrators by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of engagement by district leaders “clouded” the hiring process.
“We would have welcomed the opportunity to be a part of this process and expected to participate,” said the letter’s authors. “It is our feeling that a true disservice has occurred for the candidates to not allow them to share their intentions, strengths and aptitutde in an interview format that begins the trust-building process with all stakeholders.”
Labor leaders and community stakeholders have routinely been part of the superintendent search process in the past, Patane said, and her members have been left scratching their heads as to why they were given what feels like the cold shoulder.
“The secrecy behind this appointment creates mistrust and increases anxiety about the future of (the district),” Patane told The Palladium-Times Monday. “Our district needs a leader who will create unity and build a strong support system for all students and employees, especially during these times of uncertainty.”
Asked about the letter sent by union officials and their position, Board of Education President Heather DelConte said it was a “manufactured narrative of overt mistrust.”
“District leadership begins with grace and understanding,” DelConte said. “Cumbersome restrictions and unanticipated obstacles have complicated every effort in our everyday business, and this superintendent search. Each board member fully respects our faculty, staff, and administration, in addition to the bargaining units that represent their interests.”
Despite their disparate views on the same issue, both women said they hoped both sides could work together toward a healthy resolution and positive outcome for students and the community.
“Our board is singularly focused on our students, while also staying very mindful of the economic impact our district has on our local businesses and homeowners,” DelConte said. “We have absolutely no intention, nor would we have a reason to purposefully create an atmosphere of dissention.”
Patane said now “more than ever, (district stakeholders) deserve the opportunity to partake in such a critical decision which will impact our community for years to come.”
“We do want to assure the board that should Dr. Calvin be appointed superintendent of schools, he will receive the due respect the position affords as we desire only the best for our students and our community,” union officials wrote.
Union officials also say their membership has concerns about Calvin’s exit from his previous district, the Wayne Central School District. Cursory research reveals multiple local news reports regarding Calvin’s resignation from Wayne superintendent in June 2019. At the time, Calvin was quoted as saying he had “mixed emotions” about leaving his post but declined to elaborate.
Pushed on the issue, Calvin painted a rosy picture lacking much, if any, of the reported drama and unclear details surrounding his resignation.
“Sometimes when you’re working for a group of employers, things can change. Sometimes the Board of Education that hires you isn’t the same that you end up working with,” Calvin said. “I had three additional years left on my contract so I didn’t have to go anywhere, but I felt it might be a good idea to embark on a different mission.”
Is he concerned about entering an already fraught labor situation?
“My goal is to be as collaborative as possible,” Calvin said. “I’m a team person and I want to operate with all the stakeholders. My goal is to make the staff here understand that I’m here to work with them. I’ll advocate with them and for them.”
A looming deadline concerning OCTA members is the upcoming expiration of the union’s contract with the district. The contract will lapse July 1, OCTA officials said.
“We were ready to negotiate in February,” Patane said. “We had to wait until March. We were ready to negotiate in March, but that obviously didn’t happen (due to coronavirus-related developments.) With COVID-19 and all the chaos that came about as a result of the closure, we have been patiently waiting for the opportunity to negotiate.”
DelConte declined to address the topic.
“Contract negotiations are highly confidential and it would be inappropriate for anyone to comment on any aspect,” she said. “Our collaborative work is too important and, quite frankly, we don’t have the time or energy to engage in useless power struggles. It is our absolute hope that everyone would set aside self-interest and extend genuine grace, because our children are worth at least that sacrifice.”
James Jackson of the CSEA local said he and his members were in solidarity with the feelings expressed in their letter.
“I, along with our other association leaders, am disappointed with being left out of the process and hope that in the future we will all be included with administrative appointments of this nature,” Jackson said.