February 8, 2008

Mills' Golden Goose To Keep Laying Eggs

Below are excerpts from a Buffalo News story regarding the Newfane School Board's decision not to legally challenge former School Superintendent James N. Mills’ $1 million whole-life insurance policy.

This issue is offensive on many levels. Firstly, this is the kind of benefit that has driven school taxes to over 60% of our tax liability in Niagara County. Unfortunately, this type of benefit is common. One would think that there would be some level of public outcry over massive benefit packages such as this that are handed out to school administrators. This is also another reason why we don't need a dozen school districts in Niagara County. The City of Buffalo, which is a small city, has more children in its district than all of the districts in Niagara County combined, and they operate under a single administration.

Secondly, why would any of the Newfane Board members vote against pursuing termination of Mills' huge policy? Spending $10,000 to save the taxpayers of the district over $400,000 doesn't seem like an unreasonable risk. Not wanting to pursue it simply looks bad.

Lastly, when members of alleged taxpayer groups are publicly advocating in favor or elected officials getting lifetime health insurance, where is the public outrage over a half a million dollar life insurance policy? Why is the media not calling on school districts to put an end to such extravagance?

The policy will cost the district a total of $519,000 over a 15-year period that began in 2005.

The board gave Mills the policy as part of his 2005 contract, a move that requires the school district to spend $34,610 a year on the premium. Though his contract was to run through the end of 2009, Mills decided to retire Dec. 31, 2006, and took the life insurance benefit with him.

However, on Nov. 27, the board, by a 5-2 vote, quashed a motion to take legal action to kill the policy. Pieszala and member Gretchen DeWitt voted for it. The motion was made after the board had legal research done on the issue but “decided not to pursue it,” Pieszala said, adding that the vote came late at night after an executive session.

“We consulted with the Buffalo law firm Harris Beach, and they basically told us, ‘We are not going to tell you you have a winner here.’ But they felt it was worth pursuing,” Pieszala recently told The Buffalo News.

“I truly believe we could have had an answer to whether we could have been successful for under $10,000. We stood to save about $415,320 in the premiums we wouldn’t have had to pay over the next 12 years if we won. We possibly could have recovered the $103,830 we already paid toward it. I thought it would have been worth a try.”

As a board member, she said she felt it was her duty to investigate and try to recover as much money as possible because “we have a financial responsibility to the residents of this district. So I felt it was worth a try.”

Member David A. Adams said it was not that the other board members felt Mills was entitled to the policy. He said he didn’t feel the district should pay for it either. “We all pretty much agreed in principle that it was wrong for him to have the policy at district expense, and that it all seemed a bit underhanded. But it also appeared that it legally might stand,” Adams said.

He said everything would depend on how the law was interpreted by a judge. “We got several legal opinions, and basically, it was: ‘Well, you have a good argument but . . .,’ and the but was going to cost money and they weren’t guaranteeing anything,” Adams said. “. . . So it became a question of how much money you wanted to keep throwing at it and not win. With the lawyers, there was no, ‘We’ll do this for ten grand and that’s it . . .’

“We were in a no-win situation. At least that’s how I looked at it.”


Anonymous said...

I am so upset I can barely see straight. A $500,000 perk!!!! For what? That is a pretty big hit for a school district the size of Newfane. At least there are two voices of reason on that board.

Of course, school districts have little incentive to reign in costs. A contingency budget, under state law, still guarantees a tax increase!

On a lighter note, I watch LCTV and see regular Edwina from Newfane talking about taxes. Does she live in Newfane? If she does, why the hell doesn't she talk about this!

Fawn Leibowitz said...

I love the one comment from the board member who said this was a "no-win" situation. Really? Saving the taxpayers of Newfane over $400,000 would sure seem like a win to me. Sometimes I need to remind myself that ignorance is bliss.

The agitator said...

I congratulate Mills for taking full advantage of the rubes he was negotiating with. The Newfane School Board is a complete disgrace. If you think Mills was terrible, the current superintendent is in so far over his head he's on medical leave for the rest of the year.

And Hobbes, if you think Donna Pieszala is the epitome of a good school board member, you're a jackass too. Pieszala forced the current sphaghetti-spined superintendnet to ELIMINATE THE SUMMER READING PROGRAM because she didn't want her son to have to work over the summer.

That's what qualifies for leadership in Newfane. Good job Donna. Tell your son I'd like fries with my Big Mac. Nice example you've set for him.

Anonymous said...

Good comments, Agitator. I've never been so disgusted with our schools than I am right now. Enrollment is collapsing in Newfane because no one wants to move here because our schools have gotten so bad. This terrible school board, led by Pieszala is merely a front for the wackos of Newfane CARES, a bunch of losers in life who can't comprehend that if you dismantle the schools no one will move to Newfane and property values will plumment...which is just what has happened.

Realtors used to say how good the Newfane schools were. Now, we're a punchline.

Anonymous said...

I heard their elementary schools lost national accreditation and their gutting all their kindergarten classes. One board member even considered getting rid of Pre-K and Kingergarten. Gary Pier-whatever, the current superintendent, is the biggest joke in the local superintendent circles.

Angry said...

Did the school board president really eliminate the summer reading program? That is a disgrace...where is the State Education Department to step in and clean up this mess. We're talking about a bunch of morons ruining the futures of our children.

Panthers75 said...

Teachers hitting on students. Board members looking at porn. School adminstrators getting caught in the park at Ellicott Creek. One board member cancels the summer reading program; her nitwit best friend on the board's son gets busted with booze but mommy pulls ranks so he doesn't get kicked of the sports team; falling Biz First Rankings...yes, move to Newfane for our schools.

Anonymous said...

So what do you suggest, leave Newfane and move to North Tonawanda............NOT. In fact maybe King Vince can move to Newfane. Is there a single honest school district out there?

Anonymous said...

It's time to abolish local school boards. In Newfane, we had some really talented people over the years serve on the board. But Newfane Cares took over and it's been downhill ever since.

sick & tired said...

These type of extravagant lulus for top school administrators are all too common in WNY. This one just seems a bit too extravagant.

Some years ago one of the MSM did a survey of the contracts of school supers throughout WNY and many seemed extreme.

Not only do these expensive exec perks cost taxpayers, they also detract from the educational mission of public schools.

While it is popular to blame the teachers and their unions for what's wrong with public schools, the truth is that the blame starts in the administrators' ranks.

Take the idea of bad teachers. Bad teachers are a product of bad supervision and poor performance review.

In the case of new teachers, they are subjected to three years of probation before gaining tenure. Plenty of time for administrators to assess whether a teacher desrveds the secutrity of tenure. So we are forced to assume that if a teacher is granted tenure, then he or she must be competent, at least.

It is seldom that a good teacher becomes a poor teacher overnight. It takes time and as in any vocation, usually a slide over time.

But often principals just paper over reviews or ignore what they observe just because its easier than doing something about it.

When a situation finally gets so bad that decisive action is necessary, administrators will complain that its too expensive to get rid of a tenured teacher and place the blame on the unions for protecting poor teachers.

Then public and MSM media will join in the chorus of badmouthing the unions.

The truth is, if poor performance is documented over time, then letting a bad teacher go is not as daunting as it often proves to be when such prior acts are not documented. Without documentation, unions are right to fight dismissals.

Bottom line, if administrators are subject to more scrutiny by the MSM and held truly accountable for their subordinate's actions, then some of the horror stories abiout teachers we read about these days will certainly diminish in frequency.

And if they are held accountable for doing their jobs, it is less likely that they will reap enormous rewards for lording over declining schools.

Anonymous said...

If any of you had been at the school board meetings when the summer reading was discussed you would know the summer reading was not compliant with state education guide lines. The Board did not do away with the program, they modified it so as not to have a lawsuit over it. It had nothing to do with Board members children. Board member Laurie Kaufman led the charge on that issue, get your facts before you post.

cheesepuffs said...

Who cares if the Summer Reading Program doesn't line up with the standards?! The school district should encourage the students to read over the summer. That is absolutely ridiculous. This just goes to show you what a school board full of idiots can do to your kids.