Port Jefferson School District searches for new superintendent

Port Jefferson School District searches for new superintendent

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Port Jefferson Superintendent Paul Casciano addresses the Class of 2018 during graduation June 22. File photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson School District has a lot on its plate, and whoever ends up sitting in the captain’s chair is going to need a strong character to deal with it all.

In August Paul Casciano, the district’s current superintendent, announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year. By July 1, 2019, a new superintendent will have to fill the position.

“The most important decision a school board makes is who they hire as a superintendent, because that’s basically your CEO,” Casciano said. 

While the board still has to interview candidates in January and February of next year, come May 2019, board President Kathleen Brennan said she expects the board will make its final choice.

“Different people interact with the superintendent differently.”

—Kathleen Brennan

In the meantime, the Port Jefferson school board is looking for community feedback on what they would most like from a superintendent. Working with Eastern Suffolk BOCES, the board released an online survey to community members asking them to judge what best qualities they wanted from the head of their school district. Some of the questions ask residents to rate how important a prospective superintendent’s knowledge of finance and business is or how important is their background in education.

While a superhuman superintendent would exhibit five stars in all these qualities, Brennan said the questions are there to gauge how important one quality is compared to another. She added people who work in education might place a greater emphasis on the new superintendent’s educational knowledge versus a local business owner placing more significance on the financial health of the district.

“Different people interact with the superintendent differently,” Brennan said.

A superintendent makes the day-to-day decisions for the entire school district, often trying to keep to the vision of the school board, including spending, staffing, facilities and school programs. 

However, the next superintendent of Port Jeff will have to find ways to handle the situation involving the local National Grid-owned power plant. LIPA has alleged the plants in both Port Jefferson and Northport have been overassessed in its payment of millions of dollars in annual property taxes, though Dec. 14 the Town of Brookhaven announced it had reached a settlement with LIPA, promising to reduce the Port Jeff plant’s assessments by around 50 percent over nine years.

The fallout of whatever ends up happening with LIPA has the possibility of directly impacting residents property taxes as well as school funding. Casciano said it will be important in the future to make sure the fallout of LIPA does not fall too much on either the district’s head or on residents.

“The next superintendent is going to need to take a balanced approach,” Casciano said. “We don’t just represent the residents who have children, it affects their taxes and we’re cognizant of that. … On the other hand, our core mission is teaching and learning — our real clients are children — we can’t turn our back on that and call ourselves educators.”

The Port Jeff school district is of much smaller size compared to neighboring districts, though the current superintendent said they enjoy small class sizes and specialized programs. Should a final LIPA decision impact the district negatively, the next superintendent would have to make hard choices on which specialized education programs to prioritize if the economic situation gets any more complicated.

Based on that looming potential crisis, Casciano said a new superintendent is going to need a strong backbone.

“No matter which way you go, you never satisfy everyone with a decision,” he said. “When it comes to schools which has taxes and kids involved with it, there is a lot greater passion attached to those voices.”

“No matter which way you go, you never satisfy everyone with a decision.”

—Paul Casciano

Brennan said she expects the incoming superintendent should use the current district administration, which has been cultivated to provide a good support structure to whoever steps into the position.

“We’re not overstaffed administratively, by any means,” the board president said. 

Casciano said while he expects a new superintendent to bring their own ideas and creative solutions to problems, he doesn’t expect them to overhaul on current staff.

“It’s a successful school district, and to come in and think there’s major changes to be made says you don’t really know the district,” he said.

The school board will be hosting a public meeting Jan 3. with Julie Davis Lutz, COO of Eastern Suffolk BOCES, to allow residents to express their thoughts on the necessary skills for the next superintendent. The meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium.