Bruce Karam will serve as superintendent of the Utica schools for at least another five years. But not everyone is happy about the decision.
The board extended his contract, on which three years remained, by two years by a unanimous vote last month. Like his existing contract, the extension includes a 3 percent annual pay increase. Karam’s current annual salary is $212,637.
With the extension, the board did increase the number of unused sick days Karam can accumulate from 400 to 500, although Karam said he has more than 300, but well under 400 days. When he retires or leaves his job, Karam will be able to sell those days back to the district, but for far less than his daily salary.
School board President Louis LaPolla said he thinks the extension, which Karam requested, is fair given how well Karam has done with the district budget and his efforts to avoid tax increases. He also said Karam has met the goals and objectives set when he was hired as superintendent in 2011, has created a safe and secure work environment; monitors programs effectively; and keeps the board and public well informed.
“I think he has met the various challenges in challenging times for the school system,” he said. “It was a good extension and the board unanimously supported it. I think the superintendent is the superintendent Utica needs for the next few years.”
Karam expressed his appreciation for the opportunity he’s been given to serve Utica students.
“I have spent my entire career of nearly thirty years in the Utica City School District as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, director of secondary education and superintendent of schools,” Karam said in an emailed statement. “I find it very rewarding to work with our teachers and students in the city where I grew up and received my education. I look forward to continuing my service in the years to come.”
Members of the community group Citizen Action of New York weren’t so thrilled with the development.
“We have some serious questions regarding his performance as superintendent, but in this case, our biggest concern is, once again, the school board’s lack of transparency and failure to engage community stakeholders in making this important decision,” said Kristina Andreotta, lead organizer for Central New York, who attended the meeting. “It’s clear evidence of an ongoing pattern of disregard for the broader Utica community.”
Andreotta said the extension was approved without any public comment, discussion or explanation of the details of the contract either orally or in documents provided to attendees.
But the school board handled the issue in keeping with both state open meeting laws and with its own established meeting procedures, said board attorney Donald Gerace. The extension was part of the superintendent’s report and sections of the report on which board member don’t have questions or comments, always pass without discussion, he said.
The board routinely votes on items without discussion if all members are in agreement, Gerace pointed out.
“There’s no need to have a discussion about the extension,” he said.
The district is happy to answer questions about the extension and already has supplied a copy of the contract in response to a FOIL request from a member of the public, he said.
Board member Anthony LaPolla said the extension made sense. “He’s done very well up to this point and he’s looking for an extension to carry out some of the processes that he wants to accomplish,” he said.
Karam’s original five-year contract signed in 2011 was extended in 2013 to run until 2018 and was then extended in 2017 through 2022.
There were two years, several years ago, when the district was going through fiscally difficult times and laying off teachers when Karam voluntarily gave up his annual pay increase.
Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth)