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Utica School Board vows to defend members, acting superintendent

Mike Jaquays
Staff writer
Posted 12/15/22

After being served official notification of pending legal action against four of its members and the district’s acting superintendent, the Utica School Board responded with actions of their own.

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Utica School Board vows to defend members, acting superintendent


UTICA — After being served official notification of pending legal action against four of its members and the district’s acting superintendent, the Utica School Board voted Tuesday to respond with actions of their own.

Board President Joseph Hobika Jr., Vice President Danielle Padula, Tennille Knoop and James Paul, and Acting Superintendent Brian Nolan were served the papers Tuesday right before the board’s regular monthly meeting started at the Kernan Elementary School.

The notice came from attorneys representing district Superintendent Bruce Karam, who was placed on paid administrative leave Oct. 18 in a 4-2 vote by the Board of Education in a special meeting.

The four named board members were the four aye votes in approving that leave, which was stipulated to continue pending an unspecified investigation.

The board passed several resolutions in response to Karam’s legal action at Tuesday’s meeting. Each resolution was approved a 4-3 vote, with the same four members who had just been served voting in favor and board members Robert Cardillo, Donald Dawes and David Testa voting against each one.

Karam’s petition claims the decision to place him on leave was done in violation of open meeting law and that the terms of his contract have been violated in not giving him sufficient advance notice of any concerns against him prior to the vote.

Hobika expanded Tuesday on exactly why Karam was placed on leave.

“Two high level administrators who were directly supervised by Mr. Karam filed complaints against Mr. Karam for alleged misconduct,” Hobika said.

Those complaints were presented to Karam and a consultant was hired to investigate them, Hobika continued.

“The majority of the board concluded that placing Mr. Karam on administrative leave pending the completion of the investigation was in the best interests of the district and Mr. Karam,” he explained. “Placing Mr. Karam on paid leave was to protect the integrity of the investigation and to reduce the likelihood of claims of retaliation by the complainants or interference with the witnesses involved in the investigation.”

Although that investigation has been ongoing, the investigator reported experiencing difficulty arranging an actual interview with Karam himself, Hobika said. To date, that interview has not taken place.

Meanwhile, the Board of Education has not made any charges against Karam, Hobika stressed.

“The majority of the board believes it has conducted itself in a reasonable and lawful manner following the receipt of complaints against Mr. Karam and encourages members of the public to avoid rushing to judgement based on mere allegations in the petition papers filed by Mr. Karam,” Hobika said.

The board voted 4-3 Tuesday on three resolutions to ratify their actions of Oct. 18, including the leave for an unnamed employee, the appointment of Nolan, and the hiring of a special counsel.

A fourth resolution approved by the same 4-3 vote promised the board would defend and indemnify the four board members and the acting superintendent named in the litigation and authorize their defense counsel to assert any and all defense and counterclaims necessary.

Paul then offered a pair of resolutions as well, both approved by the same 4-3 vote. The first called for the continuation of the services of the consultant in the midst of the investigation of an unnamed employee.

The second ordered that any employee — subject to the constraints of any existing collective bargaining agreement — show up at the district office at any time and date that had been ordered by Nolan. The motion took effect immediately, Hobika announced.

During the vote on the initial four resolutions, Dawes questioned why that special counsel was needed when the district already had two, calling the expenditure “crazy.”

Paul countered that comment with a cost-saving suggestion of his own.

“If we are concerned with money I think we should have Mr. Karam talk to the investigator and get this done,” Paul said.


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