New York State School Boards Association

Without waivers, talent pool would be smaller

On Board Online • Albany Update • June 9, 2008

By Brian M. Butry
Communications Coordinator

Who are some of the retirees under 65 serving school districts under waivers granted by the commissioner of education? What do they contribute to public education? Here are profiles of two of interim employees who, with permission of the commissioner, receive both paychecks and retirement checks. 

During administrator’s maternity leave, Johnson minds Mohonasen’s store

When Michael Johnson retired as superintendent of the Averill Park school district in Rensselaer County two years ago, he was asked by administrators at Schenectady County’s Mohonasen school district if he would serve as a consultant on special projects. They wanted to put his 20-plus years of administrative experience to good use.

When the school district’s assistant superintendent decided to take a one-year maternity leave, Johnson was the obvious choice. While it can be difficult and time-consuming to fill any administrative position, Mohonasen officials knew it would be particularly difficult to find someone willing to take a job for just one year. But Johnson was willing to be an interim administrator. Even better, he didn’t need any on-the-job training.

“From day one, I knew the job. There was no way a new person could do that,” Johnson, 57, told On Board. “I know the value I’ve brought to this role.”

The state needs to preserve the waiver process so that districts are able to bring in skilled interim administrators, he said. “Who was going to come into the district for this administrative position for a year?” asked Johnson.

Even permanent openings can be difficult to fill. “There is a current need for schools to be able to hire retirees when there aren’t enough candidates to fill the positions,” Johnson said. “You can’t get qualified candidates to fill some of these roles.”

The shallowness of the candidate pool is the subject of dark humor among educators, according to Johnson. “I spoke to someone recently about the pool of candidates available to schools and they told me, ‘If someone jumped in the middle of the pool, no one else would get wet.’” 

With Knaack, no compromises on school safety in Greece

As supervisor of district security, safety and environmental health for the Greece school district, Edward Knaack Jr. is responsible for the well-being of some 13,000 students and 3,000 employees.

One of the criteria that the commissioner uses in granting waivers is whether the candidate is uniquely qualified for the opening. Knaack has an impressive resume; he served as a police officer in Rochester for 28 years and retired at the rank of captain. He holds three college degrees and is a graduate of the FBI’s National Academy.

Knaack said schools need to be able to attract experienced people from law enforcement for safety positions, and waivers accommodate that. It is typical for police officials to retire young, which creates a pool of qualified people to supervise school safety in large districts like Greece.

“There really isn’t an entry-level for this position,” he said. “There is no stepping stone … You’re not going to find someone with a career in education or private security with this kind of experience.”

Knaack, 56, also supports waivers while wearing another hat as a board member of Monroe 1 BOCES. He said waivers can be a cost-effective option for school districts.

He used himself as an example. “Budget-wise, I’m an attractive option for schools and the community,” Knaack said. “Because of my pension, there are no further retirement costs and no further medical benefits. With the spiraling cost of benefits, how attractive is that for schools?”

He added, “It’s a cost savings. I’m certainly not defrauding the state.”

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