SOMERS, N.Y. - Robert Sweeney, a veteran guidance counselor with extensive experience in college admissions, will fill in next year as the director of guidance in Somers schools, replacing Dr. Deborah Hardy.
A public school guidance counselor for three decades, Sweeney also served 14 years as a college director of admissions. In Somers, he will be the interim director of guidance until next July while the district seeks a permanent replacement for Hardy, who resigned last month but will remain on the payroll till year’s end.
Sweeney’s one-year appointment, at a salary of $121,000, was approved Monday at the school board’s annual reorganization meeting.
“He’ll be here only for this year,” Dr. Raymond Blanch, the school superintendent, told the board, which re-elected Sarena Meyer and Donna Rosenblum as president and vice president, respectively.
“Mr. Sweeney and his extensive counseling experience will serve students, faculty, and community well in our great district,” Blanch later told the parents of Somers students in an email blast. “He comes to us with the highest level of professionalism and a proven record of positively impacting the experiences of children and families.”
Sweeney will be taking over for Hardy, whose resignation and severance deal were approved two weeks earlier, at a Monday morning convening of the school board.
In a statement to this newspaper, Blanch took issue with the coverage of the June 27 Hardy developments, characterizing a June 30 story on her resignation as “misinformation.”
While no members of the press or public attended that June 27 meeting, held in a conference room rather than its usual venue in the Somers Middle School library, Blanch said he rejected any suggestions that school officials had deliberately sought in that meeting to act outside of public view. The special meeting was neither on the board’s published 2015-16 schedule nor displayed among the district website’s “Upcoming Events.”
“The meeting was not closed to the public,” Blanch said in his statement, and made these points to support that view:
• Notices of the meeting had been posted at the Somers’ post offices and town hall as well as the district website under the “BoardDocs” pull-down menu.
• Since the board was not sitting in its usual venue, an administrator was assigned to comb the corridors, searching for any members of the public who could not find the meeting place.
• An email, alerting the media and Somers PTA to the existence of the 7:30 a.m. Monday meeting, had been scheduled to go out late Friday morning. Blanch provided evidence, reviewed by this paper, that the last-minute notification was a glitch, and the email was intended to be sent at 11:45 a.m. Friday, June 24. “Unfortunately,” he said, that message got “caught in the district’s outbox” when the computers shut down for the weekend. It did not transmit until Monday morning, one minute prior to the scheduled start of the meeting.
Blanch said neither he nor members of the office staff were aware of the email issue until after the meeting had ended.
“If this fact would have come to my or any BOE member’s attention prior to the start of the meeting,” Blanch said, “the meeting would have been rescheduled.”
Blanch also rejected The Somers Record’s assertion that Hardy had been forced from her job or that work on her separation agreement had begun months before it was ever publicly disclosed.
The “primary focus” of the June 27 meeting, he said, was the hiring of two new assistant principals, Jennifer Spirelli at the middle school and Claire Comerford at the high school. Their appointments, at $132,000 annually, are probationary.
Hardy, the $160,000-a-year director of guidance, had been a member of the Somers Central School District family since 2009. Her rumored removal last winter was depicted as an economy move, but it triggered immediate and sustained protest by parents, students and others.
In online forums, petitions and meetings with school officials, the community expressed dismay at the prospect of losing the popular administrator and her contacts in college admissions offices nationwide. More than 100 community members turned out for the Jan. 19 board meeting to urge the board to find budget economies elsewhere.
In a reversal, district officials agreed only days later to retain the director of guidance position. But they would not discuss Hardy’s future status, describing that as a confidential personnel matter. Hardy, for her part, maintained that her plans were uncertain and that she was keeping her options open.
But in a one-sentence letter, dated June 23, Hardy asked Blanch to accept her “irrevocable resignation,” effective Dec. 31. The separation agreement, also dated June 23, makes clear the irreversible nature of Hardy’s resignation, which is described multiple times as “irrevocable.” It also forbids her ever to seek re-employment in the district or to sue school board members and administrators.
Despite such language, Blanch said it “is absolutely false” to suggest, as The Somers Record account did, that Hardy was fired and that her separation deal had been negotiated over a period of months.
“Statements such as ‘showed her the door’ are synonymous with being fired,” Blanch said, referring to language used in the Record’s report. “Clearly, this is not accurate, as the board accepted the resignation of Dr. Hardy at this [June 27] meeting.”
Blanch also said the Record’s assertion that Hardy’s “lucrative goodbye to the Somers Central School District, [was] apparently in the works for months” was incorrect. He wrote, “This statement is absolutely false. The timeline for this event was less than two weeks prior to the BOE meeting.”
He would not comment further on what led to Hardy’s resignation.
The district will continue to pay her $160,000 annual salary and benefits for the next six months, while the guidance counselor is “assigned to home.” She will also receive benefits for the balance of this year and paid-up health insurance, if needed, until the middle of next year.
Hardy’s interim replacement, a retiree from the Mamaroneck school system, will not require Somers to make either health insurance payments or contributions to the state retirement plan.
Sweeney left Mamaroneck in 2014 after 26 years in guidance, then spent last year as Harrison High School’s interim guidance coordinator. In 1986, he completed a 14-year run as director of admissions for Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry.
A one-time teacher, Sweeney is a graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor of arts in English and of Manhattan College, where he earned his master’s degree in guidance and counseling. He has twice been president of the Westchester Putnam Rockland Guidance Association.
In the district’s email to parents, Sweeney was quoted as saying his appointment is “a wonderful opportunity for me to work with the dedicated faculty, students and parents of Somers. I look forward to building relationships and identifying ways we can support our community further.”