Williamsville School District releases report on last fall's turbulent opening

Mar 24, 2021

An independently-prepared report blames a former superintendent, a broader school district culture, the pandemic and what it deems bad decision making for Williamsville Schools' rocky start to the school year. The suburban district's school board moved last night to make that report public.

The 42-page report was prepared by the Harris Beach law firm and involved the interview of more than 30 witnesses, the collection of sworn statements, as well as emails, texts and other information gathered over a six-month period.

Former Williamsville School Superintendent Dr. Scott Martzloff, shown here in August 2020. The Williamsville Central School District released a report late Tuesday examining actions leading up to the contentious opening of the 2020-21 school year.
Credit WBFO file photo

In the executive summary of the report, attorney Brendan Kelleher writes there is no single cause of last fall's troubled start, but continues: “A series of questionable decisions, the erosion of necessary working relationships, poor internal and external communications, an apparent fear of disappointing too many community members, a reliance on a legal opinion offered quickly at the Board’s request, and the District’s culture all combined to leave some students at home without school work as the 2020-21 school year began.

“The final misstep in a series of missteps was the belief by some that the District could offer every fully remote learner every class for which he/she had registered, taught by a Williamsville teacher –and that this Remote Academy for fully remote learners could essentially be built, staffed and be ready to operate just two weeks after its concept was introduced to the District community.”

The report suggests then superintendent Dr. Scott Martzloff did not focus much on reopening plans the previous spring, as the COVID pandemic was in full swing, and by the summer the district was put in a situation where it didn’t have enough time to meet certain state deadlines and hire enough teachers.

The report also recognizes an historic mistrust between administration and unions.

“This was a crisis that demanded credible leadership, advance planning, and collaboration,” said Kelleher in a written statement. “But for whatever reason – whether the battle scars from past disputes, a desire not to allow the union the opportunity to influence terms of the workplace, a reluctance to share information, or some other reason – Dr. Martzloff chose to go-it-alone in many respects here.”

Kelleher added in his written remarks that he has never met Dr. Martzloff, who was placed on leave in September. He resigned in November after reaching a settlement for an estimated $400,000. John McKenna has served as acting superintendent ever since.