July 31, 2008

Guilderland Principal Put on Leave: School Officials Won’t Say Why Action Was Taken Against Michael Paolino

By Scott Waldman, Albany Times Union, N.Y.

Jul. 31--GUILDERLAND -- Guilderland High School principal Michael Paolino has been put on administrative leave at the same time that teachers allege he made racist and homophobic comments about staff members.

Paolino's paid leave began Monday as school officials investigate teachers' complaints.

Teachers said Paolino allegedly told a staff member that he would send two African-American students "back to Albany" after he spotted them horsing around in the school's foyer. Additionally, teachers claim, Paolino told a group of white teachers that they were "the wrong color" to date a female administrator in another school district.

School board member Colleen O'Connell confirmed Paolino was on paid administrative leave. She said the district was "in the middle of an investigation" of allegations against Paolino and declined further comment.

The Times Union could not confirm whether the investigation is related to the teachers' complaints. District officials and Paolino did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Paolino, whose salary is $110,000, became principal in October. He was hired by former Superintendent Gregory Aidala. He was previously an associate principal and business teacher at Voorheesville High School. He is the son of John Paolino, the city of Schenectady's commissioner of finance and administration.

During an end-of-year staff breakfast, Paolino jokingly said, "Don't drop the soap" in reference to a group of teachers performing a song as a barbershop quartet, according to teachers who attended the event. They said he later apologized.

On the same day as the breakfast, Paolino notified two high school social studies teachers that they were being transferred to Farnsworth Middle School in the wake of a "culture climate inquiry" that found their department had a "locker room" atmosphere where caustic jokes and sexual comments among staff members was permitted. Both teachers, Ann-Marie McManus and Matt Nelligan, have denied any wrongdoing and vowed to fight their reassignment in court.

Superintendent John McGuire's decision to transfer them has split the community in recent weeks. Hundreds of students showed up at school board meetings in protest and circulated a petition on the Internet calling for McGuire's resignation. Others have argued that the transfers were justified.

There is an aggressive anti-bullying program in the largely white school district, which has a history of problems with racial slurs. Last year, a black student's lawsuit accusing the district of bias was dismissed, but the judge said racial slurs were regularly uttered in the halls and on school buses.

The district investigated a rash of anti-Semitic and racist graffiti in 2006. Administrators formed a diversity committee and students have participated in courses offered by the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition Building Institute, which seeks to eliminate prejudice.

Raisi Mobele, who graduated from the high school last month, said the district works hard to promote tolerance. Mobele, who was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and served as president of the Guilderland Students and Teachers Against Racism club, led workshops on diversity. He said he had worked with staff members after they had used the word "gay" in a derogatory sense, but that the faculty and students were conscious of fostering an open, accepting school environment.

"There's always going to be a few kids who are going to say something out of ignorance," Mobele said. Waldman can be reached at 454-5080 or by e-mail at [email protected]


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