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Lewiston's Polka Unqualified for Board of Regents Post Dire financial rating of Lew Port placed at his doorstep

By Ed Lilly

Ed Lilly
Dr. Walter Polka explains his views before the Board of Regents.

Former Lewiston-Porter Superintendent Walter Polka was interviewed recently in Albany for a coveted position on the New York State Board of Regents. The interview was recorded and is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEw_JoDBCY4.

Not surprisingly, Polka did not mention his tumultuous tenure as Lew-Port school superintendent or his controversial resignation. Neither would have served his bid for appointment to the Board of Regents.

After all, it was Polka and his willing school board accomplices who approved the back room wheeling and dealing that led to Lew-Port's inevitable financial crisis.

Last month, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a report monitoring the "fiscal stress" of the state's 674 school districts. Lewiston-Porter ranked second to last in the entire state, and was one of only twelve districts to be classified as facing "significant" fiscal stress, which is the worst designation a school district can receive.

How can something like this happen in an affluent community like Lewiston Porter? The answer has much to do with people like Walt Polka, an expert at exploiting the education profession for personal and financial gain. It is perhaps fitting that Polka began his rise to prominence at Lew-Port, which is arguably the most controversial and wasteful district in the entire state.

Polka was hired as superintendent at Lew-Port to replace the unlawfully-removed former superintendent, Gail Stephens. Stephens incurred the full wrath of the Lewiston-Porter United Teachers (LPUT) and others, when she attempted to hold employees accountable.

When Gail Stephens refused to acquiesce to the power structure, the union "recruited and endorsed" several candidates who were subsequently elected to seats on the Board of Education. LPUT's specific purpose was to retaliate against Stephens, which it unceremoniously did. Stephens was voted out, but successfully sued the School Board for violating her rights.

It soon became obvious that Polka had no intention to reduce spending. He quickly developed a quid-pro-quo arrangement with the greedy power-mongers and their puppets on the Board of Education. Polka quietly hid hundreds of thousands of dollars in budget line items, and then later he and board members passed the money along to teachers in the form of "bonuses". Polka and the board also allowed for the exploitation of "unlimited paid sick time," to the point where some employees had taken years worth of extra paid time off, leaving the students with a revolving door of substitute teachers. Retired teachers who supported Polka were hired as "consultants" with vague titles and no job description for as much as $18,000 per year. In return, the teacher union's lackeys on the school board "negotiated" bonuses and various financial provisions in Polka's contract allowing him to cash-in unused sick days in excess of $200,000.

Polka would soon prove a master at this type of wasteful spending in the name of "education".

During my first term as member of Lew-Port's Board of Education, I clashed with Polka repeatedly while attempting to alert the public to his true intentions. His response was not one befitting a superintendent of schools and after one particularly ugly confrontation, I was forced to file a formal complaint with local police. The reason? Polka was so irate that I'd voted against a proposed bonus for him, his verbal assaults escalated to the point where he physically accosting me while others looked the other way in disbelief. Still others advised me that I should have "just given him his money."

Before long I wasn't the only one critical of Polka's methods. Another of his many critics, Angus DeSantis, developed a legendary feud with Polka in the pages of local newspapers. In his weekly "Superintendent's Perspective" (March 4, 2001), Polka devoted his entire column to answering serious ethics charges leveled by DeSantis. Polka was so aggravated by DeSantis that he admittedly "made several attempts to contact DeSantis at his Buffalo telephone number and via his Lewiston contacts..." One would think a superintendent of schools has better and more dignified things to do than hunt down his detractors.

Another community member, Robert Slydell, accused Polka of recruiting members of the Lewiston Kiwanis club to intimidate "naysayers" at school board meetings. And Dan Grimmond's scathing letters in the Niagara Falls Reporter (2002) were perhaps the final straw that led to Polka's resignation from the district with an ominous ethics cloud hanging over his head.

And yet it is Walt Polka who, after leaving Lewiston-Porter in disgrace, felt compelled to write a book called, "The Dark Side of Educational Leadership: Superintendents and the Professional Victims Syndrome." In it, he describes the "professional victims syndrome" as "the condition confronted by many educational leaders, especially superintendents of schools, who are subjected to a career crisis in which their professional reputation may be tarnished and they have the ultimate challenge to survive as both a leader and a person." What a crock!

Polka's book is an anecdotal and anonymous collection of alleged horror stories told by nameless superintendents who have endured the "professional victims syndrome." In the preface, Polka informs us that "the names of the superintendents and the communities they served have been changed to protect the sensitive nature of what we were told." In other words, absolutely nothing can be substantiated or verified as having actually happened, making his 200-page "poor-me story" laughable. Noticeably absent from its pages is the repugnant treatment by Lew-Port cult members of his predecessor, Gail Stephens.

Polka is presently employed as a tenured professor at Niagara University while collecting a $144,595 per year annual pension from New York State taxpayers. How many of us would welcome the opportunity to be "victimized" in this manner?

Hopefully the New York State Board of Regents will recognize the financial problems from the past that have come home to roost. After all, it was Polka and others who introduced the Lewiston-Porter Central School District to the fine art of the "slush fund creation," in which tax dollars intended for our schools are siphoned off, given over to an outside investor, eventually finding their way into the pockets of the Lew-Port elite. If residents of Lewiston-Porter are curious as to how the district arrived at this precarious financial stress situation, they need only recall the $4 million health trust (slush fund) hoarded by the LPUT, the hundreds of thousands of dollars squandered on "bonuses" for Polka and others, the exorbitant salaries and pensions of union members and the reprehensible betrayal of the students these people have pledged to serve.

The current desperate situation is not a recent development but rather a result of the "anything goes" spending habits of the last 20 years that I frequently reported to the public, to no avail, other than being falsely criticized as "anti-education." Perhaps the public will now realize how the self-serving actions of past educational leaders like Polka have reduced a once-proud and respected school district to its dire financial situation, and created an atmosphere ripe for teachers who sexually abuse and bully students, snort cocaine in class, make death threats against school board members and look the other way while their profession is decimated by opportunistic con artists. All of this has taken place, we've been told, for the sake of the children.

(Ed Lilly is the proud father of two Lew- Port graduates, former Lew-Port School Board Member, concerned patriotic citizen.)

 

 

Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 18, 2014