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School Board Meets Over Niskayuna Principal’s Moonlighting As Sports Agent

Composite Image by Dave Lucas (WAMC)

A special board meeting was held last night over the Niskayuna High School principal’s second job as a high-profile sports agent. The story has local residents wondering how he can do both.

Like many Americans, Principal John Rickert has held two jobs for many years, although his are slightly more unusual than most: one as an academic leader, the other as a professional sports agent.  Locals say the Niskayuna School District was aware of this and school board members would never address it, citing rules of privacy.

But privacy gave way to controversy when a Niskayuna resident published a novel whose central character is a principal who moonlights as a sports agent. Author Tom Swyers says Rickert emailed him over the summer, threatening legal action, prompting Swyers to write a blog post that argued college acceptance rates for students from Niskayuna High were on the decline, and expressing an opinion that — quoting here — "A principal should never be in the position of having to choose between the health, safety and welfare of the children he is charged with and the needs of such high-profile clients like professional athletes."

According to Rickert’s website, he has clients in the NFL, NBA and major league baseball.

Interim Schools Superintendent John Yagielski says the blog article prompted him to call Thursday night's special meeting.  "Our acceptance rates are more in the neighborhood of 71 percent, not the 49 percent that he had in there."   Yagielski adds talk about Rickert holding two jobs has been swirling for several years, but...  "That whole topic is a personnel matter. And normally you would only deal with that in an executive session, where the public is excluded. I chose to create a public setting, so essentially the meeting last night was the essence of an executive session, except that residents were allowed to observe that session and that session essentially started off by me first correcting the rates business and the secondly having our school attorney review the legal considerations associated with this. Pointing out that people do have the right to have a second job as long as that second job doesn't create an interference with the first job, then the district is not in any legal position to say 'No, you can't do that.'"

Some argue Rickert kicked a hornet's nest when he communicated with Swyers. Yagielski wouldn't comment on that aspect, but says the meeting ended on a positive note, with Rickert fielding questions from the board. Rickert told Time Warner Cable News:  "It's the first time we've taken a step like this and I willingly participated."

Yagielski says there is no evidence Rickert's two jobs conflict with one another, and concluded the 90-minute board meeting by inviting any residents or staff with any further questions to contact him within 30 days.   "I would then perhaps confer with the attorney as I review all this tuff. Eventually I'll put together a summary of anything and all things that have come into me, not revealing the names of the people who have submitted it. And share that with the board of education at a public board meeting and tghen post it on a website, no later than January."

Yagielski decalred whatever feedback he gets over the next 30 days, he'll deal with. Author and blogger Sywers declined to comment at this time.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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