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UPDATE: Hamilton superintendent says he doesn’t know why he was placed on leave

Published: Tuesday, February 06, 2018 @ 2:30 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 06, 2018 @ 3:22 PM
By: Michael Clark - Staff Writer

The leader of Hamilton Schools has been placed on leave by its school board, this news organization has learned.

Hamilton Schools Superintendent Tony Orr has been placed on paid administrative leave, effective immediately, as the five-member school board for the Butler County city is “investigating allegations that Orr may have violated board policies,” according to a statement released Tuesday by district officials.

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Larry Knapp, the school district’s business manager, is now serving as interim superintendent.

“These allegations were brought to our attention and we immediately placed Mr. Orr on leave, following our own policies and procedures, and began an independent investigation,” said Board of Education President Steve Isgro in the statement.

Orr released a statement by email on Tuesday afternoon:

“I am proud to serve as Superintendent of Hamilton City Schools, and I respect the investigative process that occurs when a complaint is brought forward. This is standard operating procedure. Although I am unaware of what the allegation is, I am confident that I will be exonerated at the conclusion of this investigation. I look forward to continuing the great things we are doing for children in Hamilton for many years to come.”

Isgro said Orr will remain on administrative leave until completion of the investigation and a final resolution of the matter.

The board and school district will not go into details while the investigation is active, Isgro said, but he emphasized that students are not involved.

“This is a personnel matter. We have to be sensitive to that and we must respect the privacy of those involved, but we do want to emphasize that this situation does not involve our students in any way,” Isgro said. “We don’t want to minimize the situation under investigation but we do want to provide some clarity.”

It’s not the first time Orr has been placed on leave as an Ohio school superintendent.

As former Northwestern Schools (Clark County) Superintendent, Orr was told not to report to work starting in late May 2015 until his contract ended in July and he left to lead Hamilton City Schools. No public allegations of misconduct were made against Orr. He and the board came to a transition agreement, Orr said at the time.

“The Northwestern Board of Education and I agreed to a transition agreement that allowed me to begin the process to work for Hamilton City Schools while Northwestern began its search for its superintendent,” Orr said in an email at that time.

He then declined further comment on Northwestern.

Orr replaced longtime Hamilton school leader Janet Baker, who ran the 10,000-student school system for more than two decades, in 2015.

His original contract was extended last year, to 2020, by the school board. One member, Tom Alf, voted against the contract.

In 2015, Alf joined the board in a unanimous vote. He declined to explain his no vote.

Orr’s annual salary is $156,818.

Orr’s tenure as the city’s school leader has been marked by both incremental success in some academic areas but also contentiousness with state education officials, whom he has criticized frequently for mandating too many student tests and then unfairly using those to compile misrepresenting annual report cards on the city schools.

Orr also has clashed with officials from area Catholic schools. In 2017, this news outlet was the first to report Orr sent out a letter to school families in the city that touted his district in comparison to “some non-public schools” while contending — though not directly naming — that Cincinnati Archdiocese Schools and other private learning institutions lack the resources and expertise of the city’s public schools.

The letter was part of a new promotional campaign by Hamilton Schools to solicit private school families into considering enrolling their children instead in the city’s public schools.

The letter elicited a sharp response by some private school families from the city’s Catholic Badin High School.

Isgro said “the school district is in capable, experienced hands with Knapp,” as interim superintendent.

Knapp has been with Hamilton City Schools for three years and has been a professional educator for 38 years, with 34 years in administration, including experience as a superintendent.

“One promise I can make is that, while we work through this, providing a comprehensive education for all of our students will remain our mission,” Knapp said. “We won’t lose that focus.”

This new organization will report more as information becomes available.