NIAGARA FALLS – It looks like the school district’s “friends and family plan” is alive and well.
The wives of two School Board members got new jobs as secretaries in the district’s central office.
The hiring of Julia M. Destino, wife of board member Johnny G. Destino, and Diana M. Restaino, who’s married to board member Robert M. Restaino, got the board’s stamp of approval at the board’s first meeting of the new school year Tuesday night.
Both Julia Destino and Diana Restaino will begin with starting salaries of $33,920. Their appointments are provisional, meaning they will have to score near the top on the next civil service test to keep the job.
Johnny Destino acknowledged that the hires do “perpetuate the idea that it’s ‘friends and family’” in the Niagara Falls district.
“It’s a bad reflection for the state the city’s in that these jobs are all that’s out there,” Johnny Destino told The Buffalo News. “It doesn’t look good, and I know that.”
Many have long criticized the Niagara Falls School District for instances when relatives of people in high places in the district end up with jobs working for the district.
Among the critics are Johnny Destino, who has been outspoken in past cases of alleged nepotism.
In late 2010, he challenged the district’s appointment of Maria A. Massaro as head of human resources, a $120,000-a-year post. Massaro is the daughter of Angelo Massaro, the school district’s attorney.
Destino had said that Superintendent Cynthia A. Bianco acted beyond her powers and changed the job requirements, which allowed Massaro to be hired. At the time, Destino said the board would have enough votes to make the appointment, but he wanted to delay the vote on the appointment so “it would have been more transparent.”
Robert Restaino, a former city judge, did not return calls to comment.
The district had received 19 applications for two provisional secretary jobs and one temporary secretary job. Eleven candidates were interviewed by a committee, whose members include representatives of the administration and the union.
The committee rates those interviewed as “acceptable” or “non-acceptable,” and sends the list to Superintendent Bianco.
“It’s always been my position that I’m going to hire the most-qualified person,” Bianco said.
Bianco – who served as deputy superintendent under her brother, former Superintendent Carmen Granto, before taking over the district’s top job – described Julia Destino as “overqualified” for the job.
Bianco also praised Diana Restaino, who has been a substitute teacher in the district since 2002, saying she is “asked for by every single school in the district.”
Bianco said Niagara Falls is a small community where “everybody knows everybody.”
The superintendent called the hiring process “very open” and “transparent based on qualifications for the job.”
Newly elected board member Ronald J. Barstys, whose first meeting as a member was Tuesday, was the only board member on the nine-member panel who voted against approving the personnel report.
Barstys said he does not have an issue with any individuals who were hired but wants to change the process the district follows in terms of what information is provided to board members before they vote on personnel matters.
Barstys said he got the personnel information for Tuesday’s meeting delivered to his home Friday night at about 9:30.
“The appearance was it was stuck in at the last minute,” Barstys told The News.
Barstys said he reviewed the packet Sunday evening and immediately emailed district officials for more information about the candidates’ background.
Barstys said he was told “it’s not the district practice or procedure to distribute that information.”
The newly elected board member said “it’s about changing the culture” of the district.