Paul Casciano, Superintendent of Schools in the William Floyd School...

Paul Casciano, Superintendent of Schools in the William Floyd School District is shown in the district office at in Mastic Beach on Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Chuck Fadely

Paul Casciano, who became superintendent of the William Floyd school district eight years ago at one of the most tumultuous times in its 181-year history, is announcing plans to retire at the end of the school year.

"I love this community. It has the most generous, most genuine people," said Casciano, a 1970 graduate of William Floyd High School. "I was always happy, no matter what position I had here."

The longtime educator has more than 40 years in the district -- as a student, teacher, principal and its top official. The school board is expected to accept his retirement at Tuesday night's meeting.

When Casciano took over the district, the former superintendent had resigned with more than four years left on his contract, and four top school officials had pleaded guilty to malfeasance for stealing district money.

The system since has weathered a major loss of state aid, a 12-percent-plus tax increase and the introduction of a state-driven reform education agenda that initially proved extremely unpopular.

Looking toward his 62nd birthday next month, Casciano decided it was time to retire.

He had already extended his contract twice -- once in 2011 for two additional years because of the recession's effects, and again in 2012, for an additional year after the state Board of Regents issued a "reform agenda" that included implementation of more rigorous Common Core standards, tougher state tests and a new teacher evaluation system.

"I felt uncomfortable leaving the district at that time," he said. "It was a very challenging time, and some people were bailing at the time, and my instinct was to run in -- not run out."

The William Floyd district, with about 9,100 students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, is among Long Island's largest systems, spanning the South Shore communities of Mastic, Mastic Beach, Moriches and Shirley. More than half the student population qualifies for free or reduced lunch, and the graduation rate in June was 79 percent.

Graduation rate rose

Casciano said he considers the improvement in that rate one of his top accomplishments. Through programs and interventions for students who start in middle school, the graduation rate has jumped by nearly 20 percentage points since he was named interim superintendent in October 2006. He became the district's permanent leader five months later.

Casciano attended William Floyd High School in his junior and senior years, playing football and becoming a star on the baseball team. After receiving his bachelor's degree at Central Connecticut State University, he joined the district in 1974 as an elementary schoolteacher. He served 11 years as principal of Moriches Elementary School, which during his tenure won two federal Blue Ribbon School awards for academic achievement.

He went on to receive advanced degrees from Southampton College, then a part of LIU, and LIU Post before getting his doctoral degree in educational administration from New York University in 1993.

Casciano served as deputy superintendent under the former superintendent, Richard Hawkins, who resigned in October 2006 with 4 1/2 years remaining on his contract. That same year, four other school officials pleaded guilty to malfeasance, and a grand jury report described the district as a "veritable bastion of fraud." Hawkins was not charged with any wrongdoing.

As interim superintendent, Casciano created a citizens' budget advisory committee in an effort to rebuild public trust in the district's financial management. In 2011, a state comptroller's audit praised the tighter financial controls.

"He was the person we needed at that particular time," said Ron Gross, president of William Floyd United Teachers. "Although we have had our differences, we have always respected each other and have one goal in mind -- to make the entire school community a better place."

But a financial crisis was looming for the district as state aid continued to drop. In 2009, William Floyd teachers gave up $1 million in pay raises to save jobs. Faced with losing full-day kindergarten and sports programs, residents approved a 12.47 percent tax increase in May 2011 -- and still the district ended up eliminating 99 positions, including 48 teachers.

Raises linked to revenue

To promote fiscal stability in 2012, Casciano initiated a change when he volunteered for a plan that tied his own raise to revenue. Other administrators in the district, as well as teachers, now are under the same agreement.

"In education, particularly in New York State, districts were committing to long-term agreements without knowing what they were going to get" from residents' tax payments and state aid, Casciano said. "No business could stay in business that way."

He took a pay freeze for three years, through 2012. This year, his salary is $214,012, district officials confirmed.

"Paul has a nice way about him. His focus on his work throughout the district is quiet and steady," said Roberta Gerold, superintendent of Middle Country schools and president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. "He lives and breathes for William Floyd, his students and the community."

After retiring in June, Casciano said, he may teach administrative education at the college level, and he plans to spend more time with his four children.

While the rollout of the reform agenda has been problematic, he said he believes that now is the right time for him to leave the district.

"I know this is probably idealistic and naive," Casciano said, "but the less we can politicize kids' education, the better off we are going to be."

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