Hannibal Names Backus Interim Superintendent, For Entire School Year

Hannibal’s Board of Education named the district’s next leader Wednesday.

He’s Edmund P. “Pete” Backus of Pulaski, a retired former Superintendent of Schools who has held short-term stints in the Mexico school district.

Backus will serve for an entire year, beginning in July.  He will earn $600 a day, or approximately $140,000, based on a 240-day work year.

Backus’s nomination was approved unanimously by the Board of Education without comment and with current Superintendent Mike DiFabio sitting at the board table.  The board voted against a contract extension for DiFabio last year.  He had hoped to serve two more years to complete some major projects.

“We liked him,” Board of Education President Matt Henderson said of Backus after the meeting. “We felt like we could get an experienced person to deal with the some of the situations here.”

And there are “situations” to deal with:

  • Backus will have to deal with a rapidly declining financial situation caused by a combination of disproportionately harsh state aid cuts to poor, rural schools and the recession.  He will have to prepare the 2012-13 school budget, which has a built-in deficit;
  • He will also have to be part of negotiating new contracts for all six of the district’s bargaining units;
  • He will have to lead the implementation of the new teacher and principal performance assessments required in a new federal grant funding program;
  • There is also the ongoing school renovation project and the challenge of meeting increasing state standards against declining revenues and shrinking staff numbers.

Interim administrators do not often serve full year terms.  They are often hired to fill a gap while the board hires a new administrator, or to cover a health-related long-term absence.

Henderson said the board felt that it wanted an experienced hand to get through the next year, knowing that “the permanent (superintendent) would probably be someone of lesser experience.

“We felt like a more experienced person could set us on a good path.”

Backus was not at the meeting.  Reached at his home afterwards, Backus said he felt his outsider and short-term status could be helpful.

“I’m a neutral person coming in, trying to help bring people together to find common ground,” he said.  “I have to believe there’s some common ground there somewhere.”

Backus served as interim principal in two Mexico schools in 2008 and 2009.

He began his career as a math teacher in APW’s high school from 1971 – 1980 after obtaining his teaching certification from SUNY Oswego.

Backus got both his Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree from St. Lawrence University in Canton.

He then served as a building principal in the Fillmore and Skaneateles school districts, earning his superintendency in the Hamilton Central School District.  He retired from Hamilton in 2006 after 15 years.

Since then, he has lived in what used to be his family’s vacation home along Lake Ontario near Port Ontario, serving the temporary terms in Mexico and working with the state School Boards Association and the state Council of School Superintendents, he said.

Backus said his familiarity with Oswego County helped him to feel comfortable taking a lead role in Hannibal.

“Everybody’s got budget challenges,” he said. “I just want to move forward.”