Board of Education Rescinds Seitz Contract; Must Wait to See if Superintendent Will Sue
BOE was threatened with the loss of state aid for schools and ethics charges if it did not comply with the state's order.
The ball is now in the superintendent's court.
The Parsippany Board of Education, under threat from Executive County Superintendent Kathleen Serafino, voided the contract of Superintendent LeRoy Seitz by a vote of 6-3 at a special session Tuesday night.
Seitz was also offered a new contract that would cover a 4 1/2 year term and comply with Gov. Chris Christie's mandated superintendent salary cap.
It will be up to Seitz to decide whether he will accept the new pact or take some other action, such as suing the school district.
The salary cap has been at the core of the dispute between the board and the state since last year.
Last November, the board and Seitz agreed to a contract that would raise his pay from $212,000 to $216,000 and to $234,000 by 2015. The Christie administration fought the agreement because the salary figures violated the cap, which would allow a maximum of $175,000 (plus a potential merit bonus) for any superintendent managing a district the size of Parsippany's.
The executive county superintendent ultimately refused to approve Parsippany's 2011-12 school budget until the board changed the contract. To win budget approval, the body opted to put the difference between the capped amount and the contracted figure in a special account.
Then, the board, then led by Anthony Mancuso, filed suit against the state, claiming that it did not have the authority to tell boards of education how much it could pay their superintendents.
A State Appellate Court dismissed the case last month, saying that all administrative remedies had not been exhausted.
On July 1, Serafino sent a letter to the board indicating that the contract struck in November was invalid and illegal. If the pact was not rescinded by July 8 (that deadline later was extended to July 22), the Parsippany board faced a host of consequences including the loss of state aid for schools--about $3.5 million--and ethics charges. The letter even threatened Seitz with losing his certification.
Another danger for the board emerged: The superintendent was prepared to defend himself. Board leaders were informed that Seitz and his attorney, Andrew Babiak of Trenton, maintained that if the November contract was null and void, the previous one, which Serafino said had expired June 30, automatatically renewed for a five-year period and at a cap-busting salary rate of $212,000.
Seitz and his lawyer made it clear that they were prepared to file suit if the board went along with Serafino's demand, a move they found illegal.
The superintendent also maintained that Serafino's threat against him--the possible loss of his certification--was unfair because he was not a party to the board's unsuccessful lawsuit against the state.
With the looming threats in mind, the board members spent about two hours behind closed doors Tuesday night to discuss the contract situation.
When they finally emerged, Board Attorney Mark Tabakin read from a drafted resolution.
"Reduction of state aid is not in the best interests of the students as it will cause a reduction in services and programs offered by the district," Tabakin read. "The threat of punitive litigation by both the state and Dr. Seitz [emphasis his] will result in the spending of taxpayers' monies.
"The board has no choice but to comply with the July 1, 2011 order of the Morris County executive county superintendent," he continued, announcing that the contract between the Parsippany-Troy Hills Board of Education and Seitz was rendered void.
The resolution included a statement noting the board's disagreement with Serafino's conclusions regarding the contract's invalidity.
A vote was taken. Six voted in favor of rescinding the contract and offering Seitz a new pact; Anthony Mancuso, Frank Neglia and Deborah Orme voted against it.
Co-Vice President Susy Golderer was among the ones who voted to void the contract, and added that she, in contrast to the resolution, did not disagree with Serafino's conclusions.
President Frank Calabria voted yes, but not before stating his support for "one of the finest superintendents I have ever known." He said he voted yes to avoid further litigation.
Member Sharif Shamsudin agreed.
"We had to comply with what the state ordered. There was no way I would risk taking state aid from the children of this town," he said. "Our attorney recommended a resolution and I had to go with his advice. Now we have to wait and see what action Dr. Seitz willl take.
"The people of Parsippany wanted [an end to the contract] and now they got what they want," Shamsudin added.
For his part, Seitz told Patch he is considering a list of options and will announce his decision at a forthcoming press conference.
Former Board of Education member Robert Crawford tried to have the Seitz contract rescinded four times without success. He applauded the board's Tuesday night vote.
"The lesson taught is that common sense can and will triumph over greed and arrogance," Crawford said. "Deomocratic processes, under the leadership of Dr. Frank Calabria, returned to the Parsippany-Troy Hills Board of Education. This has been a very good night for Parsippany and bodes well for the District's future."
Mancuso was board president when the now-rescinded contract was agreed upon. His view is markedly different from Crawford's.
"It is my belief that the Parsippany Board of Education had been and are in compliance with the laws of the State of New Jersey when we settled the superintendent's contract last November. It is also my belief that we had both written and verbal approval of that contract from the County Superintendents office prior to our Board voting on it," he said.
Mancuso said he believed the Parsippany school district and Seitz have been unfairly targeted by the state.
"When state government uses threats of withholding school funds to force districts to comply with laws that did not exist when the contract was signed, we lose one of the most basic fundamental rights that towns and boards of education have lived by, Home Rule," he maintained.
"I believe the Parsippany Board of Education has lost more than it may have gained with this vote."