Crawford Calls For Vote to Rescind Seitz Contract After Governor Threatens to Withold State Aid
Seitz instructs board members not to comment because of ongoing litigation.
Parsippany school board member Robert Crawford said he would try for a fourth time to ask the board to consider rescinding the contract of district Superintendent LeRoy Seitz after Gov. Chris Christie threatened Friday to withold state funding from the district.
"This has introduced a new element into this issue that didn't exist before,'' Crawford said. "This is a responsibility borne by the whole board.''
Michael Drewniak, Christie's spokesman, confirmed that the governor made the comments Friday at a Trenton press conference.
"They're putting their state aid at risk," Christie was quoted as saying in a Star-Ledger story. "Let me make this very clear. I hope that [LeRoy] Seitz is important enough to them to put their state aid at risk because that's what they're doing."
According to the story, Christie added, "I'm just trying to make sure they comply with the law. You can't be defying the executive branch of government and then be coming to the executive branch of government and be asking for help."
Seitz's five-year contract, approved by the BOE in November, exceeds the state cap of $175,000 for administrators in districts the size of Parsippany. While Morris County Executive Superintendent Kathleen Serafino contends she never officially authorized the contract, the district has begun honoring Seitz's new contract.
Board member Andrew Choffo, who voted to approve the contract, said the governor should not punish the district and its students for the superintendent's contract.
"He is denying the children of Parsippany state funding over a matter that only involves a few thousand dollars,'' he said.
Board member Michael Strumolo, who has voted to oppose the contract, said Seitz e-mailed members earlier in the day asking them to refrain from discussing his contract since it's the subject of a lawsuit filed by the board against the state.
He read the e-mail aloud to Parsippany Patch: "This matter is in litigation and is considered a closed-session item,'' Seitz wrote, according to Strumolo. "If reporters should call you, asking for your response, it should be 'no comment.'"
Paul Trachtenberg, founding director of Institute on Education Law and Policy at Rutgers-Newark, said the governor doesn't have the legal authority to withold state funding.
"The state education code is four volumes,'' he said. "There's no reference to the governor having that power.''
He said it's "at least arguable'' that the Commissioner of Education could deny funding to districts that don't comply with state law.
"But there's almost no pretense of that here,'' Trachtenberg said. "The commissioner has certain powers and responsibilities to exercise authority, they don't just exist to sit at the governor's knee, taking orders.'
"He [Christie] seems to think that the role of the courts and commissioners is to rubber stamp whatever he feels is the right policy.''