Superintendent's Bid to Delay Resignation Rejected by School Board
Tie vote kills measure some members said would have helped BOE deal with upcoming vacancies.
The retirement date for departing Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz will remain May 15.
At the end of its five-hour meeting last week, the Parsippany Board of Education took up the issue of Seitz's request to move his resignation date from May 15 to June 1, a matter that had been tabled at its Feb. 26 meeting. A tie vote killed the measure.
On Feb. 26, the superintendent said the reason for his request was that he realized after submitting his resignation letter that according to state regulations, employees must exit on the first day of a month and that he must use, rather than be paid in cash for, unused vacation time.
Board member Michael Strumolo moved that the item be tabled. President Susy Golderer agreed, saying members needed time to assess the request and noted that Seitz announced his resignation after an executive session following the Feb. 12 meeting, when Golderer was not present and most residents had departed the building.
Board attorney Mark Tabakin told the members that tabling the matter, which appeared to involve the superintendent's ability to collect his pension and health benefits, would be "prudent."
When the board ended its private post-meeting session Thursday, in which the tabled item emerged as promised and a discussion took place, Golderer called for a vote.
Frank Calabria, Anthony Mancuso and Fran Orthwein voted in favor of delaying Seitz's resignation date to June 1. Strumolo, Vice President Sharif Shamsudin, James Carifi and Anthony DeIntinis voted to reject the superintendent's request. (Member Gary Martin, who attended most of the BOE meeting, did not return after the executive session and was not present to cast a vote.)
Mancuso said he didn't understand why four of his fellow members would oppose the superintendent's request.
"The board previously asked Dr. Seitz to have some overlap with the interim," he said. "These two weeks would have been critical in that area."
Even without the pressure the board may face in getting an interim replacement on board, Mancuso said he still would support giving Seitz the time he requested.
"I am of the opinion that Dr. Seitz has been an outstanding employee for us and found his request to be reasonable," he said. "Because Dr. Seitz will be using his vacation time between [the end of April] and May 15th, and that we will also be without a business administrator during this period, it seems to me that the board missed an opportunity to provide the interim superintendent with needed information about our district at no additional cost to us.
"That is, if the board can identify and vote on a qualified candidate that can start between now and May 15th."
Member Fran Orthwein agreed.
"I felt a vote in favor of the extension would only benefit the district by giving Dr. Seitz additional time to put things in order for a successor and saw no detriment to him remaining in our employ for an additional two weeks," she said. "It was a decision I made [in] the best interests of the children in our schools.
"I cannot speculate on what reasoning others may have for an opposing vote. It saddens and upsets me to even think about it."
Member James Carifi said his no vote was informed by the impression that Seitz's request would mean an additional cost to the district.
"I was hoping that he would clarify why he specifically (not just 'pension reasons') needs the additional two weeks, but that did not occur," he said, adding that he holds no ill will toward Seitz and would not want to subject the superintendent's family to any difficulty with his pension or benefits. "If it is not the case that there would be a financial impact on our district for the additional two weeks, I would be more than happy to revisit his request."
Vice President Shamsudin said he voted no of his own accord, and that he is not a member of any faction.
"My vote had nothing at all to do with my colleagues; I vote the way I see fit," he said. "I was told that he miscalculated his pension and that was no reason for me to change the date. If [Seitz] knew he wanted to [exhaust vacation] time before he retired he should have told us upfront."
Calabria, Strumolo and DeIntinis did not respond to Patch's request for comment.
"He has health care benefits through his wife, meaning he is not on our plan," said Mancuso. "So [the two weeks] would not cost us anything."
Seven of the board members cast votes: Four opposed and three in favor.
President Golderer, seeing the 4-3 vote, pondered her vote aloud and turned to the board's lawyer. Tabakin said that the motion required five yes votes and, thus, could not carry.
"Then my vote won't make a difference," she said.
"Unless you want to send a message to the superintendent," Tabakin replied.
Asked on Saturday what that message was, the lawyer said he did not recall making that statement. Mancuso and Orthwein both attest to hearing him say it.
In the end, Golderer voted yes to make a 4-4 tie and announced the motion's failure.
During the Thursday executive session, the board had a visitor: William Labrera, a former New Jersey education commissioner and school superintendent who now is a representative for educational search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Rosemont, Ill.
The board cast another vote after its meeting, approving $18,000 for a request for proposals to hire a firm to help them find interim and/or permanent replacements for its soon to be vacant administrators' positions.
Shamsudin noted that Labrera's firm was not hired and that the HYA employee's purpose was "to educate us on how to perform a proper search."
"He is a wise man and his help was appreciated," said the vice president, who added that Labrera counseled the board to speak with as many search firms as possible. "He answered many of our questions and gave us free advice."
Orthwein said she did not understand why the board met with Labrera in executive session.
"Why did we have to go into closed session to discuss RFPs for a superintendent search firm?" she asked. "Why couldn't that be discussed in public? It's not like [the public doesn't] know [Seitz] is leaving."
Patch passed the question on to Golderer. She has declined to comment on the record.