Court Dates Set for Board of Ed vs. Superintendent
Depositions to begin on April 5, hearing dates set for June.
A court date has been set for the start of the long-awaited legal action between Parsippany Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz and the Board of Education.
A March 13 letter from Weiner-Lesniak LLP, the official law firm representing the school board, obtained through an Open Public Records Act request, states that oral arguments on depositions are scheduled for April 5.
Another letter, similarly obtained, is from the law firm of Gold, Albanese & Barletti, which is representing the BOE in Seitz's lawsuit. In this missive, peremptory hearing dates—meaning the dates cannot be changed—are slated for June 18-29.
The subject of the suit is the contract agreed to by Seitz and the school board in November 2010. Under the five-year pact, the superintendent was to be paid just over $216,000 for 2010-11. For this school year, he was to receive $220,565, and increasingly more until topping out at about $234,000 for 2014-15.
The contract created controversy because it was negotiated and approved by the superintendent and the board a year before Seitz's previous contract was set to expire—and after Gov. Chris Christie announced his intention to impose a cap on salaries for school superintendents across the state.
Under Christie's edict, which did not go into effect until February 2011, administrators for districts the size of Parsippany could not earn more than $175,000. With stipends for governing two high schools, Seitz, according to the state Department of Education, was permitted to be paid a total of $177,500.
The governor and the DOE took issue with the Seitz contract, and over the next months, a war of words erupted between Trenton, Morristown (where Dr. Kathleen Serafino, the executive county superintendent of schools, is based) and the Parsippany school board.
The BOE insisted that Serafino had given her OK before it approved the agreement with Seitz. The executive county superintendent, Gov. Christie and the Department of Education disagreed. In February 2011, the state announced that it would not approve the Parsippany school budget until the board rescinded the pact.
Prior to this, in December 2010, the school board responded to Serafino's and Christie's actions by filing a complaint against the state, asserting that it had no right to control how school boards decide to compensate their employees. Six months later, the state appellate division opted not to hear Parsippany's case. Shortly after that, the Department of Education lobbed another threat at the BOE: Rescind the contract or risk losing more than $3 million in state aid to Parsippany schools.
The board complied with that threat in early July last year—or so it appeared. By the start of the 2011-12 school year, news came that Seitz was still being paid under the disputed agreement.
That finding led to another threatened loss of aid from the state. The board again took action in November 2011 to rescind the pact. Under the direction of the executive county superintendent, President Frank Calabria and BOE Attorney Mark Tabakin took steps to ensure the pay cut was enforced.
In response, Seitz and his attorney Andrew Babiak of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators filed suit against the Parsippany school board and Serafino. Their contention is that after the contract was rescinded, the previous contract—under which he was paid $212,000, still above the Christie cap—went back into effect.
Then, Serafino threatened the school board once more with the possible loss of state aid. She alleged that Seitz was overpaid to the tune of about $34,000 during the time when he was paid in excess of the cap. Under duress, according to Calabria, the board complied and filed a counterclaim against the superintendent to recoup the money.
As directed by Serafino, the school board produced a revised contract giving Seitz $177,500. The agreement was sent to the executive county superintendent for review, where it reportedly remains.
Now, the dueling legal actions finally will get underway in two weeks with oral argument depositions at the Office of Administrative Law in Newark.
Werner-Lesniak will represent the Parsippany school board in its counterclaim.
Seitz, Serafino and Calabria have not returned messages for comment.