The Parsippany-Troy Hills school district has a new leader.
At Thursday's Board of Education meeting at the Parsippany Road administration building, the body approved the hiring of Dr. John T. Fitzsimons to become interim chief superintendent of schools.
The vote was not unanimous: Of the eight members present, President Susy Golderer, Gary Martin, Michael Strumolo, James Carifi and Anthony DeIntinis voted yes; Anthony Mancuso and Fran Orthwein voted no and Dr. Frank Calabria abstained.
According to the contract between the district and Fitzsimons, he will be paid $682 per day, or an annual base salary of $177,320, which complies with Gov. Christie's superintendent salary cap. However, should he leave his sick, personal and vacation allotments unused and attain certain undefined "quantitative goals" and "qualitative goals," he could end up earning as much as $203,900 or more in 2013-14.
During the meeting's public comment section, former BOE member Andrew Choffo presented his concerns about the selection of Fitzsimons.
He asked Golderer whether it was true, as stated on Fitzsimons' LinkedIn page, that he hasn't worked in New Jersey in 10 years and that he had not worked at all in two years.
"Right," she said.
According to Fitzsimons' LinkedIn page, he has worked as a self-employed educational consultant for the past year and four months.
In all, he has worked in education for 48 years as a teacher and administrator. Over the last 26 years, he led school systems in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the most recent superintendent post being from June 2002 through June 2011 in Lawrence, N.Y.
His New Jersey experience includes stints as superintendent in the school districts of Princeton Junction, Tenafly and—in his last New Jersey job, from July 1998 to June 2003—West Windsor/Plainsboro.
The new interim superintendent, who received his doctorate from Fordham University in Language and Literacy, resides in Manhattan.
"It seems like a person out of education in New Jersey in the last 10 years perhaps isn't the most qualified," said Choffo, noting that "many, many changes" in education have occurred in the last decade in the Garden State. "I have a major concern that we're going to hire someone with no relevant experience to do the job that we're asking him to do."
He also questioned Fitzsimons' remuneration plan.
"He's destined to be one of the highest paid superintendents we've ever had as an interim," Choffo told the board members. "Many of you ran and committed during your campaigns that you would hire at a much lower cost better qualified superintendents."
Board attorney Mark Tabakin countered that merit incentives in the contract are discretionary and not guaranteed, and that the county or state could choose not to approve the bonus pay.
The former member made mention of the forthcoming retirement of Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz and delivered another message to the school board, some of whom used to be his colleagues.
"I don't want to say I told you so, but about three years ago I said that this board was leading us down a path to where we would have no administrative leadership," said Choffo. "And with Dr. Seitz retiring, we have no chief, we have no permanent superintendent, we have no business administrator—which Dr. Fitzsimons would have to lean on due to his lack of experience—and we have no permanent personnel director.
"I think this is unbelievable. I think you have left this district in a very precarious position.
"And i think that's disgraceful."
Interim Personnel Director Paul Saxton offered an alternate perspective on Fitzsimons.
He said the prospective superintendent had spent a "considerable amount" of time in New Jersey and had maintained his status and alliances with a variety of statewide educational groups.
"He is versed and stays in touch with what happens in New Jersey because many of his colleagues still work in New Jersey," said Saxton, calling Fitzsimons "the star of all the candidates."
"We needed a broader base of experience," he continued. "I think [Fitzsimons'] experiences and goals align with this district's mission statement.
"I think the board made an excellent selection."
"I hope you're right," Choffo said.
Fitzsimons begins his work with the district April 15 as a consultant. He serves as acting superintendent April 23 through May 15 and afterward becomes interim chief superintendent for the 2013-14 school year.
Seitz's official retirement date is May 15, but he will leave on April 23 to exhaust his unused leave.
Thursday's BOE meeting was Seitz's last in Parsippany. He was feted with a celebratory cake at the gathering.
In other school district employment news, Mark Resnick is back as interim business administrator, following the April 1 departure of Robin Tedesco.
And the board approved the July 1 resignation of Lake Hiawatha Elementary School Principal Thomas Nolan.