After months of searching, the Hoboken Board of Education had found their guy – or so they thought.
A young assistant superintendent in Fort Lee, Dr. Frank Romano had agreed to lead the district for the next three years, pending final contract negotiations. But last week he pulled the plug on the Hoboken job.
A 7-2 majority of the school board had approved Romano’s hiring on Tuesday, Feb. 9 after a two-hour closed session negotiation. Board members Maureen Sullivan and Carrie Gilliard opposed the hiring, claiming not enough candidates were interviewed, that the process had been rushed, and that the board weakened their stance in negotiations by openly courting Romano.
“We hadn’t even taken a stance yet.” – Theresa Minutillo
But Romano withdrew from negotiations in a letter to the board this past Monday, citing a minor term of the contract that he felt the two sides couldn’t agree on, according to board members. He said he was unhappy over the “nonrenewal clause,” a clause that stipulated how much notice he’d get if the board decided not to renew his contract. He wrote in his letter that the board’s feelings on the clause did not show enough respect for the office of the superintendent.
Romano did not return calls for comment last week.
Some board members argued that the charged political climate leading into the April 20 school board election, as well as harsh criticism from Sullivan and Gilliard, may have scared him away. The election could have meant a change in the board majority.
Walked over firing notice?
Board President Rose Markle said negotiations on the other terms of the contract had barely begun when Romano withdrew. Of the terms that were being discussed, the two sides came to immediate agreement on a few issues, she said; other issues were being considered by the board.
Markle said that regarding non-renewal, the minimum amount of notice required by the state is one month for every year of service, which would have meant three months in Romano’s case. Board Attorney Vito Gagliardi had told her that the state has repealed a one-year requirement for non-renewal notice. Because of that, Markle said she thought giving notice nearly a year before the end of a contract wasn’t a good idea.
Romano wanted notice much sooner than the minimum state requirement.
“There was not much back and forth,” Markle said last week. “I was shocked and surprised [when he withdrew].”
Board member Theresa Minutillo, who was communicating with Romano on behalf of the board, said, “We hadn’t even taken a stance [as a board] yet.”
She said Romano also requested that he negotiate directly with the board, rather than the board attorney. “Dr. Romano did not want to do this by attorney,” she said. The board had acquiesced on this point, but Romano still walked away, Minutillo said.
Without wanting to state their names, several members of the board called out Sullivan for making critical remarks about Romano on local blogs and websites. These board members believe the personal nature of the criticisms may have made Romano rethink his decision to come to Hoboken.
Sullivan and Gilliard had both left the “Kids First” reform majority on the board due to the way the process was handled. Sullivan claimed that she heard some unsettling feedback from some of Romano’s references, among other things.
Last week, Sullivan said she was kept out of the “inner loop” negotiating the contract, so she could not say exactly why Romano walked away.
But she disagrees that her objections made the difference, noting that Romano never mentioned anything about Hoboken being a wrong fit in his letter, while he pointed out contract qualms.
One board member said that with three of his seven affirmative votes coming from members whose seats are expiring, Romano may have been suspect about whether a newly-constructed board after the April election would have been supportive of his leadership over the next three years.
Markle said the board will discuss how to proceed at their next full meeting on Tuesday, March 9.
She suspects that the board will have to wait until after the election to begin a new search. Some current board members may not be present when the process concludes, and some new board members who weren’t on the board for the beginning of the process may not be able to vote on the final choice for superintendent.
Markle said Interim Superintendent Peter Carter has made himself available to stay another year, should the board ask him to.
Carter did not return calls for comment last week.
As an interim superintendent, Carter was only supposed to be hired for a one-year contract, but he is eligible for a one-year extension with board and county superintendent approval. Legally, Markle said, the board cannot extend his term past one more year.
Timothy J. Carroll may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. School board campaigns kick off
Thirteen residents filed for four open seats on the school board last week.
Three seats currently occupied by board President Rose Markle, Carrie Gilliard, and Jim Farina expire this year, as does the seat filled midterm by Irene Sobolov.
Sobolov’s seat – which was vacated after board member Phil DeFalco resigned in November – will be filled for a one-year term, while the other three seats will be filled for three-year terms.
Markle and Sobolov are running for reelection as a continuation of the “Kids First” slate that Markle, Gilliard, and board members Theresa Minutillo, Ruth McAllister, and Maureen Sullivan were elected under. Since then, Gilliard and Sullivan have disassociated themselves with “Kids First.”
This time around, Markle and Sobolov are joined by Leon Gold and Jean Marie Mitchell. Mitchell would fill the one-year term.
A competing slate, “Real Results,” includes residents Liz Markevitch, Kathleen Tucker, Perry Lin, and John Forsman, who would fill the one-year term. This group is being managed by former mayoral candidate Nathan Brinkman, a Republican, and at least two of the members are Republicans.
Perennial election candidate Frank Raia is running to regain his seat the board, this time with Keila Colon and former mayoral candidate Patricia Waiters. Raia said his slate isn’t entirely completed.
Residents Ken Howitt and John Madigan are also running campaigns for seats on the board, although not on any slate.
Gilliard is not running again. Surprisingly, neither is Farina, whose service on the board goes back to 1974. – TJC