JERSEY CITY AND BEYOND - Jersey City's incoming new superintendent of schools, Dr. Marcia Lyles, had planned to start her new job on Monday, Aug. 20. But in a somewhat stunning development, the school board failed to adopt Lyles' new contract during a special meeting held Wednesday night. The board rejected the contract by a vote of 4-4.
Board members Sterling Waterman, Angel Valentin, Vidya Gangadin, and Marilyn Roman voted against Lyles' contract, expressing dismay that it was too expensive and too vague and did not include language the board members had tried to get added. Board chairwoman Suzanne Mack voted for the contract, as did Carol Lester, Carol Harrison-Arnold, and Sangeeta Ranade.
The unusual 4-4 vote was partially due to a vacancy on the school board.
Earlier this month, board member Marvin Adames resigned after being confirmed as the municipal judge in Newark. Adames, who had been the acting municipal judge in Newark for several years, had been told that if he received the permanent position he would have to resign from the board of education in Jersey City, where Adames lives. Had Adames still been a board member last night, he might well have cast the deciding to ratify Lyles' contract.
According to the contract that was rejected, Lyles was set to receive an annual salary of $231,000. The contract also allowed for the possibility of merit pay on top of this base salary. This merit pay would be equal to "up to 14.99 percent of [Lyles'] annual base salary," according to the contract.
Several members of the public and the board members who voted against the contract specifically questioned why the agreement did not include detailed "grounds for termination" and did not spell out goals and objectives the board expected Lyles had to meet. The four board members who supported the contract stated the board plans to hold a retreat next month, at which specific benchmarks for Lyles will be narrowed down.
"That's putting the cart before the horse," said Lorenzo Richardson, a resident who attended the Wednesday meeting.
Some residents and board members also questioned Lyles' benefits package - which includes full-time use of a district-owned car and a $10,000 relocation allowance. They further argued that language typically included in executive contracts that protects the interests of the employer was excluded from the Lyles contract.
The contract was drafted by board attorney Ramon Rivera, who negotiated the contract on behalf of the board with an attorney representing Lyles. The negotiated contract was also approved by the Hudson County Superintendent of Education, as required by law, and was reviewed by the New Jersey Department of Education.
According to Valentin and Roman, provisions that some board members had asked to be included in the contract were ignored, as were many of the board members' concerns.
"If you want to know the truth, the truth is this contract was really written by the county and the state," Valentin said Wednesday.
When the meeting ended neither of the two board attorneys present was clear as to what the next steps would be to re-open the contract negotiation process. It was also unclear as to when Lyles will be able to start her new job.
The first day of the 2012-2013 school year is Sept. 5. - E. Assata Wright