Trustees split on tenure vote

By Ron Leir 


Two Kearny public school administrators and one supervisor face the loss of their jobs now that the Board of Education has failed to renew their contracts.

They are: Cynthia Baumgartner, high school principal; Martin Hoff, vice principal of Franklin Elementary School; and Robert Elsmore, supervisor of plant operations.

All three – appointees of former Schools Supt. Frank Digesere who departed in June 2011 – were recommended for renewal by the current superintendent Ronald Bolandi.

The board’s refusal to grant job extensions to Baumgartner and Elsmore, in particular, could be problematic since it comes at a time when the district is in the process of undertaking the nearly $40 million reconfi guration of Kearny High School which will, ultimately, involve the rotation of students through outdoor classroom trailers.

By state law, school employees must serve three years and a day to gain tenure in their job. Board records show that Baumgartner, who was named principal Aug. 1, 2010, was on track to achieve tenure by Aug. 2, 2013. Hoff and Elsmore would each be tenured by Aug. 20, 2012, according to the records.

Resolutions proposing the reappointment of Baumgartner, Hoff and Elsmore for the 2012-2013 school year – along with a host of other employees up for rehiring – were presented to the board at a special meeting held April 30. By state law, non-tenured staff must be notified by May 15 whether they can expect to have a job for the fall.

Altogether, the board deliberated on a total of 110 proposed reappointments of employees district-wide, including administrators, supervisors, directors, guidance counselors, plus clerical, custodial and maintenance workers.

Board member Sebastian Viscuso was absent from that meeting.

Minutes of the meeting show that on the Baumgartner resolution, the tally was 3-2, with three not voting. James Doran Jr., Bernadette McDonald and Lisa Anne Schalago voted “yes”; board vice president Paul Castelli and John Plaugic voted “no”; and John Leadbeater, Robert O’Malley and board president George King abstained.

Since a five-vote majority was needed for approval, the resolution was defeated.

In Hoff ’s case, McDonald and Schalago voted for the resolution, Castelli opposed it and five members – Doran, Leadbeater, O’Malley, Plaugic and King abstained. Doran said he didn’t vote because of a conflict of interest situation.

Elsmore got “yes” votes from McDonald and Schalago but Plaugic and Castelli voted “no” and Doran, Leadbeater, O’Malley and King abstained. Leadbeater said he didn’t vote because of a conflict of interest situation.

The board also declined to rehire two teachers and one custodian.

Board members offered no public explanations for their decisions.

Neither King nor Supt. Bolandi would comment on the board’s actions on advice of board counsel David Rubin who said in a phone interview that because the resolutions voted on involved school employees, state school law dictated confidentiality.

Neither Baumgartner nor Hoff would discuss the board’s actions and Elsmore couldn’t be reached last week. Nor would Jon Zimmerman, head of the Kearny School Administrators Association, which represents Baumgartner and Hoff. Elsmore is a nonrepresented management employee.

One school source familiar with the situation said that because of their continuous service credits, Hoff and Elsmore would have the opportunity to exercise so-called “bumping” rights to lower level jobs in the district, if they decided to go that route.

However, another option open to Baumgartner, Hoff and Elsmore under state school law is to request, in legal parlance, a “Donaldson hearing,” as outlined by an “EdLaw Alert,” prepared by the EdLaw Group at the Lindabury law firm in New Jersey.

Any non-tenured school employee who receives notice that his or her contract isn’t being renewed has 15 days from the notice time to request from the board a written statement providing reasons for his/her non-renewal. That statement must be provided within 30 days.

Then, 10 days from the time such a statement is issued, the employee can ask for an informal hearing before the school board, which must be scheduled within 30 days of the request. This procedure is known as the Donaldson hearing, named for a 1974 case, “Donaldson v. Board of Education of North Wildwood.”

At this hearing, the employee – who may choose to be represented by an attorney – can try to convince the board to reconsider its decision not to reappoint. The board then has three days to decide the merits of the employee’s case.

The Observer Staff