By Ron Leir
The Kearny Board of Education publicly introduced a New York school administrator as a “potential candidate” for superintendent of schools at a special meeting last Thursday night.
It’s unclear what the board will do next.
Frank Ferraro, the candidate, had been previously interviewed twice by board members and “everybody liked what he brought to the table,” board president George King had told The Observer before taking some time off for health reasons and temporarily turning over the reins to board vice president Paul Castelli.
But last Thursday, board member James Doran Jr. expressed reservations about Ferraro’s resume being thin on teaching experience and wondered how that would play in a superintendent’s evaluation of his administrators and instructional staff.
Trustee Sebastian Viscuso suggested that Ferraro’s business background may not exactly match up with the board’s policy to look for school leaders who come up through the education ranks.
Ferraro told the seven board members in attendance (King and Bernadette Mc- Donald were absent), and the approximately 30 residents and educators in the audience, that he was currently employed as an interim director of operations for facilities and transportation in the Peekskill, N.Y., school district.
Except for a five-year period when he taught home economics at Kearny High School as a longterm substitute, virtually all of the candidate’s administrative experience is from schools in New York State, Ferraro said.
Asked if that presented a problem for serving as a New Jersey school administrator, Ferraro said there was a reciprocity between states in recognizing comparability of administrative experience. He said he had a “certificate of eligibility” that, “once a (hiring) contract is approved,” he’d present to the Hudson County Superintendent of Schools and he’d get a “provisional certificate” that, he said, would qualify him to work as a schools superintendent in Kearny.
In essence, as one member of the public put it, he’d be “on probation” for a period of time in his new job. “That’s right,” Ferraro agreed.
Ferraro, who is currently living in upstate New York, said he’d move to Kearny if he got the job, for which the annual pay is capped by the state at $167,500.
After getting his MBA, Ferraro said he worked in advertising before switching to education because, essentially, that’s where the jobs where. After working as director of continuing education at a New York college, he was hired as assistant superintendent for business at South Country Central School District in Bellport, N.Y., with an enrollment of about 5,000 and a $100 million budget.
“When I got there, they had a deficit of $3 million,” Ferraro said, but when he left after close to two years, “they had a positive fund balance.”
His next job was assistant superintendent for business with the Greenburgh Central 7 School District in Westchester County, N.Y., “where they were putting in a new transportation program and had issues with facilities.”
Asked if he’s had experience with large construction projects like the ongoing project at Kearny High School, Ferraro said he oversaw a $65 million capital overhaul at South Country and a $40 million capital project in the Cortland, N.Y., school district. Challenged by former school board member David Stevenson and others on his scant classroom experience (he taught high school AP English and college marketing and communications), Ferraro said that in today’s educational climate, “implementing educational strategy is more of a management issue than academic approach.”
As a good manager, Ferraro said, “I want to bring an open, transparent process to Kearny, including decisions made on your capital projects and the hiring of teachers and support staff.”
Asked how he’d deal with a “split board (of education),” Ferraro quipped: “I didn’t know there was any other kind.”
He said he would try to persuade board members to view issues from the perspective of “what is the best criteria for the children. That way, at least, I would keep the district focused on the right thing.”
When asked whether he felt Kearny should adopt a “middle school” plan, Ferraro said that while research supports that approach, it depends on how well or poorly the district can adapt its physical plant to implement such a plan.
“The concept is good but I can’t say it’s the best solution for Kearny,” he said.
In other school personnel issues, meanwhile, Kearny Interim Schools Superintendent Ron Bolandi said that he has 28 applicants for high school principal, that the interview process has started and that he hopes to narrow that list to “two or three” for the board’s consideration by the Oct. 15 meeting.