By Ron Leir
Will he go or will he stay? That’s what the Harrison Board of Education is wondering about Schools Superintendent James Doran, as he faces a June 30 deadline, when his contract with the district runs out.
Last Wednesday night, the BOE noted that it had “completed and accepted the evaluation of the Superintendent” (he passed) but took no action on renewing his contract.
When asked about Doran’s status, Michael Pichowicz, assistant school business administrator, said: “We’re still in negotiations.”
BOE President Maria J. Vila said the matter was scheduled for discussion at the June 25 board meeting.
“[Doran] did a great job – he’s been a great superintendent,” Vila said, and went on to list the district’s accomplishments during his tenure, including implementation of a universal free breakfast program, new school roofs and solar panels, new cafeteria, bathrooms and other improvements at the middle school and culminating in Harrison High School’s designation as a Blue Ribbon school.
Doran, who is completing his fifth year as the district’s chief school administrator, said he still hasn’t decided whether to return.
“The [state-mandated superintendent’s] salary cap is onerous,” he said. “I’m going to make every effort to come back, but given the [fiscal] realities, probably not.”
If he is re-hired, Doran would have to accept a big pay cut since his current salary is about $230,000 a year and a district the size of Harrison can only offer up to $157,500 under the state’s guidelines, according to Doran.
“The irony is, five years ago, I was making $177,000 as a high school principal for the Hudson County Vocational- Technical School,” Doran noted.
In nearby North Arlington, the South Bergenite recently reported that Schools Superintendent Oliver Stringham took a pay cut of more than $40,000 – down to $157,500 a year (plus annual merit bonuses) – to retain his post.
Back in Harrison, meanwhile, the BOE welcomed aboard its newest member – thereby completing its eight-member roster – in Brian Toal, a sales representative for Fedway Associates in Kearny for 13 years. A 1998 Harrison High graduate, Toal has served on the Harrison Zoning Board of Adjustment since 2008 and as a volunteer East Newark firefighter since 2007. He and his wife Dana have two daughters, Kyleigh, 7, and Breaghan, 6, who attend Lincoln School. He’s a member of the Harrison Knights of Columbus, Council 402; Harrison/East Newark Elks, the Irish-American Association of Kearny and United Irish Association of West Hudson.
The BOE took action on two administrative appointments, hiring someone quite familiar to Kearny’s educational community – Matthew D. Weber – as the new high school principal, replacing Ron Shields, who is retiring after 41 years in Harrison.
Weber, who will earn in the mid-$130,000 a year range, was a Kearny High School department head of English and English as a Second Language for six years before serving as Edison High School vice principal for this past year.
Weber was introduced to the BOE last Wednesday. “I’m thrilled and humbled by the confidence this board has placed in me,” he said.
Doran said that Weber was selected from among seven applicants, including three from inside the district, for the job.
Weber, who began his career in the Kearny school system, taught English and composition at Franklin School and Kearny High before his promotion to department head. He has served as an adjunct professor of English at New Jersey City University since 2005.
The BOE also named 23- year employee Joan McNichol as director of student life & services, a new position but one that, according to Doran, consolidates job functions that McNichol has been doing for the district but extends her duties through the summer and edges up her pay by 10% to approximately $120,000 a year.
McNichol’s multiple assignments, as listed by Doran, are: student assistance counselor, Section 504 student disability coordinator, antibullying coordinator, affirmative action officer, homeless student liaison, liaison to the state Division of Child Protection & Permanency, Project Graduation coordinator and district crisis team leader.
The BOE agreed to post for the position of confidential payroll and employee benefits specialist, which, Doran said, is being upgraded from a part-time to full-time job due to the rigorous monitoring required.
It also appointed several new teachers: Heather Villa, special needs, Hamilton School; Cathy Otero, special needs, Lincoln School; Daniela Sousa, special needs, Hamilton School; Jaime Lee Della Vecchia, elementary education, Lincoln School; Susan Terrents, elementary education, Hamilton School; Vanessa Franco, longterm substitute, Hamilton School; and Joseph Wroblewski, longterm substitute, Washington Middle School, and hired Anton Carrera as head coach for high school girls’ tennis.
And Doran announced that the district had passed the new NJQSAC (New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum), a state Department of Education monitoring and evaluation of local districts in five areas. Harrison’s scores were: instruction and program, 81%; fiscal management, 100%; governance, 100%; operations, 100%; and personnel, 100%.
Doran said this was quite an achievement because “not all districts passed the first time around.”