Parent urges official action on Toth decision

Files legal petition to reverse board’s dismissal of former superintendent


An Edison resident has filed an official petition with the state Department of Education asking the commissioner to cancel the Edison Board of Education’s decision to place former superintendent Carol Toth on paid administrative leave for two and a half years. The papers were sent to Trenton on Dec. 3.

The petition, filed by parent Maxine Lee, an attorney, alleges that the Board of Education, in its narrow 4-3 decision to place the former superintendent on paid administrative leave, is in violation of New Jersey educational law that mandates that amendments or alterations to a superintendent’s contract by a board must be reviewed by the state education commissioner. Further, it also states that the board should have, as per state law, provided 30-day notice and held a public hearing before any moves toward Toth’s dismissal were made.

The petition is in response to a Board of Education meeting on Nov. 19 where, after returning from executive session, board members announced that they had voted to relieve then-superintendent Toth of her duties in Edison, with poor communication being the only reason publicly cited for the decision. Instead of being terminated outright, however, Toth was placed on paid administrative leave until her contract expires in 2010. The vote came one year after the district renewed her contract in 2006.

As of April 2006, when the then-superintendent signed the renewed employment contract, Toth’s salary is $173,000 annually. Toth, an Edison resident, has worked in the district for more than three decades, having started as a teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School immediately after college. Over the years, she held teaching and administrative positions at various schools throughout the township before being appointed acting superintendent in 2004 and then superintendent in 2005.

Lee said she believes the decision to place Toth on paid leave for two and a half years is equivalent to early termination, something that the petition says requires the review of the commissioner. She said the decision was extremely irresponsible to the taxpayers of Edison.

“I am filing this lawsuit because I am outraged with what the Board of Education has done,” Lee said. “They are wasting over $400,000 of the taxpayers’ money without giving us any legitimate reasons for their decision. I hope that the commissioner will investigate this situation and take action.”

Lee also said the three board members who voted against the decision – Joseph Shannon, Sue Scerbo and Deborah Anes – were not even aware that such a vote was going to take place until the night of that meeting. When asked, Shannon and Scerbo confirmed this.

Shannon, Scerbo and board president David Dickinson said that because the petition is a legal matter, they cannot discuss it publicly at this time.

A spokesperson with the state Department of Education, Richard Vespucci, said the request would be reviewed, and if it was deemed something worthy of further investigation, it would be referred to the Office of Administrative Law, which would conduct a hearing. The findings from that hearing will then go toward making a recommendation to the commissioner, with whom the ultimate decision rests.

Vespucci said that the county superintendent, Patrick Pigari, is looking into the matter. Another spokesperson with the state Department of Education, Kathryn Forsynth, has previously said that placing someone on paid administrative leave for two years is highly unusual.

Pigari could not be reached for comment by press time.

According to the Edison school district’s Web site, the next Board of Education meeting will be held Dec.13 in the Edison High School cafeteria.