New state regulations stall super’s new contract

Madison expected to receive a new five-year contract


Linda Madison Linda Madison MILLTOWN – New state regulations have delayed finalizing a new contract for Superintendent of Schools Linda Madison.

The contract was slated for a vote at the July 15 Board of Education meeting, but the decision was put off until at least Aug. 19 due to policy changes set forth by the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE).

“We haven’t had any closure on it yet,” Madison said. “There were some things in the old contract that can’t be in the new one.”

Board of Education President Barbara Pietanza did not return a call for comment on the contract.

New state regulations finalized July 1 include greater monitoring and oversight of efficiency issues in school districts throughout the state, and make necessary the review and approval of administrators’ contracts by each county’s executive school superintendent. Established in concert with the position of executive county superintendent and its greater authorities, the regulations aim for more accountability on the part of school districts, according to New Jersey School Boards Association spokesman Frank Belluscio.

In reviewing the contracts of superintendents, assistant superintendents and school business administrators, the executive county superintendent will ensure that the agreements are in accordance with newly set parameters.

“Contracts for each class of administrative position shall be comparable with the salary, benefits and other emoluments contained in the contracts of similarly credentialed and experienced administrators in other districts in the region with similar enrollment, academic achievement levels and grade span,” according to a stateissued document labeled “Fiscal Accountability, Efficiency and Budgeting Procedures.”

Provisions in the contract guidelines limit various perks for school administrators. For example, travel allowances cannot exceed amounts set by the state, and a “reasonable car allowance” is the only type of monthly allowance permissible.

Employee contributions, from those required by law to options like health insurance and pensions, cannot be paid by a district. In addition, contracts cannot include provisions for benefits already provided for by other means.

Sick leave and vacation leave accumulated by the school officials will also be handled differently under the new laws. In the case of unused sick days, they will only be paid at the time of retirement, or credited through a new contract for the employee. Vacation time accumulated prior to June 8, 2007, can be compensated according to contract, but all time accrued after that date will be paid when the official leaves the district.

Bonuses for administrators are only permitted if specified in a contract, and only when they come as a result of the employee having accomplished pre-established goals.

Severance pay totals will fall under a watchful eye by the state, now being regulated by specific guidelines. Such payments will be limited to the lesser of either three months’ pay for each remaining

contract year, restricted to a total of 12 months, or the re maining salary due under the existing contract.

According to Belluscio, further directives are to be passed in other areas of education, but those governing administrators’ contracts, among others, were considered emergency regulations.

Gov. Jon Corzine in May called for all New Jersey school superintendents’ contracts to be reviewed after learning of a controversial severance package slated for payment to former Keansburg Superintendent Barbara Trzeszkowski. The 38-year district veteran was set to receive a total of $740,000, which included payment for vacation time and 235 accumulated sick days, until state officials went to the courts to block part of the payment. The unusually large package was considered especially grievous because of Keansburg’s status as an Abbott district, which grants it special aid from the state.

Though the contentious contract in Keansburg helped spur lawmakers to take action regarding school administrators’ contracts throughout the state, Belluscio said regulations had been in the works since last spring.

As for Madison, she has been working without a contract since June 30, but that has not stood in the way of her performing the duties of her post.

“It’s business as usual,” Madison said.

Initial negotiations began in January, and were extended due to the regulation changes. Madison’s contract will become retroactive when it is adopted by the board, and will run for a period of five years.

Madison, in addition to being superintendent, serves as principal of Milltown’s Parkview Elementary School. The two positions were merged in 2005, and Madison was appointed to the new post that same year after serving as principal of Joyce Kilmer School. Madison, at that time, was given a three-year contract with a starting salary of $130,000.

According to Madison, only one member of the public spoke out on her new contract proposal during the board’s last meeting, saying she would not want to see Madison bought out if talk of consolidation with other school districts becomes a reality.

“I don’t blame her for saying that, and I wouldn’t expect it,” Madison said.

Looking forward, Madison said the development of a strategic plan for the district is one major objective. A weekend retreat late in September will see those involved creating action plans to help bring the larger plan to fruition. The effort will lay out district goals for the next three to five years, and will be shaped by the input of the Board of Education, teachers, community members, administrators and PTAs, according to Madison.

“That’s a huge process,” she said.