Search continues for permanent school superintendent
STAFF PHOTO BY HEETEN CHOXI
By ERIN ROLL
Wanted: one superintendent, to oversee the public school district in Montclair, New Jersey.
Montclair has been searching for a permanent replacement schools superintendent for two years.
Board President Jessica de Koninck said on Friday she was aware that there was a perception in the community that the process was taking a long time, but she said that the board was “actively” searching for someone to fill the position. “It takes as long as it will take to get the right person.”
“You always like to feel that you’ve got the person in place and you’ve got some of these key positions filled ... but it goes in cycles,” Mayor Robert Jackson said. “We’re going through a cycle now of having some interim folks. I’m not overly concerned about it because I have confidence that the board will put some very good permanent people in place. But we’ve really been blessed with the interims.”
Jackson pointed to the state-mandated superintendent salary cap — in which the size of the district determines what the superintendent will be paid —as a complicating factor. “It’s very difficult to find an individual for the compensation we’re able to offer who has the experience and the wherewithal to handle this job and be effective. So it’s not going to be the search where it was 10 years ago where you said, ‘OK, here’s X dollars’ to somebody who’s got quite the track record. It’s a much more difficult endeavor today. So the board’s got a tough job, but I’m confident they’ll get it done.”
The last full-fledged schools superintendent was Penny MacCormack.
MacCormack departed the district in 2015 to accept a job in the New York City public schools system. Her tenure as superintendent was marked by a substantial amount of controversy over the leaking of an student assessment test to the public in 2013.
Ronald Bolandi was tapped to serve as an interim superintendent shortly thereafter. He stepped down from that position in March, and was replaced by current Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak.
Township Councilman Rich McMahon, who also serves on the Board of School Estimate, said the council doesn’t have much say in the process.
“We can cajole but that’s about it,” McMahon said last week. “It’s entirely up to the BOE and their good judgment. Interim, however, has some benefits. Both Bolandi and Pinsak came with vastly more experience than the mandated pay scale would warrant.”
The superintendent position isn’t the only job in the schools currently occupied on an interim basis; Montclair is also searching for a business administrator and a director of pupil services.
Board member Joe Kavesh said that, in his own opinion, there were three reasons Montclair was taking a long time to find a new superintendent.
“First off, the state salary cap is a real impediment. If you’re an incumbent superintendent in New Jersey earning $170,000 or thereabouts, you are less likely to make a lateral move within the state, especially since bordering states [New York, Pennsylvania] pay well above $200,000,” Kavesh said. “Secondly, we’ve had our share of ‘noise’ in the district over the past five years ... word gets out. Finally, as I’ve said before, the search for a permanent superintendent started too late for my taste.”
At the May 3 Board of Education meeting, Kavesh expressed dismay that Montclair was still looking for a full superintendent while other districts in the area, including Millburn and Livingston, had recently hired new permanent superintendents.
At a Monday meeting of the PTA Council, which Pinsak and Kavesh both attended, the superintendent search was discussed.
“For us, we don’t mind if [Pinsak is] here for two years, but it needs to be two working years,” Diane Anglin, the council president, said after the meeting.
Andrew Gideon, also a member of the PTA Council, agreed. “I happen to like Ms. Pinsak, but I don’t want the BOE to think, ‘oh, we can wait another two years.’”
At the BOE meeting on Tuesday, newly elected president Laura Hertzog told the audience that the board understood the community’s frustration over the length of the search, and said the board would be holding a special meeting in the next few weeks to get a status update.
Staff writer Linda Moss contributed to this story.