As students clean out their desks and lockers for the summer, a number of local school superintendents are doing the same.
Ten superintendents are retiring or moving in Atlantic County alone, creating a sort of musical chairs of school leadership within the county and some unusual situations.
The Egg Harbor Township school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday to hire Fred Nickles as its interim superintendent, replacing Scott McCartney, who is leaving to head the Moorestown School District.
Nickles was superintendent in EHT from 1985 to 1997, when the school board at the time, with which he had a contentious relationship, agreed to buy out his contract for more than $450,000, according to Press of Atlantic City archives. He then went on to lead the Atlantic City School District from 1999 to 2012, when he retired.
The Pleasantville school board attempted to hire Clarence Alston, who had previously served as the district’s superintendent from 2006 through 2009, when he was nonrenewed by the district’s state monitor at the time, John Deserable, according to Press archives. However he did not receive the required five votes to win a majority by the current board in May, and the current state monitor, Constance Bauer, has said she does not support him.
The Pleasantville school board has until June 30 to choose someone else or find a new interim superintendent to replace Leonard Fitts, whose two-year term is ending.
Other districts have had less dramatic transitions, and several will be working with interim superintendents for at least another year.
The high rate of turnover is largely credited to the elimination of tenure for chief school administrators, who now typically get contracts of three to five years. Nickles had tenure when the board agreed to buy him out in 1997.
Salary caps imposed by Gov. Chris Christie five years ago have also led more superintendents to retire early. The caps expire in November, and Christie has not yet said if he will renew them. A bill in the Legislature would eliminate them.
The new system also created a new job — the interim superintendent — typically a retired superintendent hired on a temporary basis to fill in during the search process for a new school leader.
Other Atlantic County districts that will be led by interims in 2016-17 include Atlantic City, Estell Manor, Linwood and Somers Point.
Districts getting new superintendents include Hamilton Township, Mainland Regional, Mullica Township and Northfield.
Richard Bozza, executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators said the interims have filled an important role in the transition process, but he also believes they have been overused. State law allows an interim to serve only for a maximum of two one-year terms in the same district, and he said some districts are simply keeping the less costly interim for two years.
“There is no reason why a school board can’t get the hiring process done in one year and move on to a stable new leadership,” he said. “We support their role, but the interim is designed to be temporary.”
Interims are typically paid on a per-diem basis and do not get health benefits, saving a school district tens of thousands of dollars a year.
School board members and interims say the situation is a win-win for both, providing the district with an experienced leader during a transition period and saving money. Since most interims are retired school administrators, they get to supplement their pensions. Locally interims have been making between $500 and $600 per day, though not all work full time.
Combine the pensions and the interim superintendent salary, and most make more money as interims than they made working full time before they retired.
Atlantic City’s school board opted to keep interim Paul Spaventa for a second year because he had gotten to know the district during a time of layoffs and budget cuts this year. They will search for a new permanent superintendent for 2017-18.
Northfield hired Robert Garguilo, who had retired from Folsom, and kept him for two years.
“We liked having all of these very talented interims at our disposal,” said Northfield school board President Steve Wynne. “(Garguilo) has been good at pushing through some of the technology things we wanted to do.”
Garguilo said he is not the type of person to just fill a seat, even if only on a temporary basis. He likes to work and has already signed on to work in Estell Manor at least through the summer at an hourly rate of $60.
Thomas Baruffi retired from a dual superintendency in Mainland Regional and Linwood. He then spent the last two years as an interim superintendent in Mullica Township. At 56, he said he is not ready to stop working, and on July 1 he will take over as the interim superintendent in Somers Point. He said he really doesn’t find the job as interim much different but believes experience does make it easier for interims to hit the ground running in a new district.
“There is an initial period where you get to know the district,” he said. “But you’re really dealing with the same issues. I told the board that any decisions or recommendations I made would be as though I’d be here for 10 years. I wanted them to be right for the district.”
When Mainland Regional hired retired Brigantine Superintendent Robert Previti as interim superintendent after Baruffi left, they got not just an experienced superintendent, but someone who was the parent of two of the school’s graduates. He served for two years before the school board decided this year to hire Principal Mark Marrone as their new leader.
“He knew the district and was accepted by staff and parents,” school board President Jill Ojserkis said of Previti. “He was also a mentor to our younger administrators, helping them to grow.”