After the indecision, trustees appointed Thomas Fogu, the district’s director of instructional technology and former principal at Henry Harris Community School, as acting business administrator until the board can come to an agreement on a replacement. The BBOED voted 7-2 against hiring Pierson, then went into closed session to agree on appointing Fogu, who has a certification in business administration. Fogu will continue to hold his position as director of instructional technology while functioning as acting business administrator and will maintain the same level of compensation from the district.
Big shoes to fill
The business administrator, whose contract must be renewed every year by the board, has an enormous responsibility in preparing the district’s $130 million annual budgets, overseeing large purchases that help feed and transport nearly 10,000 students, managing facilities, and assessing the risks of the district’s financial decisions. Fogu, however, will not oversee facilities. That responsibility will fall to Wanko in the interim.
“In my opinion, we need somebody who can come in and be ready to make changes,” said BBOED President Joseph Broderick, who voted against hiring Pierson. “If I’m undergoing an operation, am I looking for a guy who just came out of medical school or a guy who’s done this a hundred times? We’re not just going for a physical here, we need change.”
“I voted ‘yes’ because Dr. Wanko is the Interim Superintendent that this board picked, and I believe we have to give him the staff he feels he needs to run the district effectively,” said Trustee Christopher Munoz, who voted, along with Maria Valado, in favor of hiring Pierson. “In my personal opinion, Dr. Pierson is qualified.”
Wanko said in June that he prefers the new business administrator be a certified public accountant “because we think that’s important based on what happened in this district,” referring to a $2.2 million budget deficit in 2016 that resulted from an outside accounting error, leading to nearly 200 layoffs in 2016.
“If the BA is also a CPA, they would be able to have more oversight of all of our line items,” Wanko said. “It would be great to have another set of trained eyes looking for that. We have an accountant there, but it wouldn’t hurt to have another person with that skill set.”
“In my opinion, we need somebody who can come in and be ready to make changes.” – Joseph Broderick
Smith, who turned 65 in July, was a business teacher and vice-principal at Bayonne High School. He was at the center of the district’s bewildering fiscal fiasco last year when an accounting firm mistakenly misallocated millions of dollars in the school budget, sending the district into a seeming budget deficit. His tenure as business administrator coincided with an economic recession and education funding cuts from the state and federal government.
In retirement, Smith said that he plans to tend to his grandchildren; a seventh is on the way. “I’m sure they’ll keep me somewhat busy,” he said. Aside from tending to his family, Smith is running in the BBOED elections in November to become a trustee.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.