In a meeting on January 25, the Bayonne Board of Education laid off 16 district employees and demoted six others amid a $2 million budget deficit facing the district. It also appointed Michael A. Wanko, PhD, as Interim Superintendent, effective July 1, to take over when Dr. Patricia McGeehan’s contract expires.
“Due to reasons of economy,” read Board Secretary Gary Maita before citing each name and position that would be either cut or transferred. Before he cast his vote to fire 14 secretaries and a teacher’s aide, Board President Joseph Broderick called the evening, “one of the toughest nights I’ve ever had being on this board.”
Trustees were visibly upset over their tough decisions. After all, they did not invite the budget shortfall. “All these people that we’re talking about in my estimate are doing a terrific job, which makes it that much more difficult to cut these positions,” said Broderick, adding that all decisions made during the meeting are of “a strictly financial matter.”
“These positions were added at a time, from what I understand, the board wasn’t aware of the financial situation we were in. Now we’re in a spot where we’re trying to reverse those decisions.”
After the board voted on each individual “transfer,” or demotion, Alan D’Angelo, President of the Bayonne Teachers Association, asked Business Administrator Leo Smith to follow up with a cost savings figure.
Laura Craig was transferred from her position of Director of Special Programs to Coordinator of Academy of Fine Arts and Academics, saving the district $71,461 annually.
Alaina Desjardin was transferred from her position of Director of Planning, Research, Evaluation, Assessment and Accountability to Data Analysis Coordinator, saving the district $68,311.
Lyndia Hayes was transferred from her position as Assistant Principal to Special Education Teacher at Horace Mann Community School, saving the district $27,002 annually.
Christopher Romano was transferred from his position as Assistant Principal to Social Studies Teacher at Midtown Community School, saving the district $61,914 annually.
Melissa Sisk was transferred from her position as Assistant Supervisor of Technology to Technology Facilitator, saving the district $23,275 annually.
Heather Zalis was transferred from her position as Assistant Principal to 5th Grade Teacher at Nicholas Oresko Community School, saving the district $63,014 annually.
“With all due respect, if we had known about the financial difficulties, I would have hired him sooner. The payback is tremendous. I think we’re making a terrible mistake.” – Trustee Theodore Garelick
Interim superintendent, extraordinaire
The board voted unanimously to approve former Bayonne High School principal, Dr. Michael A. Wanko,as interim superintendent, choosing from a list of 12 candidates. Aside from serving as principal from 1981 through 2002, he was an interim superintendent at Manchester Regional School District in Passaic County from 2014-2016 and as interim principal of Manchester Regional High School. After serving as principal at BHS, he became a principal at Piscataway High School. In addition to his years of experience in public education, he has had his own education consulting firm since 1981.
His appointment is pending final approval from interim executive county superintendent Monica Tone. His contract, which is not yet hammered out, is for a one-year period, but the board has the power to extend it another year.
Risk vs. risk
Apart from the 14 classroom aides and one librarian aide, the board laid off the district’s risk manager, Chris Patella, in order to clear his $85,000 salary. There was much discussion about his value to the district, with some on the board arguing that he saves the district much more money than he makes by informing important financial decisions.
The irony of a board of trustees weighing the risk of firing the risk manager was overlooked in the somber mood of the evening. “Seeing the finances that I’ve seen, we are really in a dire straight,” said Broderick at the workshop meeting prior to the regular meeting where trustees discussed the employment status of Patella before voting to lay him off at the regular meeting.
Trustee Theodore Garelick defended Patella’s hire in December of 2015. “I have been trying for years to get a risk manager in this district because I know the direct correlation of someone who is tasked with what will drive up cost as opposed to driving down cost,” said Garelick citing his experience in private business. “With all due respect, if we had known about the financial difficulties, I would have hired him sooner. The payback is tremendous. I think we’re making a terrible mistake.”
“Other districts in this county that are more well-funded than us do not have this position,” said Trustee Christopher Munoz, calling Patella’s position a “luxury this board cannot afford,” and said his role should be absorbed by the business administrator.
It seemed that no layoff or demotion was easy for the board. When it came to Patella, Broderick said, “We’re considering things that would have the least impact on students themselves.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.