It's been nearly three years since Joseph H. Vicari cleaned out his desk and left his job as superintendent of the Berkeley Township school district.
He had served for six years. He did not go willingly.
A previous Board of Education in 2008 took a vote and declined to renew his contract, a move Vicari says was illegal and engineered by the Democratic majority on the school board.
That's when the search for a permanent superintendent for the four-school K-6 district began. It continues to this day.
And it's understandable if Berkeley residents find their heads spinning over this interminable process, a process rife with politics and controversy. Grab a chair, folks. It's a long story.
Shortly after Vicari left when his contract expired, the school board installed Arlene J. Lippincott as interim superintendent. Her "interim" hitch ended up lasting two years. The board made little effort to search for a new, permanent superintendent for more than a year.
Lippincott seemed to be on her way to becoming a permanent superintendent when the board voted unanimously at the Oct. 7, 2010 meeting to authorize board attorney John C. Sahradnik to begin negotiations with her for a three-year contract.
But in December 2010, then-board member John Bacchione and board President James J. Byrnes invited Vicari — a longtime Ocean County Republican freeholder — to drop by the district's administrative offices. Vicari has said he thought it was simply a "holiday" gathering.
It was not. It was a board personnel committee meeting. Then-board member Patrick Riley, who thought they were going to discuss Lippincott's contract, was so infuriated that he left the meeting in disgust.
"The biggest joke in all of New Jersey," he said then. "Maybe all 49 other states. I stayed for about nine minutes and walked out..."
Bacchione and Byrnes asked Vicari to return as superintendent until a permanent replacement could be found. Vicari offered to work free of charge, with no benefits, so the cash-strapped district could save some jobs and programs.
In the end, the district ended up paying Vicari $18,500 a year, because state statutes required that certified school administrators be paid at least that.
But his return came with a caveat - he would serve a year and was not interested in any full-time job.
That warning should have been heeded by board members. But they did not immediately begin a search for a permanent superintendent.
Instead, some board members, including Board President Steven M. Pellecchia -tried to cajole Vicari into staying on even longer.
Earlier this school year Vicari said he would leave before the April school elections, which were subsequently moved to November. Things changed again at the February board meeting, when Vicari announced he would be leaving even sooner, on March 31.
"I will not be serving as superintendent because of some controversy," Vicari said at the Feb. 9 board meeting. "I will be leaving at the end of next month."
Vicari said he had received stellar evaluations from all of the board members in February, with the exception of Dawn Parks. He said he could not continue without the full support of all board members.
The board waited until April 2012, just a few weeks ago, to approve a $6,500 contract with Leadership Adventures to begin a search.
Vicari said at the April board meeting that he had spoken to Central Regional Schools Superintendent Triantafillos "Tom" Parlapanides that day and that Parlapanides was not interested in taking over the Berkeley school district.
That apparently was news to Parlapanides, who told Berkeley Patch that he was very much interested in serving as the Berkeley super, in addition to his Central Regional duties.
Parlapanides also said he didn't expect any additional salary from Berkeley.
"It benefits the kids in terms of curriculum, it benefits the taxpayers, we can buy supplies in bulk. It's a win-win," he said in late April.
Shortly after, Pellecchia accused Parlapanides of calling Vicari a "liar." Then he lashed out and said Central Regional was a "failing" district.
He also said Parlapanides was not qualified to serve as Berkeley superintendent.
At the end of last week, a note appeared on the Berkeley Township school district website notifying residents that a special meeting would be held on May 2 to discuss the superintendent search and replacement, in addition to several other items. Formal action could be taken, according to the announcement.
But by Tuesday, things had changed again. Another note appeared on the district website. The May 2 special meeting was cancelled.
And for those who think school boards are non-partisan, think again.
The Democratic majority of the board gave Vicari the heave-ho in 2008. The Republican majority on the board now welcomed him back in 2011. Vicari is a longtime Republican Ocean County Freeholder. Fulcomer is an official in the Berkeley Township Republican Club. Parks is a member of the Berkeley Township Democratic Club.
Two of the newest members on the board — Republicans Louis Tuminaro and David Ytreboe — were appointed to the board earlier this year to fill vacancies created when Republican Byrnes was appointed to the Township Council and Bacchione, also a Republican, was elected to the Township Council. Both Tuminaro and Ytreboe men were defeated in previous quests for board seats.
The next Board of Education meeting is May 24. Stay tuned.