Vicari Details Decision to Return to Berkeley School District
Township Council Agrees to Lop $50,000 From Defeated School Budget
Schools Superintendent Joseph H. Vicari returned to the dais at tonight's Board of Education meeting for the first time in nearly two years.
And Vicari, who started on April 1, said his reasons for coming back were simple —to save teachers' jobs, save taxpayers money and improve the quality of education.
"I'm not going to get involved in political battles," he said. "I will do this job."
Vicari said a previous board's decision not to renew his contract in 2008 was "illegal." He has said that the decision was politically engineered by the previous board and the local and county Democratic organizations.
He left the district June 2009, when his contract expired, after serving six years as superintendent. He did not apply for unemployment benefits.
Vicari said tonight that some current board members had asked him if he planned to sue over the controversial 2008 vote.
"I said I would not sue," Vicari said.
His return marks the end of nearly two years of controversy and a lengthy search for a new permanent superintendent. Arlene J. Lippincott, who had served as interim superintendent after Vicari left, has returned as principal of the Bayville Elementary School.
The road to Vicari's eventual return has been a long and complicated one.
Board members voted 7-0 at the Oct. 7 meeting to authorize board Attorney John C. Sahradnik to begin negotiations with Lippincott for a possible three-year contract.
The board also voted unanimously at the Oct. 7 meeting to advertise the vacant principal's position at the Bayville Elementary School. Lippincott has been filling that role, along with the interim superintendent's position.
But in December, board member John Bacchione and board President James J. Byrnes invited Vicari - a longtime Republican Ocean County freeholder - to drop by the district offices. Vicari has said he thought it was a holiday invitation and had no idea it was a personnel committee meeting. Bacchione and Byrnes asked him to return as superintendent until a permanent replacement could be found. Vicari offered to work free of charge, with no benefits.
State law requires that certified school administrators must be paid a salary. So Vicari agreed to come back at the lowest possible salary - $18,500 a year, with no benefits. Money saved from not paying him a higher salary and benefits will go towards saving teachers' jobs and programs.
"I never received health benefits," he said tonight."It does not increase my pension. It gives me the opportunity to serve the people of Berkeley Township. Give me 90 days to do the right thing. I just want t go out in 11 months and say I did the right thing."
"Welcome back, Mr. Vicari," board member Pellechia said. "It took a long time to correct the wrong and I'm so happy it is done. There has been a lull in the past 18 months, but now you are back and things will improve."
"I know you will do a good job," said newly-elected board member James Fulcomer. "You did a good job before."
Vicari said last Friday one of the worst days of his career. It was the day he had to meet with the district's 28 non-tenured teachers, who could lose their jobs in the wake of the defeat of the tax levy portion of the budget.
"These are good people," he said.
Voters turned down the $26,512,541 tax levy portion of the $32,022,145 budget by a vote of 2,101 to 1,929 on April 27. Roughly 17 percent of the township's registered voters went to the polls.
"That should never happen again," Vicari said. "It was a zero tax increase."
Vicari and other school officials had hoped it would pass, since the amount to be raised by taxation dropped by $168,721 from last year to $26,512,541. A property owner with a home assessed at the township average of $204,100 would have seen a decrease of 52 cents for the upcoming budget year. The proposed school tax rate was 51.5 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation.
Township Council President Karen Davis told Berkeley Patch during a break in the meeting that the council late this afternoon recommended that the district trim $50,000 from the budget.
"They've already lost nine positions," Davis said.
Vicari said tonight he planned to meet with the candidates who lost in the race for the three seats on the school board and members of the Berkeley Township Taxpayers Coalition.
"I want to hear what they have to say," he said.