The Berkeley Board of Education voted 5 to 1 Wednesday night to bring back former schools superintendent Joseph H. Vicari to serve for a term of one year, beginning on April 1.
Vicari, who also is a longtime Republican Ocean County freeholder, had offered to work for free. But state law requires that certified school professionals have to be paid a salary, board President James J. Byrnes said after the meeting.
"The state mandates that when you're certified, you have to get paid x amount of dollars," Byrnes said. "I didn't know that until we consulted with the conflict attorney. Mr. Vicari offered zero, but he can't do zero."
So the board settled on paying Vicari $18,500, or $71 a day, the lowest the district could possibly pay, he said.
Full details of Vicari's contract could not be obtained Wednesday night. But Byrnes said the former superintendent will be given 43 days off without pay during the coming year, which includes vacation, sick and personal days.
"We got Mr. Vicari back in," board member Steven Pellechia said after the meeting. Pellechia had lobbied to bring Vicari back almost since his departure in 2009.
"We brought Mr. Vicari back for two reasons," Pellechia said. "Two years ago he was illegally kicked out of being superintendent, and we have been fighting ever since to bring him back. And we're going to save about $150,000 in salaries."
Vicari's selection ends more than a year and a half of searching for a permanent superintendent. Vicari served six years as superintendent of the four-school district before a previous board decided not to renew his contract in 2008.
He left the district in June 2009, when his contract ran out. Interim Superintendent Arlene J. Lippincott has been serving in the position ever since.
"Arleen has done a great job as interim superintendent," Byrnes said. "I was just reluctant to get into a three-year contract continuing with Arleen as superintendent when we are looking to consolidate and share services."
Board member Dawn Parks cast the lone dissenting vote at the brief Feb. 23 meeting.
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.
Since then, the board has gone back and forth on who should be at the helm of the four-school district. Board members voted 5 to 1 at the Feb. 3 meeting to keep a motion on the floor made by board member Steven Pellechia to bring Vicari back as interim superintendent.
But they voted again to table the motion, after it was determined that a conflict attorney was needed. Sahradnik — who serves as county counsel to the Ocean County Board of Freeholders — has recused himself from anything involving Vicari, a longtime freeholder. Parks voted no on the first vote and board member Patrick Riley abstained. Both Parks and Riley abstained on the second vote.
"It's a red letter day for the taxpayers," said South Seaside Park resident James Fulcomer after the meeting last night. Fulcomer is president of the Berkeley Republican Club.
Vicari had a recent death in the family and could not be reached for comment last night.