The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, has ruled that the Wall Township Board of Education failed to comply with the state’s public notice and public hearing requirement when it replaced Wall Township Superintendent Cheryl Dyer’s unexpired contract with a new one that increased her salary and extended her contract.
With less than a week’s notice given to board members, the contentious vote passed 5-1 with three members unable to vote due to conflicts. Dyer, who had previously agreed to a five-year contract extension, modified the agreement to a three-year agreement on the day of the board meeting, sensing that she would have difficulty getting the five-year deal passed.
Within a month of the board meeting, members of the Wall Township Education Association (WTEA) filed an appeal with New Jersey Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet, asking that the commissioner rescind the board’s decision. WTEA argued that the board had violated state law by not providing the mandated notice to the community.
“My colleagues and I work hard to advocate for our students and staff,” said WTEA President Gail Maher. “Taxpayers need to trust that elected officials are being open and transparent with how they govern. We believed that community members deserved to have their voices heard, and that the law had to be respected. That’s why my colleagues Eugene DeLutio, Kathleen Sayers, Robert Leach II, Jaimielynn Campbell, Kristy Ansbach and I pursued this case with the assistance of NJEA Field Representative Ron Villano, and with the full support and resources of the NJEA.”
“NJEA worked with the local association to identify the right attorney for this case, and to provide the support the association needed to see it through to the end,” said Villano. “This is what our members pay dues for: to ensure that their voices are heard, their rights are upheld, and our students are always the priority.”
New Jersey state law requires that boards of education must provide the community with 30 days’ notice before taking any actions to “renegotiate, extend, amend or otherwise alter” the terms of a superintendent’s contract.
Commissioner Repollet transferred the case to the Office of Administrative Law and an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) recommended that the WTEA’s petition be dismissed, upholding the board’s vote. The commissioner adopted the ALJ’s recommendation.
However, the WTEA pursued further legal action and, with the expertise of NJEA network attorneys Zazzali, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum and Friedman, brought the case before the appellate court.
On March 14, the court ruled that “the Commissioner misinterpreted N.J.S.A. 18A:11-11 under the circumstances of the case” and directed the board to vote on a new employment contract covering Dyer’s employment from Nov. 19, 2017 to June 30, 2020, in accordance with the law.
“We are pleased that the Court overturned the original decision,” said Maher, “And we look forward to the opportunity to have stakeholders’ voices heard through the public hearing process. As always, our goal is to ensure that decisions are made that put the best interest of Wall Township’s students first.”
NJ Statute on superintendent contracts
Other New Jersey boards of education have illegally extended a superintendent’s contract without prior notice to the community, and without providing them with an opportunity to speak to that issue. The statute (N.J.S.A. 18A 11-11) that mandates boards of education inform the community and provide a public forum for their feedback reads:
“A board of education shall not renegotiate, extend, amend, or otherwise alter the terms of a contract with a superintendent of schools… unless notice is provided to the public at least 30 days prior to the scheduled action by the board. The board shall also hold a public hearing and shall not take any action on the matter until the hearing has been held. The board shall provide the public with at least 10 days’ notice of the public hearing.”