UNION, NJ — Schools Superintendent Gregory Tatum’s contract was renewed by default after the board of education was unable to muster enough votes to formally approve an extension at its Feb. 20 meeting, the school board attorney said.
Three of the nine members on the school board recused themselves from voting, while one abstained and another voted no. Four others voted yes to renew Tatum’s contract, according to a video recording of the meeting.
“The motion fails because you need five votes and an abstention doesn’t count,” school board attorney Paul Griggs said at the meeting.
School board President Vito Nufrio, Vice President Nancy Minneci and Sharon Sherry Higgins recused themselves from the vote since each have a family member who are employed in the school district.
Nufrio’s daughter in-law and Minneci’s cousin are teachers in the district, while Higgins’ husband is a security guard at Kawameeh Middle School, according to public disclosure forms.
State statute 18A:17-20.1 explains that a superintendent will automatically be reappointed for the same duration under their previous contract unless the board votes to change the contract.
“The outcome with regard to this vote is that unless the board of education approves his contract, then Mr. Tatum’s existing contract would automatically renew for another identical term of (about) three years,” Griggs explained at the meeting when asked by Nufrio for clarity on the vote.
There appeared to be confusion about the vote and what constituted a quorum for that particular motion since the three members with family employed in the district did not cast a vote, nor did they abstain.
It would appear that Griggs, who did not return multiple messages left at his firm’s office, considered that five votes were needed to renew Tatum’s contract, not the four out of the six members who were able to vote. He later explained at the meeting to a question that Tatum is considered “teaching staff” and therefore needs five votes.
Linda Richardson voted no, while Mary Lynn Williams abstained. Neither responded to emails asking about their decisions.
School board member Jeff Monge explained at the meeting that there was an ad hoc committee selected for the “superintendent process”.
“While we have conflicted members, specifically the president of the board of education, that’s not supposed to be part of the superintendent process,” Monge said. “The process of identifying an ad hoc committee — not drawing it from a hat — but…consciously selecting people to be part of an ad hoc committee is part of the process.”
Former school members Ronnie McDowell and Nancy Zuena voiced their concerns after the vote regarding Tatum’s contract, with McDowell calling the failed vote “disgraceful for the job he’s done.”
“The three years I worked on the board of (education), I can’t really remember a negative superintendent’s report,” Zuena said during the public comments portion at the meeting. “So it’s really a shame that the vote turned out the way it was because there was plenty of preparation for voting and plenty of information given.”
Tatum’s previous contract was effective Nov. 1, 2014 to June 20, or about three years and eight months. His annual salary is $177,500, according to the contract obtained through an open public records request.
In response to a public records request seeking Tatum’s contract that was up for adoption on Feb. 20, school board secretary and administrator Gregory Brennan said, “there was no other contract.”
There was no stipulation in the contract about Tatum automatically being rehired under the terms of the agreement, although it is explained in the state statute.