Superintendent Carroll Declines Contract Renewal

Beleagured Clinton Township Superintendent Kevin Carroll has formally requested that the Board of Education not renew his contract, in a letter dated June 24, 2011.

The wording of Carroll’s letter reveals that this is not a resignation. Carroll notifies that per his existing contract, his last day of work will be June 30, 2012. Under NJ statute, a BOE is required to give a superintendent a year’s notice about its intentions regarding his contract.

From a strategic career standpoint, Carroll now avoids a possible vote to reject his contract renewal at the June 27th BOE meeting, and any associated blemish on his record. But Clinton Township residents, parents and teachers have already made their “performance review” of Carroll a matter of the public record. And they’re not happy.

Following public demands, voiced at the June 13 BOE meeting, that the BOE not renew Carroll’s contract at its June 27 meeting, the CTSD teachers notified the BOE on June 20 that 81% of them had voted “no confidence” in Carroll.

The teachers said this was an unprecedented action: The teachers have never voted “no confidence” in a superintendent before. More than any other individual action, the teachers’ vote may have led to Carroll’s sudden notice to the BOE. Combined with information provided by the public at the BOE meetings and in recent letters to the editor, it seems a rejection of the contract by the also-beleagured BOE may have been inevitable.

In February, Carroll had requested that the BOE act on his contract renewal early, and the BOE put the contract on its agenda for a vote. Immediate public outcry — which somehow surprised the BOE — led Carroll to withdraw his request before the BOE could act. At that meeting, residents accused the BOE of rushing to act on Carroll’s contract prior to the upcoming school elections. The BOE apparently feared that three new BOE members would interfere with plans to appoint Carroll for another three years. In fact, the arrival of three new members, who began closely scrutinizing BOE actions, squashed more than one BOE initiative as motions started to get tabled.

However, in spite of the public’s remonstrances in February, the BOE took no actions since then to conduct a full public review process of Carroll’s performance. This blew up in the BOE’s face in mid-June amidst continuing complaints that the public was being cut out of important school district policy decisions — like who was going to serve as superintendent.

At the June 13 meeting, members of the public not only demanded rejection of Carroll’s contract renewal; they complained that the BOE itself was guilty of failing to conduct a thorough and transparent process to review Carroll’s performance, and to decide on his contract renewal. (See School board gets an F on superintendent’s contract.) Public comment on the contract was not on the June 13 BOE agenda. Instead, residents packed the CTMS Library specifically to address the superintendent’s contract during the open public comment section of the meeting.

Under pressure from the public, the BOE quickly scheduled an extra meeting for June 20, specifically to accept comments on the superintendent’s contract. Originally slated for the CTMS Library, the June 20 meeting had to quickly be moved to the CTMS auditorium to accommodate more than 100 attendees. Carroll presented a slideshow describing the district’s problems when he arrived, and how he corrected them during his two years on the job. The BOE was criticized for not creating a public forum to review and debate Carroll’s objectives, his performance, his claims, and the public’s perception of his performance.

The public’s criticisms at the June 20 meeting quickly shifted focus from the superintendent to the BOE’s handling of the performance and contract review process. Under the often inscrutable and inept leadership of BOE president Jim Dincuff, the BOE seems to have destroyed any realistic opportunity that Superintendent Kevin Carroll might have had to get his contract renewed.

Before public comment was formally over at the June 20 meeting, Dincuff interrupted comments and launched a public disclosure of negotiations between the BOE and the teachers’ union, prompting a teachers’ representative to ask whether Dincuff was now negotiating in public. Dincuff replied that he was, and proceeded to “disclose” offers the BOE had made to the teachers.

Having violated his own BOE meeting agenda, board president Dincuff threw the meeting into a tailspin with his tirade about teachers’ contract negotiations, ignoring calls for order while he brought the entire meeting to a crashing halt.

Said one resident in a letter to the editor this week:

“Morale in our schools is low, community trust is low, and stakeholders have sent the strongest possible messages to the board that we need and expect change.”

Under Dincuff’s leadership, it seems the old members of the BOE might believe they can now put their heads in the sand, because Carroll won’t be reappointed. But Debate on Carroll’s contract has focused a bright light on the BOE’s own failure to properly manage the district,  and on its lack of transparency. With three new members scrutinizing the old BOE’s behavior, it seems radical change could already be under way.


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