Health Forces Banks to Resign as Pinelands Regional Interim Superintendent

School Board to Ask State to Investigate Construction Debacle
Dec 06, 2017

The Pinelands Regional Board of Education reluctantly accepted the resignation of Interim Superintendent Maryann Banks at its working session meeting on Monday evening.

Banks’ resignation was reportedly due to health issues. Many members of the board praised her service as they cast their votes to accept her resignation in the board forum that concluded yet another long meeting. Two members, Patricia Chambers and Board President Susan Ernst, were especially emotional as they spoke about Banks. Chambers read from a letter she had composed and often had to stop to choke back tears. Ernst said, “I have to be totally honest, I’ve had three crappy days (since learning of Banks’ decision). I’ve gone through most of my life, and I admire very few women.”

Banks is one. “I want this documented,” said Ernst. “Sadly, I think we are losing the best (superintendent) we had in a decade.”

Banks was hired as interim superintendent on June 15, 2016, with an effective date of employment starting on July 1. She replaced Robert Blake, who had served in the Pinelands post from June 2011. His contract ran through June 30, 2017, but he agreed to a separation agreement and resigned effective June 30, 2016, and was given $39,375 as part of the deal. No reason was ever given by the board for his departure.

Banks was familiar to the board. She had served as school superintendent in Vineland from 2009 until her retirement in 2012. But the educator, with 45 years of experience, went on to serve as interim superintendent in Little Egg Harbor Township from July 2014 to June 2015 and followed that up serving as interim superintendent of the Hamilton Township School District. Her contract with Pinelands called for pay of $600 a day, not to exceed $157,500 for the year. She also received no benefits from Pinelands.

The board renewed her contract in June 2017. When asked by The SandPaper why the board hadn’t hired a permanent superintendent, Ernst presciently said the district would be going through trying times in the coming year due to construction projects that voters had approved – on a second try – in a $53 million referendum and wanted Banks’ experienced hand on board.

Banks, by state law, would have had to end her association with Pinelands, even on a consultation basis, by June 30, 2018. The district is currently seeking a new permanent superintendent with the help of the New Jersey School Boards Association.

For now, at least, Cheryl Stevenson, the district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, will assume Banks’ duties. She had previously filled the role of acting interim superintendent when Banks was unavailable earlier this autumn.

The other major action that occurred at Monday evening’s meeting was that the board unanimously agreed to ask the N.J.  Department of Education to investigate the construction situation at the district. Concerns about asbestos, other contaminants and loose and falling construction screws resulting from a flawed roofing project at the high school have closed that building, forcing high school and junior high students to share the junior high in split sessions. A letter to the state will be composed and officially voted on at the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 13.

The board had previously discussed hiring an outside investigator – an attorney, an accountant, a construction manager, a private investigator or an educator? – but Ernst recommended the state Department of Education for a couple of reasons. One, the state would be totally independent so there could be no charges of collusion. Two, it would be free.

Board Attorney Amy Houch said she had seen previous investigations conducted by independent investigators and they had run $15,000 to $50,000, noting “they were smaller in scope.” But Houch also said, “I can’t say they (the Department of Education) are going to do an investigation. All you can do is request that.”

When asked how long it would take the DOE to conduct the investigation, Houch said it was “hard to say.” But she suspected the state might already be familiar with the situation at Pinelands.

“I would have to imagine the state has already received many phone calls regarding this issue.”

“If any active investigation is (already) going on, the board would like to be notified,” said board member Betti Anne McVey.

One final point of interest – the board and the district’s professionals could not say when the high school building would be reopened.

— Rick Mellerup

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