Little Egg Harbor Superintendent, School Board Bristle at Social Media Attacks

Want Names to File Lawsuit
By PAT JOHNSON | Aug 22, 2017

During the Aug. 21 Little Egg Harbor School District Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Dr. Melissa McCooley read a statement decrying anonymous, personal attacks she said have been made against her and the board on social media.

McCooley said she and the board would take steps to find out who the anonymous writers are through their IP website numbers, and would name them in lawsuits. “If they would like to offer their names, we can skip the investigatory work. I can name them directly now.”

McCooley also said she wanted to lay-to-rest some of the questions that may have fueled the social media posts.

“The superintendent’s office has an open door policy for anyone who wants to have a meaningful dialogue with regard to any issue pertaining to the school, the students or the staff. I am always open to constructive criticism, and value the opinions of my staff, parents and even students if they are presented in an appropriate manner.

“There has been a lot of anonymous social media chatter about two issues that I feel I need to clear the air about,” she began. “The first being my recent salary increase.

“Two years ago, I came to the Little Egg Harbor School District as superintendent when the previous superintendent resigned his position and a temporary interim was taking the role. At that point in time, I took a significant pay cut because I wanted to work with the students of the friends and neighbors I grew up with, in the community I love. I have excelled in my position here and have received accolades from the vast majority of parents, staff and the current board of education.

“When I was notified that changes in state regulations permitted me the opportunity to negotiate a five-year contract, I presented that option to the board. A five-year contract would add security to my position and would allow me to focus on a five-year plan for making improvements within the school district. It would also mean the school district would not have to risk losing another superintendent if I were to receive a more lucrative offer from another district. The board agreed and we negotiated a five-year contract.”

McCooley then noted that Dr. Frank Kasyan was making $178,000 a year – a salary commensurate with other superintendent salaries in Ocean County – when he left three years ago to accept a higher paying position.

McCooley signed a three-year contract in 2015 for $135,000, with 2 percent raises each year. This was $15,000 less than her previous position as assistant superintendent/ director of curriculum in Somerville.

McCooley’s re-negotiated 5-year contract started July 1, 2017. Her salary for the first year is $169,689 with 2 percent raises for each subsequent year, reaching $183,677 for the 2021-2022 year.

The 2016-17 enrollment was 1,570 students; enrollment for 2017-18 is apparently 1,675, according to a board statement.

The state maximum superintendent salary cap for 2011-2016 for a school with this number of students was $155,000. The maximum salary cap for 2017 is $169,689, at which McCooley’s salary was recently set.

McCooley also said that she worked as the school district business administrator for the past two years – and by doing so, saved the district $200,000.

And by eliminating the district’s technology coordinator position, and sharing that job along with another administrator, she saved $87,000.

She also works as the school district truant officer.

The second topic of “anonymous social media chatter” was the hiring of Nicholas Brown on April 24 as the school business administrator, at a salary of $120,000.

“Mr. Brown had a financial interest in my husband’s local business, Pinelands Brewery. The BA position was posted on NJSchoolJobs and Mr. Brown inquired about applying. Immediately I sought out legal advice to ensure he was permitted to apply because of his interest in my husband’s business,” said McCooley. “I was instructed that not only was he permitted to apply for the position, but if I stood in his way I would be breaking the law and would subject the district to a potential suit.”

Brown was interviewed with eight other candidates and the interview committee of seven administrators scored each one, and selected Brown.

“Mr. Brown is not a relative, nor was he a close friend. His hiring does not violate the nepotism policy provided by NJ School boards,” she said.

Board President Gina Frasca then read a statement from the board, which included McCooley’s educational statistics: two bachelor degrees, two masters degrees, and most recently, a doctorate this spring in educational leadership.

“Dr. McCooley came to our district with 17 years of experience in the field of education. She has now begun her 20th year in this field and has been in the role of a teacher, a literacy specialist, an assistant principal and a director of curriculum and instruction/ assistant superintendent, before coming to Little Egg Harbor School district,” read Frasca.

Frasca then read a long list of local accomplishments McCooley has achieved in two years, including implementing standard-based grading, creating curriculum roadmaps that are aligned to current NJ standards, creating free summer professional development for teachers and support staff, creating parent workspaces in each school building, and many more. (The full letter is posted on the district website, lehsd.K12.nj.us.)

Frasca and McCooley also took issue with a headline in the May Tuckerton Leader that said the school had cut 19 jobs. Apparently this article was pasted by one of its readers in one of the offending social media posts. Frasca said the school board had only cut two teaching jobs, but the article did explain some jobs lost were retirements that were not being filled because of declining enrollment and the non-teaching “jobs” that were cut to make the budget fit the state mandate 2 percent cap.

In other business at the Aug. 21 meeting, McCooley gave an update on PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers) testing, noting that 98.2 percent of the students took the test. Pie charts for test performance in the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade levels in math and English language showed none of the grade levels were meeting grade level expectations, yet except for 3rd grade math, all had improved their performance from the prior year. The charts will be on the website, she promised.

The board has ratified its strategic plan and goals developed by teams of parents, teachers and administrators. District development plan goals are: small group instruction, character education, point in time assessments, an increase in instructional technology and teacher training in dyslexia.

John Acampora resigned as elementary supervisor in the George J. Mitchell School to take the position of director of curriculum. His salary was $96,500 and is now $101,000.

Acampora said to improve state QSAC (Quality Single Accountability Curriculum) scores, he would implement a district improvement plan in four areas: indications, issues, personal responsibility and evidence of completion to improve scores in language arts, math and attendance. To do this, the district will place more emphasis on purposeful professional learning communities, teacher professional development and technology.

A midpoint review would be in either January or February.

The board also hired a new replacement music teacher for the Mitchell School at a Step 1 salary of $56,784.

Brown read one of the board’s policies, the one dealing with cyber bullying, and announced a cell phone app for smart phones called STOPit will be available in the schools in September. The app facilitates reporting of unwanted or malicious texts by empowering students to take screenshots of malicious online behavior and send it to a set of trusted adults. STOPit, created in 2016, attempts to remove several of the traditional hurdles to reporting cyberbullying by allowing reporting kids to remain anonymous; alerting local law enforcement to older online predators; and access to 24/7 help lines.

The business administrator also announced that switching the health insurance from the state plan to Horizon BCBS of New Jersey would save the district approximately 20 percent of their health care costs. Brown and Brown Benefit Advisors developed the plan.

The school board approved the switch. Board vice-president August Daleo remarked that business administrator Nick Brown should qualify that he has no connection to Brown and Brown Benefit Advisors, except a last name.

In July, the board members had attended a workshop retreat and developed these board goals: To increase student engagement with all facets of the school experience; to increase parent engagement through the use of Skpe; to have a more active roll in policy creation and the analysis of the school’s audit; and to oversee the district’s strategic plan.

The next board meeting is on Monday, Sept. 18 in the Frog Pond Elementary School cafeteria.

patjohnson@thesandpaper.net

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