Melissa McCooley Now a ‘Super-Superintendent’ of Schools

Signs Five-Year Shared Services Contract With LEH and Pinelands Districts
May 30, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson NO OBJECTIONS: (Left to right) Little Egg Harbor Board of Education Vice-President John Bellone and President August Daleo voted to share their superintendent, Melissa McCooley, with Pinelands Regional.

On Friday, May 25, the Little Egg Harbor Board of Education approved a shared-services agreement between its district and the Pinelands Regional School District allowing current LEHSD Superintendent of Schools Melissa McCooley to become the shared superintendent of both districts as of June 1.

The Pinelands Regional Board of Education had unanimously approved the shared-services agreement, along with McCooley’s contract, which runs through June 30, 2022, at a meeting two days earlier.

Unlike the Pinelands BOE, the Little Egg Harbor Board of Education had to jump through some hoops to do so. The reason – four members of the LEH BOE are, or have relatives who are, employees of one or the other of the districts.

Matthew Maleski is an assistant principal at Pinelands Regional and his wife is a Pinelands teacher. James Becker is a Pinelands teacher, Martha “June” Palen’s daughter is employed as a paraprofessional and energy education specialist in the Little Egg Harbor School District and John Bellone is the facilities manager at Pinelands.

They, according to the New Jersey School Ethics Commission, the School Ethics Act, and School District Fiscal Accountability Regulations, therefore have a conflict of interest and are normally precluded from discussing or voting on matters that affect or may affect their own or a relative’s employment.

But New Jersey allows conflicted members to vote on matters they normally couldn’t if a quorum can’t otherwise be reached. In other words, if conflicted members form a minority of a school board, they can’t vote on a matter related to their conflicts. But if a majority of a school board is conflicted, they can vote despite those conflicts by invoking something called a Doctrine of Necessity.

If only three members were conflicted, there would have been no problem. The other four members would have constituted a quorum and the vote could have proceeded. But once Bellone was hired by Pinelands on April 18, there were four conflicted members; thus a quorum could not be established. So before the LEHSD board could pass the shared-services agreement, rescind its current contract with McCooley and approve her new, shared-services contract, it first had to pass a Doctrine of Necessity resolution.

In 2003, the School Ethics Commission issued new guidelines on how to deal with a situation when a board quorum could not be reached because of conflict of interest.

“WHEREAS, in keeping with the Legislative purpose as set forth in N.J.S.A. 18A:12-22(a), the School Ethics Commission views public disclosure of conflicts of interest to be paramount when it is necessary to invoke the Doctrine of Necessity;

“NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the school ethics commission hereby requires Boards of Education and Charter Schools of Trustees that must invoke the Doctrine of Necessity to adopt a resolution setting forth that they are invoking the Doctrine, the reason for doing so and the specific nature of the conflicts of interest; and

“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Boards of Education and Charter School Boards of Trustees that invoke the Doctrine are directed to read the resolution at a regularly scheduled public meeting, post it where it posts public notices for 30 days and provide the Commission with a copy.”

The LEHSD invoked the doctrine, by a 6-0 vote with only one member, Dr. Donald Gross, who happened to not have a conflict, abstaining. It then went on to approve the shared-services agreement with Pinelands and approve McCooley’s new contract, again with all conflicted members voting yes. Effectively, then, Maleski, Becker and Bellone, hired their own boss, while, at the same time, as members of the LEHSD BOE, being McCooley’s bosses. Gross was the only board member to vote no on the shared-services agreement.

Contract Has

Interesting Clause

McCooley, a proud Pinelands graduate, had been making $169,689 as the LEHSD superintendent. She will now be paid $189,689 annually as superintendent of the two districts. That salary will be prorated for the month of June 2018.

She will also be eligible for merit bonuses of 3.33 percent of her annual salary for each “quantitative merit criterion achieved” and 2.5 percent of her annual salary for each “qualitative merit criterion achieved” per contract year. McCooley’s contract allows one quantitative and one qualitative bonus per year from each district.

The new super-superintendent will be eligible to spend up to $5,000 a year for professional development activities, and the districts will pay up to $4,000 for her professional membership fees.

She’ll be provided with a new laptop worth up to $2,000 that will remain the property of the LEHSD and be returned to the district at the end of her employment, a laptop that will be replaced as necessary. Pinelands will reimburse LEH for its share of the laptop costs.

McCooley will receive 20 vacation days each school year, 12 sick days annually, is entitled to temporary paid leave of absence for death in the family (five days with unlimited annual occurrences), critical illness in the family (two days, unlimited annual occurrences), and four personal leave days a year. She’ll also have 14 paid holidays.

Little Egg Harbor will provide McCooley with a cell phone in the amount of $1,000, with Pinelands reimbursing LEH for its share of the costs.

Interestingly, McCooley’s contract may only be terminated by the mutual agreement of both LEH and Pinelands. That could become a bone of contention if one district felt she was spending too much time working for the other district.

When questioned in the meeting’s public comment period about the difficulties in working for two bosses when one demands more attention than the other, Board President August Daleo said, “We have addressed this in the shared-services agreement.” McCooley’s contract states that “The Superintendent shall devote her full time, skill, labor and attention to said employment, splitting her time in accordance with terms of the agreement between LEH (50 percent) and PINELANDS (50 percent). The Superintendent will be accessible to both districts at all times.” But it adds “it is understood that more time in a particular district during certain times of year, or to address an issue so that educational and administrative needs are met may occur.” If McCooley had been superintendent of schools for both districts in the 2017-18 school year, she would have been very busy at Pinelands considering the months-long closing of the high school building due to the many problems that surrounded a flawed roof replacement project. It would have been a Herculean task to maintain anything close to a 50/50 split of time. And remember, the more complicated project of replacing the high school’s crumbling façade is scheduled for the coming year.

— Rick Mellerup

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