June 5, 2008

Fort Lee Board Lets School Chief Retire, Not Quit


FORT LEE The Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to accept the retirement of Superintendent Joanne Calabro, apparently ending a sometimes controversial three-year tenure.

The board withdrew a resolution that would have erased its votes last year to accept her resignation and not renew her contract when it expired at the end of the 2007-08 school year. Her retirement will take effect July 1.

The change in Calabro's status is more than just wording. In being classified as retired, Calabro can sell back to the district 75 percent of her 81 unused sick days, netting her $44,308. This is not allowed when a person resigns, board attorney Robert Tessaro said.

She also is selling back to the district her unused vacation time and will receive $9,367 for 13 unused days. This is a process available to all district administrative employees at the end of each school year, whether or not they are retiring, Tessaro said.

The two actions will net Calabro about $53,600.

The board must approve the payment at its July meeting.

As part of her contract, Calabro was allowed to bring with her 50 unused sick days from her previous position. Those also will be included in the amount she can turn in for cash, school Business Administrator Cheryl Balletto told board members Monday.

Calabro asked for the status change. Her three-year contract as head of the district's schools expires at the end of the month.

The board declined Monday to rescind its decision last year to not renew her contract and to approve her resignation.

The board passed those resolutions in June 2007 after a speech Calabro gave in May at the high school's National Honor Society induction ceremony was found to have been plagiarized from the Web site About.com.

She announced on June 11, 2007, she would not seek renewal of her three-year contract and would not return for the 2008-09 school year.

The board voted unanimously, with three abstentions, in June 2007 to accept Calabro's resignation. The board also voted unanimously, with two abstentions, not to reappoint her when her contract expired at the end of this month.

Some parents in the audience Monday, worried that Calabro might find a way to stay in the district, asked whether the board would take up the resignation vs. retirement resolution later. But Calabro interrupted the discussion.

"It is not coming back to the board," she said. "It's dead."

Calabro told board members and about 25 parents that she will not stay when her contract expires on June 30.

"I'm not being rehired. I don't want to be rehired. I have other plans," she said at Monday's board meeting. "I'm tired of hearing this" rumor about trying to find a way to stay in the district, she said.

School Board President Carmelo Luppino Jr. confirmed that Calabro will not be asked to continue in her position.

"She is not staying," Luppino said Tuesday. "I know the board is working very hard to bring this community back together and go forward with a new superintendent in place."

The board is in "discussions" with the final candidate for the position, Luppino said.

"We anticipate having a superintendent in place by Sept. 1," he said. "If we get close and see it's not going to work, we will hire an interim."

Balletto has been named as emergency superintendent from July 1 through Aug. 31, as the school board works to replace Calabro. That appointment must be approved by county Superintendent Aaron Graham.

Calabro is not the only district official leaving at the end of the school year. Assistant Superintendent Joseph Micelli has submitted his resignation effective June 30.


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