Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Divided Board Welcomes Dr. O'Malley

Finally, a fight.

After spending months trying to stay above the fray at public forums, School Board President Larry O’Connell thumped the opposition at Monday’s Special Action Meeting. The special session, convened to appoint Dr. Richard O'Malley as the superintendent of the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District, gave light to the raging debate within the school board over how to improve education.

Dr. O’Malley received a four-year contract with an annual salary of $173,000 plus benefits. Because his current employer, the Mountainside School District, won’t release him early, the board also offered Dr. O’Malley a four-month phase-in period, to begin immediately. During the four months, Dr. O’Malley has agreed to work when available and will be compensated $750 per month.

The board voted 6-3 to approve the contract. In opposition were board members Demarest, Barbato, and Zavorskas. Mr. Barbato argued against the contract because Dr. O’Malley had not guaranteed a minimum level of service for the $750 monthly fee. President O’Connell called the argument “ludicrous”; Dr. O’Malley had already agreed to work four full days in February and the fee is less than half a percent of the total contract. When Mrs. Zavorskas later complained of not being included in a preliminary review of the budget, President O’Connell accused her of “grandstanding”. Mrs. Demarest did not comment on the appointment. (To her great credit, Mrs. Demarest only speaks when she has something to say.)

Contrary to the opposition’s insistence that they were only against the contract, their true focus was Dr. O’Malley.

The school board is divided into two wings – the “Diversity” (progressive) wing, led by Mrs. Demarest, and the “Standards” (traditional) wing, led by President O’Connell. The first dispute between them is how to improve education.

The Standards wing believes we need to raise standards and expectations at all levels and then offer sticks and carrots to ensure those standards are met. Just as they believe we need to raise the bar to improve education, so do they believe that lowering the bar will impair education. The Standards wing rejects the notion that we should lower expectations for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Diversity wing believes it is inherently unfair and potentially damaging to hold every child to the same expectation levels regardless of background. Rather, they believe the school district, to the best of its ability, should cater to the individual needs of the student. They support reducing class sizes and providing individualized programs.

The second point of divergence is how to measure education. The Standards wing believes that standardized exams, however imperfect, are the best objective means we have to measure how much our students are learning. The Diversity wing believes that feedback from teachers, parents, and students – those people most involved, most affected, and most knowledgeable – is the best indicator of academic performance.

The appointment of Dr. Richard O’Malley is a clear victory for the Standards wing. According to the school board, Dr. O’Malley has an established history of raising test scores while controlling costs as Chief School Administrator of the Mountainside School District. He also has a reputation as a tough administrator who runs a tight ship. (During the special session, MRTA President Carl Kosmyna raised allegations that Dr. O’Malley had once yelled at a teacher.)

The Diversity wing opposed the appointment on grounds that Dr. O’Malley worked in a school district that resembles Holmdel far more than Matawan-Aberdeen. Mountainside is a white bread school district that has very few poor folk or racial minorities. His lack of a “diverse” background is compounded by the fact he never managed a high school.

In the end, we all wish Dr. O’Malley the very best and pray that he leads our school district to new heights. But his appointment won’t end the ideological quarrel between the two wings. Nor should it. This is an argument worth debating.
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29 comments:

Truth In Matawan said...

Great summary of the special session, thanks!

We have to admit, we are vey happy with the selection of Dr. O'Malley, we hope he continues his trend of raising scores and controlling scores.

Mr. Kosmyna, guess what? We get yelled at all the time by our boss, not just when we do something wrong, but maybe just because he's in a bad mood. You may work with kids, but you're an adult, so grow up! Getting yelled at isn't the worst thing in the world if you've made a mistake!

Aberdeener said...

NJ Monthly has just ranked Matawan Regional High School #115 out of 316 high schools within the state.

Let's pray Dr. O'Malley is up to the challenge.

Anonymous said...

It seems that the Asbury Park Press disagrees with your take on some of the questions that were asked and sided with the board minority. No matter who is right more time should have been devoted to getting some of these questions answered before a long term contract is sealed. Having a special meeting instead of the regular board meeting for more public opinion and more open discussion is a bad move and shows the intentions of some to move this along quickly.

Aberdeener said...

I saw the editorial and thought it was ludicrous. What high-ranking, highly qualified, sought after, school official is able to break his contract in the middle of a school year? The issue can't be money since we're talking about a pittance compared to the rest of the contract. What does the APP suggest we do? Not hire anyone until the summer?

I like the APP but, in this instance, I found the editorial to be completely nonsensical.

Aberdeener said...

For everybody else, here's the link to the APP editorial.

Anonymous said...

Most superintendents have a 60 day release clause from their employers. OMalley has 120 day clause. Although, I wouldn't recommend waiting until summer to hire someone, how about waiting to hire a more experienced candidate with a shorter release date. Why not wait to hire someone that the entire bd of ed and the community had confidence in because 4 years in a long time.

looking to a brighter future said...

Hey Anonymous,
You seem to know a lot about superintendent contracts? Are you a board member? If not, you should run. Was the previous superintendent scrutinized as much as Dr. O'Malley? How about giving the guy a chance?

Aberdeener said...

Just like the presidential election, the board needs to choose from the candidates it has, not the candidates it wants.

I don't know why they offered a 4-year contract but Dr. O'Malley doesn't appear to be the type of person who will stay even if he's no longer wanted.

Anonymous said...

I usually don't like the APP, but in this case I found it very logical.
since the residents will be paying his salary, I find it disturbing, yet typical that the BOE held a special meeting instead of a public meeting.
Hmmm...I wonder why that is?

Anonymous said...

I, too, find it very interesting that the BOE would be SO quick to raise the salary of the Superintendent AND offer additional increments for every year in his position, BUT they can't come to a compromise about the teacher's contract! Some of these teachers have been loyally teaching in this district for years. It is a SLAP in the face to them that the BOE would be SO quick to not only hire a new Super, but raise his salary and increments without even flinching!Our school district is in such monetary distress that the BOE has issued an ACROSS THE BOARD BUDGET FREEZE in almost EVERY departments (including maintenance)! But somehow, someway, the BOE has managed to give this stranger a astonomical salary! It seems to me that the super, now that he's been given a hefty salary by the BOE, will be doing the Board's bidding. We should go back to the days where the Superintendent is not "given a salary by the BOE". They have too much power and seem to be manipulating others to carry out their requests.

Anonymous said...

aberdeerner to call the APP article ludicrous is ludicrous. You only addressed one issue, not hire anyone till summer? What about $18,500 for consultant, hiring at $23,000.00 more than last super, coming from a district a lot smaller, and a 4 year contract. Thats ludicrous!

Anonymous said...

sorry, also a special meeting? Why not wait until the regular meeting? Many people could not respond because of notice and the fact that no one knew who was being appointed. The persons name should have been put out and time should have been given to research. A simple google of this person has brought up some questions that should have been answered before a 4 year contract was given.

Aberdeener said...

The editorial is entitled - "No time for part-timer".

It's first sentence is - "After paying $18,500 to a consultant to help the district find a new school superintendent, you'd think the Matawan-Aberdeen Board of Education could do better than hiring a school chief who can work only part time for now."

The final sentence is - "The board majority should address the concerns about his part-time status before those divisions deepen and undermine public confidence in the new superintendent."

That "one issue" is the crux of the editorial and it's a "ludicrous" argument.

Anonymous said...

How is that a ludicrous statement?

3 members of the board felt it was a legitimate reason to question this mans hiring.

I guess 1 issue means it's not an important issue?

Anonymous said...

All this talk is great. Lets get informed first. Everyone should be reading the audit report in PDF format on the school districts website, see what a mess the distrtict is in and then talk about the divided board and Dr. O'Malley. According to the audit findings and report - he is walking into a real mess that he has to clean up. After I read it, I think he is under paid with the things he has to do to turn the district around.

Anonymous said...

not paid enough?!?!?!!

Anonymous said...

One reason it is a mess is because the superintendent quit, the high school principle quit, a principle who has been in the district a long time quit, a new middle school principle, and a new business administrator (keep your eye on this one). Maybe someone is on to something with todays opinion in the APP. Sometimes big egos can cause a lot worse problems for many years to come.

Anonymous said...

The reason why the Supt left and the principals left is they saw the storm of accountability coming in on the horizon and wanted to get out of Dodge. Just look at the on line audit findings. .... HELLO...

Anonymous said...

Learn how to spell principal.... not principle.... There is a difference.

Anonymous said...

I find the comments of some on this blog to be rather suspect. There seems to alot of familiar reteric that sounds alot like sour grapes on behalf of the BOE "minority" as they have refered to themselves. The BOE had to hire a Superintendent ASAP, that is just common sense. Dr. O'Malley is being paid the going rate for a person in his position(google average Super. salaries in NJ) and in fact there are many Districts similar in size to ours paying more. I am SO tired of hearing about how Mr. Quinn and the two principles were driven out by a divided Board of Education!! These are grown men! I can remember Mr.Quinn getting alot worse from parents during the ReOrg meetings than I ever saw during a BOE meeting. In the case of the principles, at least one of them has never said that the decision to retire had anything to do with the BOE or Mr. Quinn's resignation. After reading the Auditor's report on the District's site, it seems clear to me that the current finacial state has alot more to do with the previous Superintendent and BA Mr. Shea. After all who's job is it to come up with the budget every year and present it to the BOE? As for the three Board members who voted no for O'Malley, I found their excuse to be weak and it seemed more like they were actually trying to revive the past tension that has been absent at the BOE meetings over the past few months. What good does it do to make a big deal over minor details in Dr.O'Malley's contract when it is fairly common to have a period of transition when a Superintedent is moving from one District to another. I believe one of the three kept talking about how the BOE where Dr. O'Malley is from wouldn't do what these members had asked for and they could not understand why the BOE would hire him anyway..????, since when can one BOE force another to do something? Usually, if a BOE sees that the Superintendent wants to leave, they release them from the contract. In this case I think it reflects well on Dr.O'Malley that the other BOE doesn't want to lose him.If the three members didn't like him or wanted someone else for the position(which is what their body language seemed to say), they should have the guts to say it. The bottom line here, many people in this town seem to have one-sided or very short memories because much of the compliants that have been flying around the rumor mill are things that have already happened with the last Superintendent. Doesn't anyone remember the fact that MR.Quinn got his last contract renewed seemingly overnight with no chance for public comment due to no notice...and the district/BOE was in negotiations with the teachers on their last contract at that time too. People need to make sure they take the time to research the facts before parroting everything they hear through the rumor mill, it is divisive and distracts from the real business of helping our children get the most from their education/making sure our tax dollars are being spent wisely. For far too long I have watched several BOE members(past/present) blindly(it seemed) rubber stamp whatever the last Superintendent recommended, is it any wonder then that we are all bound to find out that things are a real mess? It's like my son's Kindergarten teacher always said "Asking questions is a good way to find out information". One last thing, I feel we have many hardworking and dedicated teachers working with our children, however, the reality for many many families in our town is that they simply can not afford to pay the cost of their own family's health insurance AND that of the teachers,not to mention property taxes. Things are bad out there,folks..wake up!

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the spelling errors..can't function without Spellcheck.

Anonymous said...

O'Malley and Gambino were in the same grad school classes

Anonymous said...

A new Superintendent is a breath of fresh air for the hope of this district. Finally, the district has a Superintendent who is familar and experienced with education, rather then spending money and building things we cannot afford. What school board would hire a Superintendent who has no experience as a teacher, principal, Asst. Superintendent or Superintendent.

Aberdeener said...

Dr. O'Malley earned his doctorate degree at Seton Hall University. Dr. Gambino got his PhD at Nova Southeastern University. They met during the interview process.

Anonymous said...

Who is kidding who this district allows its teachers to rule the day all of the time. Principals have repeatedly left this district for making teachers do their jobs. Gee is'nt that what teachers are supposed to do, follow the instructions and guidelines from the administration.

Too often administrators and others have been forced to leave only to excell elsewhere. The teachers want it all yet give the least. And accountability for all of them is out the window.

Stop the insanity !

Anonymous said...

Don't you want to question Dr. O'Malley's sanity? Who would leave a district with only 2 schools- neither one a high school- to come here- the land of budgets that NEVER pass (ok- once or twice). My money says he doesn't last the 4 years! :-)

Anonymous said...

I hope Mr. O'Malley comes in with EYES WIDE OPEN and cleans house. Out with the assistant superintendents who talk a good game but don't know what the ____ they are doing except finding lame programs to spend money on. A few years ago we only had one or 2 assistants now we have 4 or 5. Waste of money right there.

Anonymous said...

It is time for the Political Action Commitees that purport to be the PTO's start to worry about the kids rather than bowing to the pressures of the Barbato and Zavorskas team. It is still amazing to me that people extole their supposed caring attitude, when all they really care about is themselves and their power. They do not hold the power and it is affecting them from the inside out, everyday. We love it! We know firsthand the negative effects they have had on this district and our kids from within.

For example our son who is very intelligent and who was on the honor role, struggled in College. We are also very concerned for those who left college for the lack of being well prepared in high school. But Zavorskas and Barbato would rather attempt to regain their lost status than work to streamline the district.

Well their power is dormant and their attempts to regain power will not work. Barbato and Zavorskas have probably already started the power struggle to control O'Malley. The smartest thing he will do is kick the two of them out of his office and block their phone calls, on day one.

We certainly hope that O'Malley learns from former Superintendent Quinn. While we really thought he had some inovative ideas he too succumbed to the vengeful power of Barbato and Zavorskas. The jobs they gave away and allegiances shown to them puzzle many of us in the faculty. Every time Zavorskas eneters the school buildings or central office there should be a warning bell to protect the children. Something like a fire alarm indicating DANGER, in her case a warning bell or siren needs to sound and indicate that a self centered, power hungry egomaniac is on the premises.

Yes you can probably tell that we do not like her, we feel strongly that her, Barbato and the others they control are a very negative impact on our district, and its taxpayers.

Take the hint Superintendent O'Malley.

Anonymous said...

Each Superintendent that worked in this district had their own pros and cons. Klavon staved off a charter school and reduced the top administration to save taxpayers money yet he did not implement anything to increase test scores. Quinn beautified our facilities but at an increased cost to all. He introduced the RTI plan (at $600,000) to increase test scores but test scores were already on the rise by increasing math and reading times in class at NO COST. He allowed technology to be bought for the district (brand new labs in all schools and promethean boards in only certain classrooms, not for use by all) but cut out weekly technology training and qualified technology teachers for all of our children except second graders. We hope Dr. O'Malley looks at all these issues and is able to incorporate the best and remedy the worst. We wish him the best of luck!