Board unanimously votes not to renew superintendent’s contract

At the special Board of Education meeting held on Thursday, July 13, the board unanimously voted not to renew Perry’s contract, which leaves him one year to serve the district.

The Haddonfield Board of Education unanimously voted to not renew Superintendent Richard Perry’s contract at a special meeting held Thursday, July 14 at J. Fithian Tatem Elementary School. The tone of the sparsely attended meeting was somber, as board members simultaneously praised Perry for his dedication to the school over the years while explaining it was time for the school district to go in a new direction.

Board President Adam Sangillo opened the discussion saying the board wants to be as transparent as legally possible. Sangillo explained Perry has a four-year contract that comes to an end on June 30, 2018, and they are required to give Perry at least 120 days notice if they plan to not renew it.

“If we as a board and a district need to find a new superintendent, there’s a certain amount of time that the board needs to go searching for a new superintendent, and also there’s time for Dr. Perry to plan for his new journey,” Sangillo said.

Sangillo explained any feedback the board has on Perry’s performance is private, but by law, any vote on Perry’s contract has to be done publicly, which was the impetus for Thursday night’s meeting.

“New statewide salary caps and incentives make this an exciting time to recruit a new superintendent,” a letter distributed at Thursday night’s meeting further explains.

Sangillo said Gov. Christie, in 2013, imposed a cap on superintendent salaries based on school size, which reduced the draw of becoming a superintendent in the state and saw some superintendents leaving the state entirely. This past year, the caps were upped, and there’s talk within the state of the caps being removed.

“We think there’s going to be movement (with the salary caps) and the ability to attract talent,” Sangillo said.

Perry’s contract calls for an annual salary of $157,500.

Sangillo said Perry has had a long tenure serving the school district well, but it’s natural for a board to start looking for a change as well as someone who can push the district forward into the next decade.

Perry thanked the board and community of for their support. As the second-longest serving superintendent of the Haddonfield school district, he will have served for eight years when his contract comes to an end in June.

“I still have a year left to do things, and a year in my world is an eternity,” Perry said.

The floor was opened to public comments but closed quickly as no one from the public took the opportunity to speak.

Board member Glenn Moramarco compared the vote on Perry’s contract to a situation he experienced previously when he worked at a startup. He said at that job, he had a dynamic and talented leader, but there came a time when the company decided it needed a change to grow.

“There come times in an organization when even [with] someone who’s done an exceptional job through their career, the organization needs to move forward,” Moramarco said.

Board member Heather Paoli expressed similar sentiments about Perry. She said she thinks very highly of Perry, but not renewing is the right thing to do.

“Dr. Perry has put in a lot of hard work and has done a lot of good for this district,” Paoli said. “It’s so very much appreciated. It’s not really the way I thought this whole thing would turn out.”

Prior to the vote, Perry discussed the challenges of being superintendent, explaining that being superintendent is a 24/7 job, and in his position, he receives in excess of 150 emails a day and fields calls on nights and weekends.

“Nobody really understands how difficult this job is until you actually have to do it,” Perry said. “This is one of the more difficult school districts in the state — probably in the nation.”

For Perry, serving in the Haddonfield school district has been completely unlike serving anywhere else. He said being superintendent has made him not only a leader in the school district but in the community, and he enjoys having people recognize him and converse when he walks around town.

Perry said he holds no animosity toward the nonrenewal. He said while not being renewed is an ending, it also represents a new beginning as he moves on with his career.

“The hardest part for me — and of course, it’s embarrassing being fired and terminated and not renewed publicly, but I’ve been through worse — but the hardest thing for me is I’m going to miss everybody so much,” Perry said tearfully.

The board plans to create a community committee to vet candidates for the position, and Sangillo said the board is going to begin working with professional consultants on its search for a new superintendent this month.