O'Neill: If I Retire, I'll Accept an Interim Role—But Not in Chatham

Superintendent said he has not and will not publicly reveal plans until BOE meeting.

While a report in the Daily Record Friday evening claimed James O'Neill has already filed for retirement, the Chatham superintendent said Saturday he will not confirm or deny his future plans until Monday night's Board of Education meeting.

"I am making no announcement until Monday night," O'Neill wrote in an e-mail to Patch.

O'Neill's current contract expires in June. A three-year extension—that exceeds Gov. Chris Christie's salary cap for school administrators in districts the size of Chatham—was by the Board of Education.

However, it has never been officially authorized by Morris County Executive Superintendent Kathleen Sarafino.

In an e-mail to Patch on Saturday, O'Neill remained firm in his stance against the governor's salary cap.

"I am the Chief Officer of a $55 million education business," O'Neill wrote. "Do most people really believe that $200k is an exorbitant salary for someone in charge of $55 million, 4,000 students, 500 employees, academic and athletic activities which run 6 or 7 days a week for 10 months of the year?"

If O'Neill does retire, he said he would likely accept a role as an interim superintendent. However, the state would prohibit him from becoming an interim superintendent in any district for at least 30 days after his retirement and 120 days before he could return on an interim basis to Chatham.

O'Neill said, however, if he does retire, he likely won't be returning to Chatham any time soon.

"I think it is unlikely I would be back in Chatham in the immediate future if I retired this year," O'Neill wrote.

According to the Daily Record, a spokesman from the Treasury department confirmed O'Neill's retirement filing was received on Jan. 5. O'Neill told Patch he never confirmed or denied if he's retiring when contacted by the Daily Record.

Board of Education President Steve Barna said Saturday he had not received any notification of O'Neill's potential retirement.

"Certainly, we do not have any letter of resignation or anything from Mr. O'Neill," Barna said. "We do have a board meeting on Monday. We continue to try every avenue possible to retain him."

In January, the New Jersey Association of School Administrators on behalf of O'Neill and Long Hill Township Superintendent Dr. Renee Rovtar against the Department of Education to block Christie's salary caps for school administrators.

However, the salary caps took effect on Feb. 7, and now officially limit administrators in districts the size of Chatham to a salary of $165,000.

The Parsippany Board of Education filed its own lawsuit against the state on behalf of its superintendent, LeRoy Seitz, whose contract also exceeds the cap and was approved by the school board, but not officially authorized by the county superintendent. However, the district has honored the contract and has paid Seitz under the new contract retroactive to Dec. 1.

After warning the Parsippany Board of Education to rescind the contract or the district's state aid will be withheld, Christie's office said Friday Parsippany's school budget until the contract is voided.

"What finally is the resolution there may dictate options for us," Barna said.

But Barna pointed out that Parsippany's situation is slightly different to the one in Chatham.

The Parsippany Board of Education contends its superintendent's contract was approved by Serafino via e-mail, while the county superintendent has said no official authorization was ever granted.

Meanwhile, the Chatham Board of Education has not received any response on the contract for O'Neill, who remains under his original contract with a $210,000 salary that expires at the end of this school year.

"We've chartered our attorney to look under every rock possible to see if there are any alternate paths. We believe we have the right to extend the contract we did to Jim," Barna said. "If things stay on path, he's going to have to retire, what we're trying is out in the margins."

If there is no alternative, Barna doesn't expect O'Neill to accept the reduction in pay to remain the district's superintendent under Christie's salary cap.

"It would be much better for him to retire and accept an interim position in another district," Barna said.

If that ends up being the case, Barna expects the district to face a steep challenge in finding O'Neill's replacement.

"I believe it will be very challenging if we go out into the open market and look for a superintendent with the right kind of qualifications to step into a district like Chatham at the price point the governor has laid down," Barna said. "The only people you could get in that bracket would be very inexperienced, first-time superintendents or superintendents from a small district."

The Board of Education will meet in the  Monday night at 7:30 p.m.

ChathamResident February 27, 2011 at 07:51 PM
If O'neil leaves then Dr. LaSusa will step up and really do great things for the district. He did wonderful things for the high school and is a great educational leader. I think it is time for O'neil to stop playing games and make a choice. No more riding the fence you are ether in this or your not. And if he is not then he needs to step down so the district can prepare for a new super. I agree with his claims that 200k a year is not much for the scale of "company" he is running but what he fails to see is that eduction is not meant to be a company or a business, It is in place to educate the children better than anyone else can, I do not think that, that is his main priority. This is obvious through the clear lack of planning for the future and the issues we currently have with class rooms and materials. How can you educate with out enough space, time or money for every student?
Nancy Geiger February 27, 2011 at 08:53 PM
But won't he retire with a state/district pension of over $125K a year and I don't know what his medical benefits will be. I think the problem is not the salary, its what the salary means in retirement benefits.
James Raleigh February 27, 2011 at 09:02 PM
Dr. LaSusa will be a dud.
ChathamResident February 27, 2011 at 11:15 PM
I do not think that LaSusa will be a Dud. He is young and brings some very innovative idea to the table that will 1. save money 2. bring better education and 3. rise chatham rank in the state of nj and nation wide rankings. And if he is a dud I think Chatham needs to have the guts to tell the people in the education department they are not preforming up to standards and part ways in search of something much better.
chathamresident too February 28, 2011 at 12:15 AM
LaSusa doesn't even have a year of experience as an asst. super, he may or may not be a dud.... definitely not enough time in the "Big leagues" He was an Asst. principle before this for a couple of years at the high school, he did not run the highschool on his own either. It was not a lack of planning with the increased student volume, and space. When the last referendum in the district went though (years ago), it was not the original plan, it was a watered down plan voted in by the short sighted residents that did not believe in the increasing numbers of students that was predicted. The original plan called for more classrooms...more of everything. Live and Learn Chatham.
TM February 28, 2011 at 05:45 AM
I think JO has done a solid job, but his attitude regarding his salary demands makes him sound greedy and not in it for the right reasons. It has totally turned me off. To say he doesn't care about the outcome one way or the other tells me where his head is. Sure he has done his job well, but so have a lot of other Chatham residents in their jobs only to have had their salaries cut or frozen. Why does he think he is above everyone else? I don't know if LaSusa is the right man for the job, but don't think for a second that JO is the only man that can do a good job for our children!
Ron Swanson February 28, 2011 at 06:14 AM
Mr. O'Neill can't seem to resist an opportunity to editorialize, which makes him a target of the Governor's derision. I agree he's done a decent job, but his latest comments and plan to retire, collect a pension, and then double dip while admitting that he will be making more money under that arrangement appears to be a major flip of the bird to everyone and show where his interests lie. The practice of collecting a pension and then double soaking taxpayers somewhere in an interim job is slimy, and is one of the abusive practices that should be ended. Retired should mean just that - retired. Also, the Gov of NJ manages a $29 Billion budget and has a lot more responsibility, but that position only pays $175k. What makes a school superintendent of a small but affluent district think that he deserves to get paid more than the governor of NJ? $200k is exorbitant for running the chatham school district. The comparison to someone who runs a "business" is also not appropriate. School superintendent's are public servants, not CEOs; as a result they shouldn't be comparing themselves to what folks earn in the private sector.
Captain Jack February 28, 2011 at 01:25 PM
O"neill is a buffoon. good riddance, don't let the dorr hit you on the way out.
L22 February 28, 2011 at 01:58 PM
O'Neill has burned through any goodwill with his comments over the past few months. He said he became party to the superintendent lawsuit against the state because he had "nothing to lose" - well, other than using taxpayer money to defend the suit and the inevitable distractions caused by it. Then (acc to the Daily Record) he brags about how he will go elsewhere on an interim basis, make more AND start collecting his pension. He is not worth ANYTHING above the state cap, he was going to retire soon anywhere -- and why did the Board approve his contract when we are faced with cutting programs, skyrocketing enrollment, and crowded classrooms? I would rather take EVERY PENNY above the cap and put it into these areas, not his salary. In the end, he brought a lot of this on himself with his selfish comments. I hope Chatham will officially be moving on without him after tonight - for WITHIN the cap.
ChathamResident February 28, 2011 at 03:03 PM
I agree. The school board needs to finally step up and do what is right. For too long they have been passive followers when they should have been the driving force, always pushing JO to do better every year. I agree with the comment above about JO relating his payment to the private sector and how unfair that is. Again the job is to improve education at all levels and to improve the image of the shcool district every year on the state and national level. As cited from the job description of the Wayland Ma school district ad for a new superintendent " To manage the school system and to provide leadership according to the school district’s vision." Not to do what ever they want and see if the school district and board will follow. I think it is finally time to part ways. Bring on the new era of chatham school district!!
Duncan Munchkin February 28, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Jimbo was all like, "I'm gonna fight this pay cap because I'm worth it." Now, he is staring at a 1-1.5 million budget gap (that his lack of vision helped create) and realizes there is no more money to wring out of Chatham, so he is out the door...like a cartoon character...all you see are papers floating to the ground behind him.
Chathammom March 01, 2011 at 02:10 PM
Too right. Last year the BOE boasted that the Chatham district spent less money per pupil than many other comparable districts. If you look at our school budgets of recent years, the only place where we come out spending more than most other districts is in administrative salaries. So in effect, we spend less on the kids, more on O'Neill, and continue to perform well because we get more out of our teachers and have a huge parent volunteer force. I gave up a professional salary, in part, to be one of these volunteer supermoms. Your welcome, Jim. By the way, I will not vote for any BOE member who enables any double-dipping by any school administrator.
James Raleigh March 06, 2011 at 02:59 PM
It will be a big mistake if the BOE does not conduct an extensive search to find a new superintendent. If anyone is impressed with a doctorate in education, just attend one of the classes at a local university. I sat in a few myself before I left education...they are a joke. LaRusa can talk the talk but won't be able to walk the walk. Hiring him will be a mistake. Guy is an empty suit.
I'dRatherBeInMaui March 06, 2011 at 07:19 PM
I strongly enourage the BOE to conduct an extensive search for a new superintendent (isn't that part of their job?) and if LaRusa comes out as the strongest candidate, good for him! However, LaRusa is not the subject of the debate here and to attack him before he even gets (if he gets) the job is NOT the means of proving O'Neill is worth keeping on. Frankly I have been very impressed with many of my children's teachers and the MAS, LAS & CMS school administrators I have been involved with to this point. I also applaud the parents and yes, the kids of Chatham, for the work they put into proving our educational system to be one of the best. However, I have NOT been impressed with Mr. O'Neill and have always felt he was an overinflated bureaucrat who is most concerned with his purse, and not the best interests of our children and the school district. His recent statements only prove that my impressions have been correct and I would be thrilled to see our per pupil spending level go up while our school superintendent's salary goes down!!! Mr. O'Neill, I would offer to help you pack, but I am too busy working and trying to deal with my own reduction in salary and no pay increases for the next two years as a federal employee. But I am sticking with my job because I am very proud of what I do on behalf of the American public and am obviously not in it for just the money - like you. Good riddance Mr. O'Neill - Chatham is better off without you on any basis!
Chatham March 07, 2011 at 05:38 AM
Couldn't agree more. The time for a change in the super's office is long over due. LaSusa may not be the most experienced but as someone who has seen his work in person, he definitely has what it takes to rise to the challenge.


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