Staying or going? New contract talks start for superintendent

Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2, Feb. 27, 2018 | MonroeNow

After the Monroe Township Board of Education accepted the superintendent’s resignation informing trustees that he would not seek an extension, the two parties agreed to hold negotiations to keep Michael Kozak in the district’s top post.

At the Feb. 21 Board of Education meeting, trustees narrowly adopted a resolution to ask Kozak to withdraw his resignation letter he submitted Dec. 13.

Before the board secretary could draft a letter to the superintendent formalizing the trustees’ request, Kozak handed Michael Gorski a letter expressing his desire to remain with the district.

“I like Monroe Township. I feel like there is really a lot of positive education going on here for the kids,” Kozak said on Tuesday, as negotiations continue for his new contract. “We have done some innovative type things and I would like to continue to do that.”

Kozak acknowledged that the letter he provided during the meeting seemed like he knew in advance of the board’s intentions, however, he said his attorney advised him that he should keep a letter handy containing a few sentences about wanting to remain the superintendent in case the opportunity developed for him to potentially stay. And that happened Feb. 21.

But the superintendent’s future is not solidified. At the meeting, eight of the 10 trustees were present. Three of them, Patricia Lang, Jill DeMaio and board President Kathy Kolupanowich voted against directing Gorski to pen a letter to Kozak asking him to withdraw his resignation.

“I’m going to vote no. I believe that my seat on the board is to be an individual as a member of this town who is making a decision in the very best interest of our students,” said Lang, who was the sole board member who voted against the request to share her opinion publicly. As a board, we have met numerous times and there is information that has not been shared publicly, which cannot be. There are reasons why we made this decision. I have made my decision and I’m sticking with my decision and I have no regrets.”

Even if the board’s negotiation committee and Kozak agree to a new deal, the majority of trustees would have to approve the contract.

Of the remaining five trustees, four supported sending the letter, and one — Dawn Quarino, abstained. Trustees Steven Riback and Frank Russo were not present.

“We always ask for community support, well we’ve got it,” said trustee Michele Arminio, who supported asking for Kozak to withdraw his letter. “Let’s ask him to stay.”

Lang’s comments, however, that night were in the minority of community members who spoke about Kozak’s future. The majority of speakers wanted the superintendent to remain, and at times received applause for their remarks. They also voiced their support for the teachers who are in negotiations for a new contract.

“Dr. Kozak, I’d like to thank you for leading our district at this very serious time,” said Chrissy Skurbe. “We need the board to do the right thing and renew [superintendent] Kozak’s contract. We need to move forward and not let personal feelings interfere with personal decisions that affect our children.”

The superintendent and trustees have pressing matters to address in the coming months. Aside from striking a new deal with the teachers’ union, they will have to deal with the results of the $68.8 million referendum to build a new middle school and writing new policies to address school security that in part will allow the district’s in-house security staff to carry a gun.

District security became a top issue after 17 Parkland, Fla.,-based Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and staff were killed when a gunman opened fire in the building on Feb. 14. Through an agreement with the Township Police Department, off-duty officers will provide armed security at the district’s eight schools until the board completes the necessary steps to have its in-house team assume those responsibilities.