It was clear from the minute they took their seats that the crowd at Tuesday night’s Board of Education was not happy that Verona would be losing Superintendent Steven A. Forte to Denville. And when they finally got to the microphone for the public portion of the meeting, they made their feelings even clearer.
“This superintendent is the only one that we have had since I was in town who was proactive,” said George DePaul, an Ozone Avenue resident. “He went out and tried to get things done. He attended school events, he made himself accessible to the public. He had an open door policy. He had a great rapport with all the students.”
Forte announced his resignation, first reported by MyVeronaNJ.com, as part of his report to the Board. “I think there are a lot of great people in this town and I am very sad to leave,” said Forte. “But I think this new position will give me an opportunity to do my most important job, which is to be a dad.”
Forte opened the BOE meeting with update on the district’s strategic plan, noting that the Verona had achieved its goal of creating a $150,000 maintenance reserve, and stressing that he was continuing to seek new revenue sources for Verona. He asked for the BOE’s support in creating something called the School of Choice program, an opportunity to open up an academy-like system for tuition-paying students around existing resources, like Verona’s music department. Forte envisioned a scenario in which a non-resident student might audition for the Gold band at HBW, and then the state would pay $15,000 a year for that student to attend the middle school–and beyond.
Forte said that Springfield is bringing in $750,000 from their math-science academy, and that Morris Knolls is funding the turfing of its sports fields from an academy. “It’s just a different way of finding revenue,” Forte said, adding that the state is looking to approve an academy in Essex County. “I’m ready to go with this if you think this is something you want to do,” he told the Board.
But much of what people wanted to do last night was thank Forte for his service, which will end on June 30. “I would like to sincerely thank Mr. Forte for his efforts,” said BOE member Joseph Bellino. “He brought some very innovative things with him, and it was one of the reasons why we hired him. He brought dual enrollment classes, he certainly led the charge on putting the lower field before us, the idea of a Choice school.” Bellino also noted that, “he had the foresight to move the high school graduation before we had the problem with the field. I want to thank Mr. Forte for his effort. I wish him the very best in his new endeavor. Having been in a position where I spent time at night away from my family, I know the value of being close to home. I wish you the very best of luck. Denville’s gain is our loss.”
Dina DeVivo, a parent of middle and high school students, echoed that sentiment. “Thank you Mr. Forte, you have given us insight and direction,” she said. “You really set us up for success.”
DeVivo and others in the audience wanted to know what the BOE would do to retain Forte’s replacement. “We have a revolving door of superintendents,” she said. “What are we doing wrong? We are either not hiring the proper candidates or keeping the proper candidates.”
Lori Gautieri was along those who sought to have the BOE clarify whether a contract extension had been offered to Forte or previous superintendents. BOE President John Quattrocchi said that Earl Kim, who was superintendent until 2008, had asked for an extension, but that the Board at the time had been reluctant to do so. Quattrocchi said that Forte asked for an extension in 2013, but the Board was advised by its attorney that it could not do so, largely because the BOE election process had started.
“It sounds like the Board was not supportive,” said Gautieri, addressing Forte. “I am very sad to see you go.”
“Steve, I just want to wish you all the luck,” said Pam Priscoe, a former president of the F.N. Brown SCA and a current co-president of HBW’s SCA. “You were very visible and open. We didn’t have that much before. That was a lot for us parents, knowing our superintendent. My kids know you. We’re going to miss you here.”