BOE To Vote On New Superintendent Contract

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Rui Dionisio
Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio

On Tuesday, December 10, the Verona Board of Education will vote on a new contract for Superintendent Dr. Rui Dionisio. This is the first contract since Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill eliminating the cap on superintendent salaries in July. Here are some things to know about superintendent and his pay:

What was the salary cap? The school superintendents’ salary cap was instituted by former Gov. Chris Christie in 2011, ostensibly to lessen the impact of rising education costs on taxpayers. It initially limited superintendents’ salaries to $175,000 in most districts, but the cap was raised to $190,00 in 2017. While the cap did limit superintendent pay increases, several studies found that it didn’t result in much savings for taxpayers and made it harder for districts to recruit superintendents.

What are the new rules on superintendent pay? The law enacted this summer bars the state Department of Education from setting maximum salaries for superintendents, but it establishes guidelines for bonuses and other fringe benefits. The new law also limits severance pay to the remaining salary on the contract or 12 months pay–whichever is less.

What has Verona been paying its superintendent? Dionisio became superintendent in August 2014 at an initial salary of $157,500. He had been the principal of Cranford High School and had only a masters degree at the time. With contract increases, merit pay and a bump for earning his doctorate in 2017, Dionisio’s salary now stands at $205,000. He has also earned merit bonuses for his work.

What will he earn in the new contract? The salary package that the board will be voting on specifies a base salary of $219,540, plus two annual stipends: a $3,000 amount because he has his doctorate and a second $5,000 stipend because Dionisio also serves as the district’s director of facilities. The first year total is $227,540. The base pay increases to $223,931 in 2020-2021, to $228,409 in 2021-2022, to $232,978 in 2022-2023 and $237,637 for the final year of the contract, 2023-2024. Dionisio would no longer be eligible for merit bonuses. New Jersey’s median superintendent salary was nearly $163,000 during the 2018-19 school year, the most recent period for which there is data.

Why is Dionisio also being paid to be director of facilities? Verona cut the full-time director of facilities position in May 2018 to close a gaping hole in the 2018-2019 school budget. That year, after the district budget had been cut to stay within the 2% budget increase cap, Verona was found to need $160,000 more to meet scheduling requests at Verona High School, an out-of-district special education placement and to make up for a $20,000 loss in in-bound special ed tuition. While the district initially thought Business Administrator Cheryl Nardino would handle the facilities work, the job fell to Dionisio instead. If Verona were to hire a facilities director now, it would likely cost us more than $140,000, based on state averages for that position. We don’t have the money to do that. Verona’s budget, like that of most other districts in New Jersey, has only been allowed to increase by 2% per year, even though some other costs, like health care and special education, rose at a higher rate. Verona has also received less state aid that the state is mandated to pay us every year for several years, for a $6 million shortfall overall. 

Is Dionisio earning his pay? Six months before Dionisio started, Verona had passed a referendum and it fell to him to implement the mandated work. That turned out to be more complicated that envisioned because homeowners abutting VHS forced the district into a Planning Board review of the turf field projects. Dionisio brought computers into widespread use in middle school and high school classrooms, instituted the house model at H.B. Whitehorne to improve administration there, and lead the successful campaign for full-day kindergarten and expanded mental health services in 2018 and another referendum in 2019. The referendums are going a long way to catch Verona up on decades of deferred maintenance. Under Dionisio, VHS was recognized as being in the top 1.5% of all schools in the U.S. in 2018, up from #1512 in 2016. In August, Dionisio was honored as Essex County superintendent of the year.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].

6 COMMENTS

  1. Why would the township give him a new contract he fired some of the best teachers the HS had a few years ago and my daughter had 35 kids in her Math class. Now he wants to add another job title which he couldn’t handle last time better idea oust him along with his crony Cogdill.

  2. To clarify, the “township” does not have jurisdiction over this contract; the BOE does. Further, no teachers have been fired under Dr. Dionisio’s watch, although there have been retirements and some contracts of non-tenured teachers have not been renewed. (It remains very hard to fire a tenured teacher in NJ.) As for the facilities director position, by taking on that role, Dr. Dionisio was able to preserve 2 teacher jobs. As for crowded classes, look to the statewide 2% cap on school budgets and the state’s failure to pay us $6 million in aid that Verona is legally entitled to receive.

  3. We as Verona residents pay an enormous amount of taxes of which a large amount goes to the schools. My children have graduated and I still voted yes on the referendum. I’ve had my difference of opinion with this administration on various issues and nothing ever gets done, if you are so concerned as you say you are stop this unnecessary increase. Also correct me if I’m wrong doesn’t he still have years remaining on his existing contract if so live up to it.

  4. Dr. Dionisio’s original contract should have expires in June 2019, but the BOE approved a contract extension in 2017. At that time, the salary caps were still in place. When the state eliminated the salary caps this summer, the contract needed to be re-worked.

  5. If New Jersey’s median superintendent salary was nearly $163,000 during the 2018-19.

    Why do we have to vote for $227,540 for this year and increase $5,000 each year for 3 years.
    If his salary now $219,540, plus two annual stipends: a $3,000 amount because he has his doctorate and a second $5,000 stipend because Dionisio also serves as the district’s director of facilities.

    Do the working people get raise every year as well? So we can pay more taxes to pay for the superintendent salary?

  6. Lucia, the data on median salaries means that half of New Jersey’s 560 school districts pay more and half pay less. Some districts are larger than Verona, some not. When the BOE looks to establish a new contract, they look specifically at districts that are comparable, in economic terms and pupil size, to Verona. As for the last part of your question, the U.S. Labor Department found that wages and salaries in New Jersey rose 3.9% in 2018. You can send questions to any BOE member through this page, or come to the meeting Tuesday night to ask your questions in person. The meeting will be held in the Learning Commons at VHS, beginning at 7 p.m.

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