First, I’m opposed to a state law that automatically grants school superintendents multi-year contracts unless the school board votes to NOT renew.  Second, I’m having a hard time understanding how Jersey City’s school board’s lawyer determined that its superintendent’s contract was renewed by a non-vote in this particular case.  So, here’s my letter to the Hudson County Superintendent of Schools.
December 18, 2015

Monica M. Tone
Interim Executive County Superintendent
of Hudson County
via Email to [email protected] and 
Fax to 201-369-5288 
In re the renewal of Jersey City Superintendent Marcia Lyles’ Contract
Dear Superintendent Tone:
An article was published today, December 18, 2015, in the Hudson County View entitled “Jersey City Superintendent Lyles receives new 4-year contract with schools.”  According to the article, Jersey City Superintendent Marcia Lyles, whose present contract expires on June 30, 2016, received a four year renewal of her contract because there were not five board members eligible to vote at the December 17, 2015 school board meeting at which a resolution that would have rejected renewal of Lyle’s contract was offered.  
According to the article, of the nine members who serve on the school board, only seven were present at the December 17th meeting.  Of those seven members, “three were ineligible to vote due to family members who work in the district.”  This left four members which, according to board counsel Ramon Rivera, prevented the board from voting on a resolution that would have rejected the contract renewal.
I have two questions and hope that you can provide some clarification.
1. N.J.S.A. 18A:17-20.1, which presumably supersedes Lyles’ contract (see #2 below), doesn’t require the board to decide whether or not to renew the contract until March 1, 2016.
N.J.S.A. 18A:17-20.1 states:

At the conclusion of the term of the initial contract or of any subsequent contract as hereinafter provided, the superintendent shall be deemed reappointed for another contracted term of the same duration as the previous contract unless either: a. the board by contract reappoints him for a different term which term shall be not less than three nor more than five years, in which event reappointments thereafter shall be deemed for the new term unless a different term is again specified; or b. the board notifies the superintendent in writing that he will not be reappointed at the end of the current term, in which event his employment shall cease at the expiration of that term , provided that such notification shall be given prior to the expiration of the first or any subsequent contract by a length of time equal to 30 days for each year in the term of the current contract.

My reading of this statute gives the Board until 120 days (i.e. 30 days for each of year of Lyle’s four-year contract) prior to June 30, 2016 to notify Lyles that her contract will not be renewed.  According to my calculations, this gives the Board until March 1, 2016 to decide whether or not to renew Lyles’ contract.  If this is so, then why would a lack of five eligible voters at the December 17, 2015 meeting foreclose the possibility that five or more eligible voters might attend a meeting prior to March 1, 2016 and vote on a resolution to not renew Lyle’s contract?

2. Lyles’ contract, if it somehow supersedes the statute, does not provide for renewal of her contract unless the board affirmatively votes to renew it.
Paragraph 11 The unsigned version of Lyles’ present contract that I found on the Board’s website states:

The parties agree that prior to October 31, 2015, the Superintendent shall notify the Board of her desire to extend her employment on the terms offered or upon other terms upon which the parties may agree. The Board agrees that by December 31, 2015 it shall notify the Superintendent in writing whether it desires to renew this Agreement for an additional period of time, and of the terms and conditions proposed for that period. Failure to notify the Superintendent by that date of an intention to renew will mean that an offer of renewal is not being made.

Assuming that Lyles stated her desire to renew in a timely manner, the board’s failure to notify her by December 31, 2015 of its decision to renew would appear to signal the board decision to not renew.  
I look forward to hearing from you.
Very truly yours,
John Paff
cc to all the school board members and the board attorney

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]