Over the furious protests of two school trustees who had been excluded from the decision to put the issue on the agenda, the Port Chester Board of Education has given its superintendent a 2-year contract extension.
The “yes” vote from Trustees Blanca Lopez, Robert Johnson and Carolee Brakewood gives Edward Kliszus, who was hired last year, a contract through 2016 with a 1 percent raise for each of the last two years.
Kliszus is paid $217,000 a year and his original 3-year contract included no salary increases, board members told the audience at the June 27 meeting.
The topic provoked angry exchanges among the board members. Watch the video of the meeting here.
“This in my opinion is a backroom deal that was fabricated by three board members and Dr. Kliszus,” said Trustee James Dreves in a prepared statement.
Dreves and Trustee Anne Capeci said when a contract extension was discussed by the whole board, they wanted to wait until Kliszus had been with the district more than a year and had been evaluated more than once—and promised to put it on the table in early 2013.
Capeci angrily described meetings between Lopez, the board president, and Brakewood, its vice-president, including one at Brakewood's house.
That was not a meeting about the contract, Lopez said today, but a casual get-together before the budget vote in May, not about the contract. She said it was disingenuous of Capeci to imply otherwise.
All the trustees agreed that on June 25 Lopez and Brakewood, in Kliszus’s office for an agenda meeting, spoke with Johnson on the phone and decided to put the contract extension to a vote Wednesday night.
Dreves and Capeci said they learned about it when they heard rumors around the district June 26. Dreves said he only found out the details by calling the district clerk the morning of the meeting.
Brakewood, Johnson and Lopez said Dreves and Capeci were practicing power politics.
“What is going on tonight is an attempt by the more senior members of the board to pressure the younger members of the board to vote their way on an issue,” said Lopez. “I don’t need to sit on a board for 20 years to know a good superintendent when I see one.”
Lopez leaves office June 30. She lost her bid for a second term in the May election.
Trustee-elect Tom Corbia, who ran second in the 3-way race (Dreves was re-elected), spoke at the meeting before the vote. He objected to the timing of the contract extension, for coming too close to recent teacher layoffs.
Corbia, who will be sworn in at the district’s annual reorganization meeting July 6, said he had been civil and open and didn’t deserve to be browbeaten for his opinions.
Johnson emphasized that Kliszus’s salary is flat for the next two years and that he had received a very positive review from the whole board. He reminded the audience that Kliszus is paid “substantially less” than his predecessor, Donald Carlisle.
Lopez said after the meeting that Carlisle's compensation package, including benefits, totalled $275,000. Kliszus, who is a retired New Jersey educator, receives no health benefits from Port Chester.
Reviewing the history of superintendent contracts, Capeci read a list of those who worked with 3-year contracts and received multiple extensions. A 4-year deal is fiscally irresponsible, she said, as it commits the district to a larger payout if the board members decide to ask a superintendent to leave before his or her contract expires.
“Jim Dreves and I are reasonable people,” Capeci said. “We had great confidence in Dr. Kliszus and we hoped he would have confidence in us.”
Brakewood said it was Capeci who was irresponsible.
“I think he’s a bargain-basement deal and I’m happy to lock him in,” she said.
Editor's Note: This article has been revised for clarity and to add information about the previous superintendent.