The township's board of education members may begin their search for Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank R. Alvarez's successor as early as Feb. 27, if not sooner.
The Feb. 27 meeting, set to start at 7:30 p.m. here at the George Inness Annex Atrium, 141 Park St., would be the first public meeting since Alvarez told them of his intention at their Feb. 6 session.
The seven members may have begun talking about who among them will start a search committee during their scheduled Feb. 9 executive meeting at 22 Valley Rd. offices, and/or their Feb. 13 workshop back here at 141 Park St. Such discussion may have been a late addition for the Feb. 9 occasion; the workshop's agenda was not posted on montclair.k12.nj.us.
Alvarez posted his resignation letter on the Website at the start of the Feb. 7 business day. While he announced his intention to step down on June 30, he added, that "over the next few months you'll hear from me with regard to a transition plan."
Alvarez would be stepping down after being at the school district helm for nine years and with a contract that was to expire June 30, 2014. He would also be leaving an 11-school, 6,615-student district where he was employed by, first as a building principal, since 1989.
"I'm leaving because basically I feel it's time to go," said Alvarez, 57, of Rivervale, in a posted interview midday Feb. 7. "I tremendously enjoy what I do. People are shocked that it's happened this way, especially with two more years left on my contract. It's a matter of personal choice - people shouldn't read anything into this decision."
Alvarez first came to the district as the principal of the Nishuane Elementary School for the 1988-89 school year. He was also Mount Hebron Middle School principal before being appointed as superintendent in 2003.
Mayor Jerry Fried compared Alvarez's longevity as superintendent in his Feb. 7. reaction.
"I believe the average superintendent lasts three years (and) Frank's been here nine," said Fried. "I think he felt it's time to pass the torch."
Fried is accurate on the average superintendent's time in office. School districts have been offering superintendents three- to five-year contracts since the state abolished tenure for the position in the early 1990s.
Fried's involvement with the superintendent search is limited to appointing school board members with municipal council consent. The mayor, because of the board's non-elective nature, also sits with two council and two board members each on the board of school estimate to determine the district's annual budget.
Montclair, like East Orange and Orange, have appointed school boards of education and school estimates. The South Orange-Maplewood and Newark school districts, while having elected boards of education, respectively have a school estimate board or New Jersey Department of Education financial control.
Remaining "Local Talk" towns' school board makeup and district budget are left to the voters. The next election day, as of Feb. 15, is set for April 17 - or Nov. 6 for West Orange.
What is not clear to "Local Talk," however, is whether the Montclair superintendent's search will totally rest with the school board or be shared with the mayor's Board of Education Advisory Committee.
Fried created the eight-member advisory board in 2010. He has appointed two township residents while the six council members each appointed one.
Feb. 14 calls to district business administrator Dana Sullivan and board of education member Tanya Coke were not returned.
Alvarez, in his resignation letter, praised what he sees as "a highly diverse, successfully integrated, high achieving, magnet school district that thrives on creativity and innovation." He cited several district and school recognitions bestowed by the state and national education departments in his time. Alvarez also recalled narrowing the minority student achievement gap and a Mandarin language program for 600 Kindergarten-12th grade students among accomplishments.
Alvarez joined with South Orange-Maplewood superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne in advocating against the creation of the respective Quest Academy and Hua Mei charter schools in their districts.
Alvarez presided over the construction and opening of the Charles Bullock Elementary School Sept. 14, 2010 as the first new Montclair public school building in at least 50 years.
The Bullock school's groundbreaking was delayed in 2008, however, when the bones of African ancestors were found. All remains found during a final sweep of the long-past African burial ground were reburied at Mount Hebron Cemetery.
Alvarez's departure comes when township educations are about to make some critical choices about Montclair High School.
The 1,000-student MHS, according to NJDoE HSPA test scores and federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, has failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress for the fourth straight year. Failing to make AYP for a fifth straight year would mean school restructuring, ranging from replacing half the teaching staff and/or principal or replacing the school with smaller academies.
Alvarez has also served Fried's two predecessors and some 19 education board members. He presides over a $110 million budget that includes a $4 million surplus that Administrator Sullivan's staff had recently found. That outlay is still 2.65 less, due to reductions in state aid, that the $113 million 2010-11 budget.
Some observers have noted that the search committee would be offering less salary to Alvarez's successor. That is due to a state cap on superintendents' salaries that took effect Feb. 7.
Superintendents with new or renewed contracts after Feb. 7 will be limited to a maximum annual salary based on student enrollment. Alvarez's successor, because of the district's 6,615 students as of Oct. 15, 2010, can only reach $175,000. The 6,615 enrollment falls between the NJDoE's 6,500 and 10,000 student range.
Future superintendents' contracts are also limited to, for example: $125,000 in districts of less than 251 students; $145,000 between 750 and 1,000; and $155,000 between 1,500 and 3,000.
Alvarez's current four-year contract calls for a base annual salary of $216,000 with no increases in 2010-11 and 2011-12.