In perhaps the most contentious meeting in recent district history, complete with arguing and a reversed vote, Hopatcong's Board of Education hired a new high school principal when she agreed to a contract less lucrative than what she was first offered Monday night at the .
Noreen Lazariuk will make a pro-rated $132,500 from Sept. 1 to June 30. Superintendent Dr. Charles Maranzano said Lazaruik offered to take less money after the school board couldn't garner enough votes, despite Maranzano's pleas, to hire the former Hoboken High School principal at $135,000.
Lazariuk made $137,500 as Hoboken's principal in 2011-2012.
"It's an auspicious moment for us as well as an embarrassing moment for the school board to have been this divided," Maranzano said.
The school board entered the meeting two members shy of a full board, with President Cliff Lundin and Joanne Passerini absent. Its 4-3 vote to hire Lazariuk wasn't enough, as it needed at least five "yes" votes to complete the motion. In the initial vote, Frank Farruggia Jr., Delores Krowl, Michele Perrotti and Joan Reilly said "yes" to the hire while Sue Madar, Richard Lavery and Margaret Bongiorno voted "no," with Bongiorno revealing the dissenters' concern that the salary was too high.
After the vote it seemed Hopatcong would have to reconvene for a special meeting to discuss hiring a new high school principal to succeed Emil Binotto, who was shifted to the middle school after 12 years during an administrative shakeup that saw other principals move throughout the district.
But several public commenters, including November school board candidate Judith Antonelli, said that while they appreciated the school board watching district spending, having a principal in place for Sept. 1 was perhaps more important than a few thousand dollars. Even Lazariuk joined the public comment session, saying candidates such as her might not be available if the school board held off hiring her.
The public back-and-forth prompted a 15-minute closed session meeting. That's when Lazariuk offered to take less money, Maranzano said. Farruggia said he wasn't exactly sure what made Madar, Lavery and Bongiorno change their minds and eventually participate in a unanimous vote to hire the Rockaway resident.
"Basically the four of us," Farruggia said, referring to the initial "yes" voters, "got up and walked out. I don't know what they were doing back there. But I think they reconsidered."
When the board returned for executive session, Lavery said watching every dollar spent was important for Hopatcong, which had cut many staff members and lost more than $1 million in state aid over recent years.
"We have no question that you are extremely qualified and we know that and we apologize for what we have done, for embarrassing," Lavery said to Lazariuk. "But … we want to make sure we've spent every single dollar the best we can."
Perotti said she was thankful for Lazariuk's patience. "I would have run," Perrotti said. "But you stayed."
Lazariuk said she was still wrapping her head around the decision after the meeting.
"I'm still kind of processing it," the 45-year-old said. "But I'm very happy and very excited."
Lazariuk, also a former Montgomery Twp. vice principal and Mountain Lakes teacher and coach, said she looked forward to the challenges Hopatcong presents.
"I felt that Hopatcong had a lot of issues that were a good match for me," she said. "Some of the issues that were brought up during the interview, I felt like I had already made a difference in that in Hoboken."
Lazariuk was chosen out of a final group, which included a pair of in-district candidates and another out-of-district hopeful. Maranzano declined to name the other candidates, who were vetted by an administrative staff including each school’s principal, the high school athletic director, the curriculum director and a teacher representative. Reilly said board members also sat in on the interviews.
Maranzano said the split board was a product of the economic climate.
“There are new realities that we have to confront,” he said. “And one of those is this financial crisis that we're not in the middle of, that we're in the beginning of. So I respect the opinion of those school board members who initially dissented. But it's so highly unusual for a meeting to take this turn of events. I'm taken back.
“But logic prevailed. The candidate made a strong gesture. She wants to be here, and she proved that by offering to reduce her salary. I was glad for the unanimity on that (vote).”