School board and Curko reach retirement agreement

School board and Curko reach retirement agreement
By Tom Jennemann
Reporter staff writer

The Hoboken Board of Education no longer has two employees laying claim to the position of board secretary.

Not long ago, the board hired personnel to replace board secretary/district business administrator Anthony Curko, on the assumption that he'd be retiring soon.

Then, Curko came to a board meeting and said he wasn't retiring. But last week, Curko set a retirement date. According to an agreement that was struck at a special (and brief) Board of Education meeting Thursday night, Curko will retire as board secretary immediately, and he will stay as business administrator until the end of the school year.

Making a move

The writing on the wall first became evident at a hectic Aug. 30 board meeting, where the board majority announced plans for then-board member David Anthony to step down and take a part-time position as paid board secretary for $39,500 per year.

Additionally, two assistant board business administrators were hired - former school board member John Pope as assistant business administrator for $95,000 per year, and Tammy Zucca as assistant business administrator for $110,000. Zucca ultimately ended up taking a job elsewhere.

The fact that the board intended to hire a new secretary and two high-level assistant business administrators clearly signaled that the district's future did not include Curko.

Not so fast

The board had assumed that Curko, who was on medical leave for several months, was willing to retire. A tense situation arose when both Curko and Anthony both showed up for a Sept 13 meeting. Both said they were the Hoboken Board of Education secretary.

Curko was clearly miffed that the board would replace him without him intending to leave.

So speculation started circulating about how this situation might be resolved.

There was even talk of a tenure hearing to oust Curko. That likely would have turned nasty, because while Curko had almost 30 years of employment with the district, the last two district audits were extremely critical of Curko's performance as the business administrator.

Over the past couple of weeks, lawyers for the board and Curko have been negotiating a retirement agreement.

$250,000, but not a buyout

Curko's retirement is not going to be cheap, but that would be the case with any school board employee with as much tenure as Curko, school officials noted.

According to his contract, he is allowed to be paid for sick, vacation, and personal days that he hasn't used.

According to board member Jack Raslowsky, when those numbers are added up, it will cost the district between $200,000 and $250,000. But Raslowsky was very clear that this is not a buyout.

"This is an existing liability," Raslowsky said Thursday. He added that Curko is entitled to this money, according to his contract, whenever he retires.

What the board has agreed to is to spread that money out over five years. Normally Curko would get all of that money in a one lump sum payment. This is beneficial for Curko for tax purposes and good for the district in that they don't have to take the whole hit in a single budget year.

Also, the agreement states that Curko could be brought back as paid consultant after he retires, but that will be at the discretion of the Board of Education.

So for now, the board will have one secretary (David Anthony), one business administrator (Curko), and an assistant to the business administrator (Pope).

Other buyouts already expensive

Why is it important that the district not offer Curko a buyout?

Because the district recently took some heat for the expensive retirement package that was offered to Superintendent of Schools Patrick Gagliardi, who has served at that post for six years. Among others, Mayor David Roberts wants Gagliardi to leave so the district can go in a different direction.

Last year, the board approved Gagliardi's contract extension through 2009. So a buyout will cost the district dearly.

Gagliardi's retirement will be officially effective two years from now, according to an agreement recently approved by the board, but it could happen sooner. Depending on when he leaves, it will cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy out his contract.

"That could be correctly categorized as a buyout," Raslowsky conceded. "But the situations between Gagliardi and Curko are completely different."

Saving face

As it relates to Curko, basically, everyone involved gets to save face. Curko gets to stay on for one more year as business administrator to help "effectuate a smooth, orderly and efficient transition for the next school business administrator."

Since he has been with the district for 27 years, it could take some time to train his replacement.

Curko added that he would like to leave a "lean and more efficient" budget and operation for his successor.

He also gets to leave without a tenure hearing over the audits. As for the Board of Education, they get their wish to make some changes.

"We think that this is the best possible solution," Raslowsky said. "Tony Curko has served this district well for nearly 30 years, and while we have had some bumps over the past two years, I'm confident [this agreement] will make for a smooth transition."

Longest tenured board member Jimmy Farina, who has been on the board about as long as Curko has been employed, thanked Curko for his hard work.

"This is a really big job, and you did a tremendous service to this community and worked hard for the citizens of Hoboken," Farina said. "I wish you congratulations on your retirement."

Garcia update

Meanwhile, the state ethics charges filed by a board member against Board of Education President Carmelo Garcia two weeks ago were not mentioned at Thursday's special meeting.

On Sept. 12, a board member filed charges with the state saying that Garcia voted on a public relations contract for a firm that is partially owned by one of his employers. Garcia is a part-time aide to the county freeholder board for $6,000, and one of those freeholders is Maurice Fitzgibbons, who also owns a public relations firm. Garcia had voted on that firm's $60,000 contract recently.

Garcia was not at Thursday's special meeting.

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