A One-Way Ticket Out of Town for Roxbury School Bus Director?

The crowd at tonight's Roxbury School Board meeting

ROXBURY, NJ – Roxbury School District Director of Transportation Pamela Nicholais, who is in the middle of a battle relating to possible bus driver cuts, is now close to losing her own job.

Before a packed meeting room tonight, a majority of the Roxbury Board of Education refused to vote in favor of a motion that called for the reappointment of Nicholais. However, because the motion contained six other “central office manager” positions and could only be voted on in its entirety, the board will meet again to vote on a revised motion that will separate the names, allowing for separate votes on the individuals including Nicholais.

That meeting is scheduled for June 6 at Roxbury High School.

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Nicholais, hired a year ago to replace former transportation director Thomas Cunningham, who resigned after a fuel theft scandal was revealed, is being criticized by some district bus drivers and their union representatives who are unhappy with possible job cuts.

Board members Margaret Casola, Carol Scheneck, Theresa D’Agostino and board president Ron Lucas said they were not in favor of voting for Nicholais’ reappointment. The reappointment would have included a small salary increase; Nicholais, who did not attend the meeting, currently earns $95,000. She would get $97,375 if reappointed.

“In Japan, when CEOs have to lay off people, they don’t get a raise,” said Scheneck, drawing applause from the audience. She also said she was not convinced that enough research was collected before Nicholais began talking about trimming the driver ranks.

Last week, Roxbury Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic sent reduction in force (RIF) letters to 11 bus drivers, a move that seemed to fly in the face of her prior estimate that only about four drivers would lose their jobs if downsizing was deemed necessary.

In the letters, Radulic told the drivers she planned to recommend they not be rehired for the new school year “due to reasons of economy and declining enrollment.”

But tonight, Radulic and several board members explained that, despite the language, the RIF letters do not necessarily mean what they seem to say. Although the district must issue RIF letters by May 15 to any employees who might be affected by potential staff cuts for the upcoming school year, the letters do not mean layoffs are definite, they said.

Radulic said she still thinks there would be no more than four job cuts should the district proceed with a reorganization. There are now 53 drivers in the department.

Lisa McCarthy, a parent who has been outspoken about the bus driver matter, said she’s not convinced Nicholais will lose her job. “I believe the board will ask Mrs. Radulic to reduce the salary proposed for Mrs. Nicholais and then approve her for next year,” she said after tonight’s meeting.

McCarthy said she understands the board had to, by law, issue the RIFs if job cuts might be needed. “I still feel it is irresponsible to notify 11 workers that they will not have a job in a few weeks but say tonight that it's probably only 3 or 4. And it’s absurd that they even proposed to reappoint Pam with a raise. It's a slap in the face to our drivers that they will be let go but give their superior a raise.”

Board member Richard Alexander said he was voting in favor of reappointing Nicholais because he knows that tough, unpopular decisions come with the job. “It’s our fiduciary responsibility to look at this,” he said after expressing concern about “misinformation” being circulated – through social media and other means – about the situation and about Nicholais.

“I do have concerns over some of the trust issues,” said Alexander.

Many of those who spoke tonight contended the trust problems can be blamed on a lack of communication between the school administration and the community.

“It comes down to this, I am not going away,” said McCarthy after the meeting. “The board is being irresponsible voting without knowledge of any actual changes. Unfortunately, because they say one thing but do another, they have also proven to be untrustworthy. It will take a long time before this community trusts them.”

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