ROXBURY, NJ – Embattled Roxbury Schools Transportation Director Pamela Nicholais was reappointed by the township school board last night despite a barrage of criticism voiced against her by school bus drivers and parents who support them.
In voting 8-2 to retain Nicholais, the board’s decision sounded more like a vote of confidence for Nicholais’ boss - Roxbury Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic - than for Nicholais. Some of the board members who voted in favor of the reappointment said they trusted Radulic’s judgment in recommending that Nicholais retain her $95,000-per-year job but none praised Nicholais.
Nicholais, who was hired last year, has come under fire for the way she is handling an attempt to reorganize, and consolidate, the district’s school busing system in what she described as an effort to “create an efficient and safe” program. Although the plan now calls for having four less bus drivers, 11 were given notices last month that they were losing their jobs.
It was Nicholais' job that seemed in jeopardy on May 17 when the board voted 4-3 against her reappointment, and a proposed $2,375 raise, but said it would revisit the matter, a promise it kept last night. Although she got reappointed, she didn't get the raise.
“I know there are good people in Roxbury,” said board member Leo Coakley before voting in favor of the reappointment. “I know a lot of these bus drivers personally … There is a lot of mending to do be done. But Loretta has our support and these are her recommendations. The board cannot recommend people for positions. The superintendent must recommend people. She’s asked for our support and I think we owe it to her to give her the time to get this worked out.”
Board members Carol Scheneck and James Monaghan cast the dissenting votes. Scheneck said she was unhappy about the lack of information provided to the board and public, up until a presentation made last night, relating to details of Nicholais’ plan. She also said Nicholais has shown a lack of interpersonal relationship and leadership skills.
“I’m just really concerned,” said Scheneck. “Part of being a supervisor is you gain respect and earn respect from the people that work for you and I’m really, really concerned about the morale in the transportation department. These people have worked here for many years, are community members … they’ve taken good care of our children and I really think that respect works both ways.”
Board president Ron Lucas voted to retain Nicholais but said the school administration might learn a lesson from the uproar. “Nobody likes change and the greater the change the less it’s liked,” he said. “I do trust Mrs. Radulic’s judgment and I do think she’s looking out for the best interest of the district … We all need to develop more respect for each other.”
Radulic joined Nicholais on stage, prior to the vote, to present an overview of some of the changes being considered. The goal of the reshuffling is to improve the school district’s transportation efficiency rating of 1.31 percent, among the bottom third of Morris County districts.
The board’s decision did not bode well with the audience. Some warned that they will remember last night during the next school board elections.
Dan Masi, who ran unsuccessfully last year for a seat on the board, said he felt “really uncomfortable” about the level of information in Nicholais’ presentation. “I don’t get the sense of what is driving this change,” he told the board. “It can’t be the transportation efficiency numbers. I don’t see parents coming here banging on your doors saying `Oh my gosh. My child is in jeopardy’ … I don’t get what the motivation is here.”
Radulic said the presentation shown last night will be posted today on the school district’s website.