This is a bad situation.’ Toms River Regional board faces superintendent deadline

Jean MikleAsbury Park Press

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TOMS RIVER – It’s back to the drawing board for a divided Toms River Regional Board of Education, which only has two weeks to find a new superintendent.

“We are required to appoint a superintendent by July 1 or we can’t operate,” said board Vice President Anna Polozzo, who heads the superintendent search committee. “Somebody has to either do the job or we shut down.”

Interim Superintendent Thomas Gialanella will leave Toms River Regional on June 30. Gialanella replaced former Superintendent David M. Healy, who retired at the end of December.

Polozzo said the board is likely to schedule a special meeting to discuss the search for a new school leader.

On Wednesday, board members were unable to agree on which of two candidates to appoint: Assistant Superintendent James Ricotta garnered four votes, while James Altobello, who is director of secondary education in the Hamilton school district, received three votes.

The votes happened after several teachers and parents spoke in favor of Ricotta’s appointment, arguing that the public supports hiring a candidate from inside the district to be Toms River Regional’s new leader.

Polozzo said that results of virtual meetings and a community survey conducted in the fall showed strong support for an in-house candidate for superintendent.

“Some of us believe that we had a mandate to choose a talented candidate from the district unless there was something far more spectacular out there,” she said. (But) some of us don’t believe that.”

The board has been searching for a new superintendent since the fall, but, so far, a board majority has not coalesced around one candidate. Board President Joseph Nardini and member Kathy Eagan are unable to vote on the matter as both have relatives who work in the district. That leaves seven board members eligible to vote.

Ricotta fell one vote short of a majority.

The superintendent search has been mired in controversy since April, when Eagan accused township Councilman Daniel Rodrick of urging her to pressure another board member to change their vote for the next school leader. 

Rodrick has denied that he did anything wrong or attempted to influence Eagan or any other board member. 

In an email sent in April to Toms River Mayor Maurice B. “Mo” Hill Jr., township council members and Polozzo, school board members Ashley Palmiere and Lisa Contessa accused Eagan of ethics violations.

The email sent by Palmiere included text messages from Eagan to Contessa in which Eagan urged Contessa to reconsider Toms River High School South Principal Mike Citta for the superintendent’s post.

Eagan defended her actions and said “this is not, was not and is not a political statement. … That is why I brought it to be board, because I felt it was becoming too political.”

Speaking at a recent council meeting, Contessa said she and Palmiere and their runningmate, Ken Londegan purchased campaign signs from Rodrick’s firm, Cornerstone Communications, during the 2020 election campaign. According to the Election Law Enforcement Commission, the campaign paid Cornerstone $3,850 for signs.

But Contessa claimed she and her runningmates then “parted ways” with Rodrick.

“We owe no one for getting ourselves elected; no one can control how we think or how we vote,” Contessa said. She criticized the council for statements about Rodrick “meddling” in the superintendent search.

Board divided:Divided Toms River Regional board fails to appoint new superintendent

“Shame on you for yourselves working to politicize this process when all you did was attack two women on a board of education and hurt some of the candidates’ characters,” Contessa said. “Mrs. Palmiere and I have no bias or political agenda here other than to select the best superintendent for our school district. And that is exactly wat we are going to do.”

Palmiere said Wednesday night that she found it curious that the board interviewed superintendent candidates from outside the district if board members always intended to appoint an in-house candidate. She said she and Contessa are being unfairly blamed for issue in the search process that began before they took seats on the board earlier this year.

Polozzo said, “this is a bad situation,” when describing the superintendent search, but said the board will continue efforts to appoint a new leader.

“We will attempt to move forward,” she said.

Jean Mikle covers Toms River and several other Ocean County towns, and has been writing about local government and politics at the Jersey Shore for nearly 37 years. She’s also passionate about the Shore’s storied music scene. Contact her: @jeanmikle,

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