The Vernon Township Board of Education approved the district’s new business administrator, with some members saying she will be paid too much at a time when the district should be saving money. But most members said her expertise will help the district does just that.
The board voted 7-1 last Thursday to approve Theresa Linskey as a permanent replacement for Steve Kepnes, who retired in October. Donna Risse has been filling in while Superintendent Karen D’Avino and the school board searched for a permanent replacement. Linskey will start on Feb. 11.
Board of education member Brad Sparta cast the only vote against hiring Linskey, objecting to her $170,000 annual salary. Board member Mark Cilli left the meeting before the vote.
“When teachers retire, we always get breakage,” Sparta said. “I was hoping for the same thing here. Part of the problem is, we are bringing the person in at a very high rate, and they’re getting raise after raise, and in no time, they’re making a good chunk of change.”
Linskey will be paid a prorated amount of the $170,000 salary for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year and will not receive a pay increase in 2021-22.
’We’ve set a precedent’
Martin O’Donnell, who will join the school board in January, said he’d hoped the board would have taken the opportunity to save some money. He said the Vernon’s business administrator salary is the highest in the county, and 36 percent above the county average.
“We’ve set a precedent where we’re the highest,” O’Donnell said. “With Mr. Kepnes’ retirement, we had an opportunity to save some money. We didn’t do that.”
Justin Annunziata, the board of education president, said he believed Linskey was the right fit for the district to navigate a “very difficult financial situation.” The district is in the middle of a six-year stretch of decreasing state aid.
He said her salary is not 36 percent above other K-12 districts in the county. Many districts in the county are only K-8, he said, with a very significant workload between the two kinds of districts.
“I recognize that this is on the high end,” Annunziata said. “It is reflective of the skill set we are bringing in.”
Superintendent Karen D’Avino said Linskey was making $158,000 annually in Branchburg this year and would have made $163,000 in 2021-22 if she had stayed there. She said the business administrator at Lenape Valley makes $163,000, and a business administrator with one-year experience at the Jefferson Township School District is making $160,000.
“We’re asking this person to take on a massive endeavor over the next few years,” Annunziata said.
Board of education member Kelly Mitchell said Linskey indicated she would through her expertise be able to save the district money. Board member Joe Sweeney agreed that he believes she will save the district “a good deal of money.”
Sweeney said Linskey’s next raise wasn’t discussed.
When announcing his retirement in September, Kepnes said he made his decision based on his expectation of financial hardship in the school district’s future. “This decision came in from reflecting on the state of the state,” Kepnes said in September. “It had little to do with Vernon, per se, but much to do with Sussex County. I am concerned, with Sussex County and the amount of state aid that it’s losing, could slip into a local depression. I worry about that.”
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct an error. Vernon Township Board of Education member Brad Sparta cast the only vote against appointing Theresa Linskey as permanent business administrator, objecting to her $170,00 annual salary. Board member Mark Cilli was not present for the vote, but later said her experience and approach to fiscal responsibility will be an asset to the district, which will far exceed the price tag noted. The Advertiser News regrets the error.
“I recognize that this is on the high end. It is reflective of the skill set we are bringing in. We’re asking this person to take on a massive endeavor over the next few years.” Justin Annunziata