Oceanport School Board Members Spar Over Contracts
Board member Mark O'Neill and board president Colin Soyer were restrained by colleagues following a shouting match.
Over the course of five hours on Thursday night, the Oceanport Board of Education meeting shifted from honoring the Maple Place Charger Band at the start to a shouting match resulting in two members being restrained by colleagues later in the evening.
A large portion of the often-chaotic July 19 meeting centered on a discussion of the renewal of contracts for the superintendent and business administrator.
“Andrew this isn't personal, I think you are a good fit here,” board member Mark O’Neill said to Oceanport Superintendent Andrew Orefice. “I think you are an awesome superintendent, but I have serious questions about this contract."
O'Neill then questioned Orefice on his health insurance co-pay, deductible, prescription coverage and his health-care contribution (1.5 percent of his salary). He also questioned raises Orefice had received within the last three years. Orefice voluntarily passed on his last scheduled raise.
Orefice's three-year contract calls for salary increases that will stop at the state-imposed salary cap of $135,000.
Some back-and-forth ensued between O'Neill and board president Colin Soyer as O'Neill questioned details of the past and present contracts, with both men becoming visibly frustrated. "I don't trust these answers," O'Neill said at one point. Soyer asked whether his colleague would like them to "stop the meeting and go dig out paperwork from the office."
Addressing Soyer, O'Neill shouted, "I will not be shut down on this issue."
He added, “I took tomorrow off. I packed a lunch, and we can go all night."
At one point the board had to break from the meeting when O’Neill and Soyer rose from their chairs and came at one another. Fellow board members held them each back while the men shouted at each other. The two later publicly apologized to each other for their behavior.
Business Administrator Norma Tursi's one-year contract calls for a salary of $99,878 for the upcoming school year, reflecting a four-percent raise. According to the board, Tursi has been working off an expired contract and did not receive raises the prior two years.
That percentage was the focus of questioning and confusion as the board realized that the resolution and the agenda incorrectly stated that the raise was two percent. (The dollar amount of the salary was correct.)
When the votes were finally taken both the superintendent and the business administrator's contracts were approved by the board.
Kelly McGowan, Spencer Carpenter, William McVitty, Ted Gammon, Christopher McCrae and Colin Soyer voted to approve the administrative contracts.
Joan Osgoodby, Mark O'Neill and Madeline Badalaty voted in opposition.
Before the vote was taken on Tursi's contract, O'Neill directed criticism at some of his fellow board members, including Carpenter and Gammon, for remaining quieter than others during the discussions.
"I'm calling you out," said O’Neill. "You're fine with this?"
"I'm not fine with how you acted tonight," Gammon said.