Fort Lee Superintendent to Take Leave of Absence Until January

With Steven Engravalle out for the next two months on medical leave, Sharon Amato will run the day-to-day operations of the Fort Lee Public School District, serving as Interim Superintendent after board approval Monday.

The Fort Lee Board of Education Monday approved a nearly two-month leave of absence for Superintendent Steven Engravalle for medical reasons and appointed Sharon Amato Interim Superintendent of Schools during his absence.

Engravalle’s leave of absence is effective Nov. 7 and continues until Jan. 2, 2013, according to the walk-in resolution the school board approved 5-0 with one abstention.

Amato, whose status as interim superintendent is effective for the same period and was approved unanimously by the board, called the appointment “truly an honor and a privilege.”

“I have spent more time in my life working in the Fort Lee schools than I’ve done anything else so you certainly have my commitment to the students and the members of the community, and I would like to thank the Board of Education for their trust,” Amato said. “Being an educational leader is something that you don’t do alone; you do it with a group; you work as a team.”

She said she would therefore work closely with the district’s principals, teachers, parents, administrators and the BOE, calling that “the only way we can move this district forward.”

Board attorney Matthew Giacobbe said he, board president Yusang Park and business administrator Cheryl Balletto took the “preemptive step of contacting the executive county superintendent” last week after speaking with Engravalle “and advised him of what was happening so that we could get approval,” which he added was granted at the county level for Amato to step into the role.

In another walk-in resolution, the BOE voted to appoint Keith Lockwood Anti-Bullying Coordinator and Affirmative Action Officer for the school district for the rest of the current school year to replace Amato.

Several community members raised concerns about Engravalle’s leave of absence, with many focusing specifically on the number of days he’s taken off since assuming the duties of superintendent and whether his leave would be paid or unpaid.

Giacobbe said that while the board couldn’t discuss an individual employee’s medical condition or whether an employee is going on disability, Engravalle “has some accrued vacation time and some accrued sick time, both contractually and statutorily.”

“Whatever accrued time he has, if he qualifies, he’ll be allowed to use it,” Giacobbe said. “Whatever he has used to date has been either accrued vacation or sick leave. Once somebody runs out of [his or her] accrued leave and they’re on FMLA—[Family and Medical Leave Act]—it’s an unpaid leave.”

He also said school board members are doing “the best they can under incredibly trying circumstances,” which he noted were compounded by two storms, Sandy and a major snowstorm, over the past two weeks.

Another oft-repeated concern among members of the public at Monday’s meeting was whether Engravalle’s leave of absence prohibited him from participation in conferences and state committees and what he can and cannot do while on leave.

Giacobbe said that employees on medical leave have to “govern” themselves, and that if they don’t, the board will deal with it appropriately.

“The board notifies any employee [on medical leave] what our expectations are and how we expect he or she to conduct themselves when they’ve told us they’re unable to work here,” Giacobbe said. “And one of those issues is we don’t expect them to work elsewhere.”

Anna November 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM
I was dismayed and disheartened to learn that we have had a high-paid absentee superintendent since the end of school in June. This district has problems that need to be addressed fast: overcrowding, ongoing infrastructure needs, no principal at the middle school, recovery of lost days from the storms, growing concern among parents about test scores, the need to set a direction for the district in general. Just when we thought things were going looking up with the election of new BOE members, we get hit with more bad news and instability. I have confidence in Dr Amato, but what happens in January? More drama? More uncertainty? More polarization? It doesn't look good.
Rona November 13, 2012 at 03:57 PM
Agree the turmoil that has been apparent in overseeing the the school system in town borders on tragic comedy.
Diane Kennedy November 13, 2012 at 06:15 PM
This is a joke. We are paying a man that has been absent since June. What is wrong with the board that they don't question any of this? I understand he lost his wife, which is a tragedy but everyone else gets 3 bereavement days and he gets 4 months? If you don't want to work then quit. Why is the middle school still without a principal? So they can save money on their goals and the superintendent can get a bonus? Great lack of leadership in this district. It's a shame. What about Engravalle getting up at a BOE convention saying that Fort Lee has some terrible teachers? Nice way to speak about your employees. I get that there are some terrible teachers (my children have had some) Also, I've heard that his contract has an unlimited amount of personal days. So we are paying him so he can do consulting work on the side and get two paychecks? I want his job. I wouldn't be so nasty if hasn't proven himself in the past as a leader that is disconnected from the district. We deserve better than this. I realize that he is a smart man and I have tried to see the bright side but it is becoming very hard. He is using us and the board is letting him.
Jenna November 13, 2012 at 06:28 PM
I don't want to say I told ya so. Oh wait, I do. I told you so! He pulled underhanded moves in his prior place of employment. What is Fort Lee policy on a critical person who is absent? How can they pay for him and now pay an acting his salary? Fire him and make Ms. Amato in charge which is what ya should have done to begin with.
Jenna November 13, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Why not fire him and pay him the 3 months that the contract lets him have and be done with him. It's worth the money just to be done with him. Do you really want this guy back?
William Mays November 13, 2012 at 09:04 PM
They should never have hired him. Hes only using Fort Lee as a stepping stone anyway.
William Mays November 13, 2012 at 09:22 PM
If he goes to committee meetings and conferences while on leave, they need to fire him on the spot
Jenna November 13, 2012 at 10:58 PM
It's not a very good stepping stone if he didn't even show up to his job. I won't hire him knowing he took advantage like this
carol simon November 14, 2012 at 01:36 AM
What is the medical condition Mr Engravalle exhibits? Is it known to the board or the parents of our school district? Or is it the precondition of instability that was brought to the table prior to hire? Get well soon, Steve, you have a contract with the Fort Lee Board of Education. We are counting on you!
William Mays November 14, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Probably Napoleon Syndrome.
Thomas A Bennett November 14, 2012 at 02:36 AM
I don't know Mr. Engravalle, only what I have read in print. When he was hired, people were concerned about a bankrupcy. Since, the man's conduct is what I would call much less than desirable for a highly paid professional. The School Board had made some poor decisions in selecting Superintendants. Now that there is a much more diverse group who have joined the School Board ranks, I hope that there is a voice of reason among them. When I served on the Fort Lee Board, We had Mr Louis Cole, a consumate professional and a friend. The Intermediate school was named for him.I doubt there will be one name for Engravalle. Six months is too long to miss work and still get paid. The Board has to do something.
Paul Umrichin November 14, 2012 at 12:48 PM
As a supporter of Mr. Engravalle it is disappointing to have the chain of events that have occurred. Please keep that like almost every position there is a human resources department that oversees all contracts. It is their job to make sure that the accruals, PTO, sick time, etc. not the BOE. When a person takes medical leave there has to be a consenting physician who is placing their own license number on the paperwork. That paperwork has a complete process and since this is a short term disability issue certain rules will apply. Those rules have to be followed by HR or they are culpable for failure to perform their job properly. If you don't have faith in Mr. Engravalle or the BOE then at least have some in the HR staff to do their jobs according to the law. There is no way that he can take advantage more than his contract allows unless someone wants to lose their job. Knowing the way his absence will be watched by some and the scrutiny he is under already, no one would take the high risk of losing their jobs to do this.
Jenna November 14, 2012 at 06:08 PM
I don't see this as being about counting days as much as not having a leader who leads. Super Amato may be hesitant to make decisions thinking he is coming back. Mom at meeting said her meetings with Super were cancelled several times about getting her daughter who had bone marrow surgery a video link. She was denied by assist Super from August and it is November and no one would make a decision. This is not about HR counting the Super's days, it is about accountability for leaving the district high and dry. Buy out his 3 months according to his contract and fire him so he can't pull any more stunts.
Ann Drew November 14, 2012 at 07:03 PM
There seems to be a lot of issues within the district that haven't or weren't addressed in a timely fashion. Mr. Engravalle stated in an interview that he wasn't chained to a desk and could do work from his home. It doesn't appear that was happening. He also stated in that same interview he wouldn't be in a hurry to return to work until he got some respect. That kind of attitude is very troubling and certainly doesn't convey the message that the kids are the priority. On a side note I would like to know the reasoning behind the asst. super denying the child video link. The smirk on his face while the Mother of the sick child was speaking at the BOE meeting was very disappointing.
Diane Kennedy November 14, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Why are all the recent important decisions and items that are being presented to the board not on the public agenda? The items that seem to cause the most uproar are usually walkins... which means they present them to the public right before the meeting. Are they purposely trying to deceive us? Lockwood came in as a walk in, they almost did a middle school principal in a walk in, and they did engravalles leave in a walk in. Considering his leave is from November 7th they had more enough time to add it to the agenda. Maybe if the people knew about it before time, then more people would have come to the meeting. And instead of voting no 3 board members left the meeting and one abstained. Nice.
William Mays November 14, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Just saying, I told you guys that he would be a crappy superintendent and where are we now? We're missing two great teachers, a middle school principal, and we have an absentee superintendent. My kids get in trouble when I take them on vacation and they go over the limit of absences. Why can't we hold the superintendent up to the same standards?
Paul Umrichin November 14, 2012 at 09:34 PM
I am very disappointed regarding the video link myself. The mother seemed to have all the bases covered and there was no reason not to. Btw - i believe that smirk is issued with administrative positions in the school system.
William Mays November 15, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Yeah, you have to be a really cold bastard, excuse my French, to deny that. Then there are also the political tweets on his twitter page.
Ann Drew November 15, 2012 at 01:22 AM
In all fairness to Mr. Engravalle it was the Asst. Super who turned down the video link. Where Mr. Engravalle went wrong was cancelling (according to the Mother) several meetings that were meant to address the refusal by the asst. super. It seems like a lot of things have been left hanging because Mr. Engravalle was unwilling or unable to attend to them.
William Mays November 15, 2012 at 03:41 AM
Who is Dr. Lockwood?
William Mays November 15, 2012 at 03:44 AM
From the way Amato was talking about being appointed interim, it sounds like she is going to be there more than two months. I don't think Engravalle is coming back.
CD Cantelli November 15, 2012 at 06:38 PM
I don't believe for a sec that the assistant would deny a young girl a video link without someone telling him to do it. The man has been an employee for less than 2 months. He said he's got 4 daughters. I don't believe he wouldn't consider the needs of girl. I believe he was the one that delivered the news to her that someone else decided and he was the scapegoat.
Mike R. November 19, 2012 at 01:44 AM
"The School Board had made some poor decisions in selecting Superintendents." --Thomas A Bennett That gets my nomination for understatement of the century! It's obviously the school board that's the underlying problem, by hiring a long parade of losers. They bear full responsibility for the Engravallle debacle, the Bandlow debacle, the Collabro debacle, and for the fact that, given their record of incompetence, it may now be impossible for Fort Lee to attract any qualified professional for the job. They have exhausted the bottom of the barrel, and the rest of the barrel won't even think of applying here. The new faces in on the board come January might help, if the lame duck board leaves anything standing for them to manage, but they'll have their work cut out for them. The long standing cronyism and nepotism need to be pulled out by the roots, and the public needs to stop looking the other way. "In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice--then He made school boards." --Mark Twain


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