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.”