Top Monitor Of Camden Schools Resigns Vito Gagliardi, Who Is Retired, Cited The Job's Demands. The Task Force He Led Is A Step Short Of A State Takeover.

Posted: July 13, 2000

A year after he was sent to the troubled Camden School District, Vito Gagliardi has resigned as head of a state-appointed task force, saying the job was too demanding.

Gagliardi, a retired superintendent of schools in Union County, has been a consultant to the state for three years. He said he had hoped to work only one year with the state but kept accepting assignments, including the one in Camden.

"I'm retired," he said. "I wasn't looking to work full time, and, quite honestly, that Camden project is not only full time, I see it as at least a five- to maybe 10-year project in order for it to be done correctly."

Gagliardi's resignation took effect June 30. He said he would continue to work as a part-time consultant, but not in Camden.

John Sherry, assistant state education commissioner, said that Gagliardi would not be replaced, but that his duties would be transferred to Camden County School Superintendent Daniel Mastrobuono. Sherry praised Gagliardi for providing a blueprint for recovery that the city school board, with Mastrobuono's oversight, can carry out.

Philip E. Freeman Sr., president of the Camden Board of Education, said he viewed the state's decision not to replace Gagliardi as an indication that the district was showing improvement.

"I don't know if Dr. Mastrobuono will be able to handle the monitoring of the task force on a full-time basis in view of the other responsibilities he has," Freeman said. "I'm of the opinion that the state not replacing Dr. Gagliardi is an illustration that we are doing some things right."

Sherry said, however, that the task force would remain in place. He said the district must hire a permanent superintendent and show improvement in academic achievement and other areas before the state would consider leaving the district.

Mastrobuono is on vacation and was not available for comment.

The state created the task force a year ago, citing low student test scores. The task force is a step short of a full takeover, which has been done in Jersey City, Newark and Paterson. Gagliardi led a similar task force in Asbury Park for about 15 months, ending in 1998.

The Camden task force, which consists of about 25 retired school administrators, roamed the district during the last school year, monitoring teachers, evaluating curriculum, reviewing policy, and assessing administrators. The group members serve as troubleshooters on issues large and small, down to such things as broken water faucets.

Gagliardi issued a harsh report in March that criticized district officials for what he called a lack of leadership, accountability, and, in some cases, ability. The report documented incidents of questionable spending, overstaffing, nepotism, and uncertified staffers. The report found, for example, that the business office, which oversees a $240 million budget, did not have a single employee with an accounting degree.

Warren Sykes, past president of the District Parent Advisory Council, said Gagliardi had a difficult job. He was viewed with suspicion by Camden officials and not given enough support by the state, Sykes said.

In its first year, Sykes said, the task force did a good job of identifying the problems, particularly at the administrative level, but did little to solve them.

Sykes and Freeman said it was too early to judge the work of the task force.

"One year is far too short a time to judge the task force's efforts," Sykes said. "It is not a quick fix. It won't take one year. It won't take two years. There should be a seven-year plan, a 10-year plan."

Eugene Kiely's e-mail address is ekiely@phillynews.com

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