DUI arrest of superintendent has Medford reeling

Posted: March 02, 2012

and Frank Kummer PHILLY.COM The arrest this week of Medford Township's school superintendent on drunken-driving charges has opened new wounds in a community still recovering from a sex scandal involving its former mayor and dealing with deep budget cuts, including police layoffs.

Now Medford residents are struggling to reconcile the arrest of Schools Superintendent Joseph Del Rossi with the antidrug and antialcohol message he delivered to students at an awareness event last month.

Del Rossi, who has led the 3,000-student district for about 10 years, was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol after he flipped a district-owned Jeep on Sunday, police said. The incident occurred about 10:30 p.m. in neighboring Evesham Township, said Evesham Police Capt. Christopher Chew.

Del Rossi told police that he had swerved to avoid hitting a deer on Sagemore Drive just north of Marlton Parkway. Police would not release the results of his breath test.

Del Rossi's attorney, John S. Sitzler, declined to comment. A hearing has been set for April 12 in Evesham's Municipal Court.

School Board President Michael Etter said Del Rossi took a vacation day Friday and was expected to return to work Monday. "As of now, nobody on the board is going to make a public comment. . . . It's a personnel issue," he said.

Etter said the board would likely discuss the matter next week and investigate Del Rossi's use of the Jeep that evening and other issues.

Mayor Randy Pace said he had no jurisdiction over the board but urged quick action.

Del Rossi is "one of the most well-known, charismatic, and well-liked individuals in the township . . . and we all make mistakes," Pace said. "But he allegedly was in a publicly owned vehicle and was intoxicated."

By now, Pace said, Del Rossi "should have already made a statement saying he's resigning or at least have notified his employer and said, 'I need to be on administrative leave until this is resolved.' "

Councilman Jeffrey Beenstock said the incident was "unfortunate for Medford" and was also regrettable for Del Rossi.

"As a parent of a middle-school student, I'm concerned about this incident in light of his role in the 'Defy the Issue' program," he said, referring to the drug and alcohol awareness program held last month at the middle school.

Beenstock said that roughly 2,000 students and parents attended the event, and Del Rossi was one of the main speakers. Beenstock said he was worried about the effect on the students.

Medford also is debating how to manage a nearly $6 million budget deficit and adjusting to a change in leadership following the resignation of Chris Myers, its former mayor, after a sex scandal.

Bill Love, a longtime resident who is active in town and school matters, said he hoped Del Rossi survives the controversy.

"He's been an excellent superintendent of schools, and I'm hoping when this is all done that he is still our superintendent. It's his personal situation and I feel bad for him and his family," he said.

Contact staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog at philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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