Joseph Ferraina retired as Long Branch’s schools superintendent this year without getting a big check on his way out the door. There was no lump sum payment for unused sick days, nothing for accumulated vacation time.
That’s because Ferraina had been cashing in his sick and vacation time long before he left the job.
Over the past decade, Long Branch Public Schools paid Ferraina $616,123 for his sick and vacation days, according to data the district provided to LongBranchPatch.com through an Open Public Records Act request.
In the past five years, the records indicate, Ferraina hardly took any time off. Instead, each year, he cashed in most of the 25 vacation days, 12 sick days and four personal days provided in his contract. On top of that, he also was getting paid for more than 100 unused days that he had accumulated during his 38-year career in the district.
The largest payments came during the 2006-07 school year, when Ferraina collected more than $162,000 for unused sick and vacation time. The next highest total came in 2005-06, when he received more than $89,000. In most other years, the payments exceeded $40,000.
“I was never out sick a day in my life,’’ Ferraina said during a recent 57-minute phone interview. “And I didn’t take vacation time because there was always something to do. What you don’t understand is this - Saturdays, Sundays, I worked. I took my job very seriously. I actually put my job before everything else.’’
Ferraina shrugged at the amount of his sick and vacation payments. “I got $600,000? That’s not much,’’ he said. “There, you want a headline? ‘That’s not much.’ All the money I received, I earned it. Whatever money you say I got, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s not relevant. It would only be relevant if I got paid for not going in, and that’s not true.’’
The superintendent’s salary at the time of his retirement on June 30, 2011, was $244,999, according to state treasury records. His annual pension is $154,710. That’s almost as much money as the $170,000 salary that Long Branch Public Schools is paying his successor, Michael Salvatore.
Ferraina, who is 61, retired just as Gov. Chris Christie’s cap on school superintendents’ salaries was taking effect, a limit that may have forced him to take more than a $70,000 pay cut if he stuck around. But he insists his departure had nothing to do with the salary cap.
“My decision came way before he was governor,’’ Ferraina said. “I don’t think he even announced he was running for governor when I told the school board I was retiring.’’
None of Long Branch’s Board of Education members responded to an interview request for this story. Neither did the teachers’ union.
“I never apologize for my salary,’’ Ferraina said. “I don’t think superintendents make enough, to be honest with you. I’m very proud of my work. I know how many hours I put in. I know how much blood I put into it.’’
Ferraina says his actions during times of bereavement provide evidence of his commitment to the job and proof that his near-perfect attendance record wasn’t merely a means for collecting extra payments. Long Branch schools employees are entitled to as many as five days off when a close relative dies and they do not get compensated for unused bereavement days, officials said.
In 2004, when his father died, Ferraina said he missed half a day of work. In 2005, when his brother died, he said he missed four hours. In 2008, when his son died, Ferraina said he missed one day of work.
“The viewing was 4-9 (pm),’’ Ferraina said of his son’s wake. “I left work at the end of that day to go to the viewing.’’ The next morning, he said, he reported for work in the morning and then left at 8:45 a.m., walking around the corner to the funeral home for services that began at 9 a.m. After attending the church service, the burial and making a brief appearance at home where relatives had gathered, Ferraina said he was back at Long Branch school offices by 2 p.m.
Another Long Branch school official confirmed that Ferraina had worked on the day of his son’s funeral.
Ferraina’s career in Long Branch started 38 years ago. He said he spent four years as a teacher, four as an assistant principal, 10 as a principal, two as assistant superintendent and 18 as superintendent.
Ferraina was known as fanatic about not canceling classes, even in the worst weather conditions. City officials say it was common for him to be out before dawn on stormy mornings driving through the city to see if schools could be opened.
Some education officials praise him for being the driving force behind the five new schools built in the district in the last decade and they credit him for his emphasis on improving student test scores. Officials said he also pushed to have back-up generators put in schools, which allowed the middle school to be used as a shelter for 500 residents during Hurricane Irene, officials said.
Ferraina says a conversation he had with a former state education commissioner helped prompt changes in school construction policies to make air-conditioning mandatory in new buildings. “The guy that made that happen was Joseph Ferraina,’’ he said.
“How does that stuff happen?’’ Ferraina said of his accomplishments. “Not by sitting at home.’’
In 2006, Ferraina was among the education administrators highlighted in a State Commission on Investigation report entitled: “Taxpayers Beware: What You Don’t Know Can Cost You.’’ The report described what it called “questionable and hidden compensation for public school administrators.’’
The study said Ferraina’s salary as reported to the state education department was $193,149, but his actual compensation was $305,099, including sick and vacation payments. The report said Long Branch school officials also approved a series of 10 amendments and modifications to his contract. In each instance, Ferraina’s “compensation and benefits increased significantly at taxpayer expense,’’ the report said.
“A guy works hard and does the right thing, no story. A guy gets paid, oh my God, that’s a story,’’ said Ferraina. “They love to crucify public employees. If I put the time in, I deserve to get paid.’’
The former superintendent recalls taking phone calls about school business while riding on a Ferris wheel. He said he scheduled his knee operation for a Friday afternoon so he could be back at work on Monday without missing any time.
When asked who kept tabs on Ferraina’s time, Long Branch school officials provided this response: “All staff members are required to sign a log each day when they report to work and leave work. Personnel Office collects and maintains these sheets.”
Here are some of the other benefits that were provided under Ferraina’s last contract:
- Up to $5,000 per year to reimburse him for medical costs not covered by the regular benefits provided by the district.
- Up to $8,000 in annual premiums to cover extra Long-Term Care insurance.
- A $750 per month automobile allowance.
- A $2,500 annual payment for disability insurance.
- A contribution of more than $10,000 per year to a deferred compensation program on his behalf.
- The payment of dues and fees for membership in various professional and civic organizations. The contract did not set on limit on this.
- Reimbursement for expenses incurred while attending professional meetings.
- Authorization to send “appropriate plagues, gifts, remembrances and other items of good will to those persons selected by the Superintendent” as long as the cost did not exceed what was provided for in the annual school budget.
- The provision of a laptop and desktop computer for his home use, which he was allowed to buy for $1 at the time of his retirement.
Ferraina says he never received anything beyond what was provided for in his contract.
The district’s contract with Ferraina’s successor, Salvatore, offers a much different package. There’s no money for unreimbursed medical costs, no Long-Term Care premium, no deferred compensation. It includes no provisions for home computers and no authorization to send out gifts and plagues at the taxpayers’ expense.
For professional fees and travel expenses, the board imposed $2,500 limits in Salvatore’s contract. As for a car allowance, he gets 31 cents per mile reimbursement. Salvatore would have to drive more than 2,400 miles a month on school business to match what Ferraina received.
As for sick time, Salvatore’s contract sets a maximum $15,000 payment for unused days when he retires and sets the per diem rate of payment at $125 per day. That’s less than 15 percent of per diem rate at which Ferraina was paid for his sick days.
Also, Salvatore’s contract makes no provisions for annual payments of unused sick time. Ferraina, in comparison, collected more than $400,000 in annual payments for unused sick time during his last 10 years on the job.
Ferraina says he deserved everything that was in his contract. “It was all above board,’’ he said.
The former superintendent also said he saved the school district million of dollars over the years in areas like negotiations for the property the district bought for its administrative offices at 540 Broadway and the land used to build the new Anastasia school.
But Ferraina also has left the district with a potentially expensive liability, the and the school system by his former secretary, Adele Russo. Her complaint alleges that Ferraina forced her to have sex with her repeatedly over a five-year period.
Through its insurance carrier, the Board of Education has retained two law firms in the matter, one to represent the district and another to represent Ferraina.
When asked whether the lawyers’ contracts set a maximum payment for the case, school officials responded: “The contract is between the Board’s insurance carrier and the two law firms and has not been disclosed to the BOE and therefore the Board is unaware of the amounts that have been paid to the law firms.”
Ferraina declined to discuss the Russo lawsuit, saying he had to follow the advice of his attorney.
Despite the cloud of the lawsuit, Ferraina said he is enjoying retirement. “I’m doing nothing that earns me any money,’’ he said. “I do all the things I want to do without have any of the responsibilities I used to have. I have time to do good things for people.’’
Retirement also has provided Ferraina time to reflect on his attendance track record.
“If I could do my life over, I would not put the time in I put in at work,’’ he said. “It’s a job and it became my life. I couldn’t do enough. If I could do it over, I would take every vacation day and every sick day.’’