The Brick Township Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday night to execute a new contract with Superintendent Thomas Farrell, replacing the chief school administrator’s current five-year deal, which is in its fourth year.
The new contract will keep Farrell, who notably began his tenure in Brick just days before the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools nationwide, in Brick through June 30, 2028. The new five-year pact rescinds the previous agreement and eliminates the final year.
Farrell’s salary will increase from an expected $211,130 for the 2023-24 school year to $235,500 for the same year. He will be entitled to 2.95 percent raises each year, however the raise will be waived in the first cycle. The contract does not include any bonus programs. It grants Farrell 25 vacation days and 12 sick days each year, plus health benefits, however Farrell has never taken district healthcare coverage. The contract does not include a waiver or “buy back” bonus for not utilizing health benefits, as included in some other negotiated public employment agreements.
Board Attorney Ben Montenegro said the agreement, presented to the board for a vote at its meeting Thursday night, had been reviewed by the Ocean County Executive Superintendent of Schools and found to be compliant with state laws and policies.
Before the board cast their votes, members of the public were given an opportunity to have their say pursuant to a state law that requires a public hearing before existing contracts for certain public employees, including chief school administrators, are extended or modified. Both members of the public and district leaders endorsed the deal to keep Farrell in Brick for another five years, a notable achievement for a district that had gone through a staggering 13 superintendents in 15 years, including interim leaders.
“He’s worth every penny of it,” said former school board member and facilities advocate Walter F. Campbell, known for his frank assessments of district issues. “We’ve got someone who’s half-business and half-education and it’s worked out very well. Now we don’t have to worry about him leaving.”
“He’s broken the tenure record for superintendent,” Campbell joked. “He’s at five [years] – the old record was four.”
Seriously speaking, however, continuity in district leadership after more than a decade of central office upheaval and sometimes-vicious politicking was viewed as a major factor in the desire to move forward with consistent leadership – and a schools chief who has garnered wide support from various sectors of the community, plus colleagues and union leaders.
“There’s no need to spend extra money on a superintendent search,” said Kevin Bliem, president of the Brick Township Education Association, the union that represents the district’s teachers and other staff members. “He’s here and he’s well worth it.”
Bliem’s predecessor, Tim Puglisi, who held the union leadership post for 17 years, concurred.
“Before Dr. Farrell came, it was very hard,” he said. “I worked with 13 different superintendents over the last 15 years. We need this continuity to keep things together, and I think the best thing we can do for our students and the community be to vote yes, yes, yes on Dr. Farrell.”
“I expect nothing less than greatness from Dr. Farrell, because that’s what we have been getting,” said resident John Sluka, a staple at board meetings, though he did have one caveat: “I just hope this isn’t like the ballplayers, where every time they have a good year, they re-negotiate their contract.”
After the unanimous vote, there were more words of praise for Farrell and his unique blend of a business background that preceded his teaching career, ultimately leading him to rise through the ranks of administrative positions. He came to Brick in March 2020 serving as joint superintendent of the Shore Regional and West Long Branch districts in Monmouth County.
Farrell said Brick was his wife’s hometown before it was his, and he’s proud to remain at the helm of the township’s school system long-term.
“I really want to be here, and I plan on being here as long as my health allows it, God willing,” he said. “I thank the board, I thank the community, and I’m not going anywhere. You’ve got me for good.”
True to tradition, Farrell made sure a plate of fresh chocolate chip cookies was passed around the room – another bonus of having a superintendent so close to the community.
“I’ve seen a lot of superintendents come and go in this district, but I’ve never seen a superintendent so visible in the district,” said board members Michael Blandina. “It creates a great sense of morale.”