School business administrators ‘are like unicorns’: Vernon finds its own

Vernon. The school board voted unanimously to appoint Patricia Ratcliffe-Lee, who will be the second permanent business administrator in Vernon in 18 months.

Vernon /
| 29 Mar 2022 | 03:03

The Vernon Township School District has a new permanent business administrator — the second since former longtime business administrator Steve Kepnes retired in October 2020.

The school board voted 8-0 on March 24 to appoint Patricia Ratcliffe-Lee to the position of business administrator and board secretary, replacing the interim business administrator, Carolyn Joseph. School board member Martin O’Donnell was absent.

Joseph has been filling in since Jan. 3. The previous permanent business administrator, Theresa Linskey, resigned in November 2020.

Ratcliffe-Lee will serve from May 25 through June 30 at a pro-rated annual salary of $179,000. Her 2022-23 salary will remain at $179,000.

She spent five years as the assistant business administrator of the Fair Lawn Public Schools, leading some in the public to question if she had the experience and ability to do the job.

School board president Kelly Mitchell said the comments were upsetting.

“I don’t criticize members of the public for making comments, but for someone who does not know the qualifications of this individual was hurtful and incorrect,” she said.

Superintendent Karen D’Avino said Ratcliffe-Lee’s references gave her great compliments. The Fair Lawn district auditor said she served for five straight years with no audit findings, and is very qualified for the job.

“We go through a very thorough process to find people and (business administrators) are like unicorns,” D’Avino said. “They’re very hard to find.”

Last October the school board appointed Barbara Decker to fill the post but rescinded the appointment a week later. Decker is a member of the family that owns Decker Transportation, which provides busing services to the district, and presented a conflict of interest.

D’Avino said the interim, Carolyn Joseph, “did a tremendous job, not only on the budget, but also in the office. We’ve been through a lot of personality changes over the last two years and that could be very challenging. Carolyn has been an absolute pleasure to work with.”

Joseph said she couldn’t have done the job alone. She thanked the office support staff, business administrator secretary Jennifer Smith, and assistant board secretary Pam Kachur.

“You couldn’t do it alone and I will say that these two ladies, themselves, have been the best I’ve worked with in my 37 years.”