MARGATE – She’s worked for 27 different board members, three superintendents and 8 principals during her 21-year tenure as the Margate school district business administrator. On Aug 16, Susan Palaia, who also serves as school board secretary, made a “tough decision” and announced that she will retire at the end of December. The Board of Education unanimously approved her request with regret.
“One of our current board members, Dr. Joel Frankel, is the son of former board member Dr. Alan Frankel, who was on the board when I first came here,” she said.
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Palaia, who just turned 62, said she timed her retirement so she could close out the prior year’s finances and allow her replacement to come on board in time for the “nitty gritty of formulating a new budget” – a luxury she did not have when she was hired during the month of July years ago.
Superintendent John DiNicola called her a “Margate institution” and said she would be sorely missed.
“I have found Susan to be extremely loyal, a consummate professional, an extremely knowledgeable finance person, and a caring person,” DiNicola said.
DiNicola has worked with Palaia for 18 years.
“The district's strong fiscal health is mainly due to her financial and budgetary acumen,” DiNicola said.
Palaia said over her 25-year career as a school business administration – she worked for four years in Port Republic – she has never had any audits that required corrective action.
“That’s a credit to the great team of people here,” she said. “This is a great district to work for.”
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Former Superintendent Dominick A. Potena, who retired in 2009 after 27 years with the district recommended, Palaia for the position many years ago.
“She was very professional and competent and always provided the district with good financial advice,” he said in a telephone interview. “She was always very meticulous with the district’s financial records.”
Potena said Palaia helped him get the district through several building projects, including building the William H. Ross School, closing of the Union Avenue School and the installation of solar panels on three schools.
“The solar installations provided a lot of savings for the district,” Palaia said.
“She was a wealth of knowledge with respect to financing these projects, and her advice to me and the board was invaluable,” Potena said. “In addition to that, she is a good person and I wish her well.”
Palaia said she wouldn’t miss the long hours, but she would miss the people she worked with.
“The board members, administrators, teachers and maintenance crew all care deeply about the district,” she said.
Palaia said she is looking forward to spending more time with her two boys, Jack 13, and Joey, 12, who spent most of their early years and summers at the JCC preschool and camps while she was at work.
“I’d like to be there for them during the next few years, because before you know it, they will be going off to college. I thought this would be a good time to make the transition.”
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Palaia said she is planning a long-awaited trip to Alaska next summer.
“We always spent our vacations in Florida at the theme parks, but they are old enough now to enjoy the national parks,” she said. “For me, it’s all about being there for my kids, and enjoying my freedom before I am physically unable to enjoy myself.”
Palaia’s plans include becoming more involved in the community of Northfield where she lives with her husband Wayne, a computer scientist at the FAA.
The district will advertise for the position on the district’s newly revamped website, in NJ Hire.com and The Press of Atlantic City. Applications are due by Aug. 30.
Palaia said DiNicola and several board members would review resumes and conduct interviews. The board is likely to appoint someone to the position in October or November.