I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Billionaire $ To a NJ Superintendent's Rescue!

You'd think a spat between a local school board and its superintendent would be worthy only of front page status in the local Penny Saver. But when it comes to the fight between the Perth Amboy BOE and Dr. Janine Caffrey, you'd be wrong: thanks to a bizarre set of ads run yesterday by the well-endowed, reformy group B4KNJ, this story has grown well beyond a local brawl.

Some background: according to the Star-Ledger, Caffrey has been asked to resign by the PABOE only months into her term as superintendent. The charges the board has brought against Caffrey are:
...failing to meet with school principals, misrepresenting the facts at board meetings, dividing contracts to sidestep the bidding process and bypassing the board to implement teacher-assistance and counseling programs.
Caffrey responds that she is the victim of a political witch hunt, brought on because she felt pressure from the BOE:
While the school board has accused Caffrey of running rough-shod over them, more shocking revelations have surfaced involving possible attempted fraud by school board president Samuel Lebreault. The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating allegations that Lebreault improperly filed an application for the federally subsidized school lunch program, an application that has mysteriously gone missing.
Caffrey contends the board wants her out because she has cooperated with the state investigation and has refused to give school district jobs to board members’ friends.
Ugly stuff; especially ugly because Caffrey has decided to wage this war in the media, appearing on NJ 101.5, and speaking on the record with the S-L and Gannett. I won't fault her for fighting to keep her job; however, tensions got ratcheted up even further with yesterday's appearance of ads like this on Politicker NJ:

Clicking the link takes you to this ad, sponsored by B4K - apparently, the same ad appeared in the local PA paper:

"Paid for by Better Education for Kids": more accurately, paid for by David Tepper, the Hedge fund billionaire who funds B4K. And, quite possibly, paid for by Rupert Murdoch and the Walton Brothers: B4K recently "partnered" with Michelle Rhee's Students First, which counts the two among its funders. I haven't seen any reporting on the exact financial relationship between B4K and SF; maybe it's time for B4K to reveal it. Because I wonder if there will be any conflicts of interest if Murdoch's education company, Wireless Generation, decides to do business with the Perth Amboy district.

In fact, I wonder if, in their zeal to defend Caffrey, B4K has accidentally open a big can of worms. If Caffrey keeps her job, how will we know if there are any strings attached to this undoubtedly expensive public relations campaign? Don't the taxpayers of Perth Amboy deserve to know exactly who is paying for the trashing of their school board officials?

Not that I have a lot of sympathy for the PABOE: they hired Caffrey in the first place, even though her qualifications are awfully light: seven years running a tiny private school in Florida, and two years buried in the massive NYC school bureaucracy are not what I'd consider to be the track record of the best possible candidate.

Despite this, the BOE gave her the job; and Tom Moran of the Star-Ledger gave her a platform multiple times to trash teacher tenure, saying it prevented her from doing her job (neither Moran nor Caffrey herself stopped to think that maybe her lack of experience prevents her from knowing how to deal with bad teachers). This, of course, is why B4K swoops in to save her now.

But I find the entire thing ironic. Here we have a school employee who claims that a board of education is acting improperly against her. She, Moran, and B4K say taxpayers and children will suffer if she is removed from her post without due process. They claim this board put political pressure on her to do the wrong thing, and that now she needs protection.

And yet all of them support TEACHNJ: a bill that would gut tenure and remove protections for teachers from political interference.

May I assume that every teacher in New Jersey can expect B4K to fund ads decrying their firing if they claim political interference from a school board? Will the Star-Ledger leap to the defense of all teachers if they lose their jobs and claim it's due to a vindictive board of education?

Or are these protections only available to those who share the views of the Star-Ledger, B4K, its allies, and its funders?

One more thought: the charge against the Lebreault is the same one made against the president of the Elizabeth school board; a board allied with Chris Christie. The Christie administration is using Elizabeth as an excuse to radically change SFRA, the school funding act that distributes funds to help at-risk children. Christie proposals will costs the former Abbott districts millions of dollars in reduced funding; again, the excuse to do this is alleged corruption in the free-lunch program.

Does anyone else find the timing of all this a bit... convenient?

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