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

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Perth Amboy: Enough Is Enough

A quick note on Perth Amboy, NJ, the new center of education reforminess in America:

Janine Caffrey - hypocritical anti-tenure crusader and PA's superintendent - has been at war with members of her own Board of Education for months.

Members of the PA Board of Education voted to remove Caffrey based on an evaluation of her performance she says was too late to count against her. The board counters that she was late (around 11:00 on the video) in submitting her portion of the evaluation.

When the board took the vote, they had to invoke a "doctrine of necessity" because too many board members had family employed by the district. Caffrey and three other BOE members missed the vote because they were reportedly at a political fundraiser for the mayor, who stands against the majority of the board. Caffrey has filed her own ethics charges against members the board. She's gone on TV and accused her own board of wanting to "block educational progress."

Perth Amboy begins its school year in a little more than two weeks, yet the district is in chaos. And you know who is to blame for it? State Education Commissioner Chris Cerf.

When the board first tried to fire Caffrey, Cerf stepped in, saved Caffrey, and appointed a mediator to try to resolve the situation. That was in May; four months later, it's clear that they aren't any closer to resolving their differences. I haven't taken a position yet on whether Caffrey should be fired, but I do know you can't run a school district under these circumstances.

Back in May, the Star-Ledger thought it was a good idea to put all this off until Novermber, when there will be new school board elections. That, of course, is absurd; does it make any sense to potentially change superintendents after the year has started? Can Caffrey be expected to implement the changes she wants in the district with the guillotine dangling above her head? How is she supposed to do her job under conditions like that? Think what you will about Caffrey, it's not right to ask her to lead a school district under a cloud of uncertainty.

Cerf should have made this a priority; his ambiguous response to the impasse has put the entire district in an untenable position. He should have worked personally with Caffrey and the board to reach an agreement well before the start of the new school year; it's not fair to Caffrey, the board, the teachers, or the students to have their district in chaos because Cerf won't put in the time to resolve this.

Yes, I've been critical of Cerf for interfering with local district business, but this is clearly different: the relationship between the board and the superintendent is completely dysfunctional. If they can reach an accommodation, he needs to make it happen; if they can't, he needs to gracefully show Caffrey the door.

This - not the messing around in secret plans to take over schools and rewarding friends - is Chris Cerf's real job. It's time for him to do it.

1 comment:

Deb said...

Show Caffrey the door? I think Cerf would prefer to see the district go down in chaos and send a RAC after them, punish them and send a few more charter schools their way. That seems to be the job he enjoys doing.