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

Monday, February 18, 2013

More Paterson School Chicanery

The City of Paterson, New Jersey, is very lucky to have a journalist keeping an eye on the nonsense being imposed on its school system by the reformy NJDOE. Joe Malinconico's posts for The Alternative Press, an independent hyper-local, are invaluable for unlocking the secrets of the "reforms" that are being implemented by Commissioner Chris Cerf and his merry band of Broad Foundation-backed interns and consultants.

Here are another couple of pearls Maliconico has uncovered:
After more than 20 years as the principal at School 11, Paula Santana was transferred to a new job last summer. 
City education officials put her in the new position of “principal on assignment” at the district’s administrative offices at 90 Delaware Avenue and they kept her annual salary at $143,156.
Now Santana is fighting to get her old job back and one of arguments in the legal petition she filed with the New Jersey Department of Education last September is that there was nothing to do in the new position.
 “It became clear that she was simply being placed ‘out of the way’,” says Santana’s lawsuit, “as the new position had absolutely no duties or functions. While struggling to find productivity, the position is essentially to be away from the public eye.”
PatersonPress.com attempted to find out whether the circumstances of Santana's employment changed after she filed the petition. But no one would say. The district’s spokeswoman, Terry Corallo, declined to comment on Santana’s complaint, saying it remained in litigation. Santana and her attorney, William Koy, also declined to speak about the situation.
Santana’s petition highlights a practice that some city school officials call sending people to the “rubber room.’’ In short, it entails transferring educators whose performances may have come under question from their school positions and reassigning them to the district’s administrative offices.
At the start of this school year, Paterson Public Schools had eight people in the “principal on assignment” position and they were making a total of about $950,000. Not all of those individuals were doing a bad job in their previous positions, said school board members and education advocates. Moreover, not all the principal on assignment slots are do-nothing jobs, they say. [emphasis mine]
Remember when the "rubber rooms" in New York City were such a scandal and we had to get rid of them and tenure because this was so terrible and such a waste and blah, blah, blah... And now Commissioner Cerf - who was working in NYC at the time of the "rubber rooms" - is so very concerned about how we are spending fund for schools. I guess his concern about "rubber rooms" back in Gotham doesn't extend to this side of the Hudson, huh?

Of course, this isn't the only part of the budget where the state-controlled district spends like a sailor on shore leave:
Renovations that would create new offices for Paterson Public Schools’ legal department have drawn fire from several Board of Education members who say the work was being done without their knowledge.
Board members said their facilities committee should have been notified about the project, but was not. Moreover, they say the district’s administration has not told them how much the work would cost.
“It’s kind of amazing with all the repairs we need done in the schools that they would accommodate the legal department,’’ said board member Corey Teague. “I’d really like to know what’s going on.’’
“I was very surprised,’’ said Jonathan Hodges, a member of the board’s facilities committee. “I was not aware this was going on. I’m looking for an explanation.’’
“I have no idea how much it’s going to cost,’’ said Board President Christopher Irving. “They blew out a whole wing in one area of the building.’’
Board members said they believed part of the work involved the creation of an office for a deputy counsel in the district’s legal department, a proposed new position that has sparked discord between state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans and school board members[emphasis mine]
Oh, Paterson, when will you learn? If a state-appointed superintendent decides to build new offices or put administrators in "rubber rooms" or hire staff without the knowledge of your duly-elected school board, who are you to object?

Evans and the school board have been at odds in recent weeks over his plans to reorganize the district’s legal department, especially his plans to create a new deputy counsel position with a salary of up to $150,000.
For more than two years, the district had been operating without a general counsel on its payroll. Instead, those duties had been handled by an outside law firm. Last summer, the district hired Lisa Pollak to be general counsel at a salary of $170,000.
Evans has said that hiring a deputy counsel would save the district money on fees paid to outside firms, which totaled more than $800,000 during the 2011-12 school year. But board members insisted that Evans had not provided sufficient proof that creating the new job would result in savings.
After a heated discussion about the issue on February 6, the board asked Evans to put the position on hold. But on February 8, the district posted on its website an announcement that it would begin taking applicants for the deputy counsel job.
That tells me that he does not afford much respect to the concerns of the board regarding issues like this,’’ said school board member Errol Kerr. “Where is the urgency? This is not a situation where you have a classroom of kids and they need a teacher.’’
When asked about Evans’ decision to go ahead and begin taking applicants for the deputy counsel job, Corallo declined to comment. [emphasis mine]
For over two decades, Paterson has been under state control; its citizens have been disenfranchised from running their own schools. And for over two decades, money had been wasted, promises have been broken, and there is no evidence student achievement has improved more than if the schools were run by the local citizenry.

So the waste grows, ridiculous experiments in merit pay are proposed, promises of innovation are broken, money flows to highly-paid consultants, and unaccountable charters expand.

I can think of no better example of the need for local control of school districts than Paterson, NJ. Because the state has failed them for over 20 years, it is time for the citizens of the Silk City to demand they regain control of their schools.

Lou Costello, yes! State control, no!

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