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

Friday, May 24, 2013

NJ Ed Commissioner Cerf is Literally In Charge of Dog S#!^

Folks, there are days when I just can't believe what I have to report:
The state education commissioner has overturned the termination of Haddon Township High School’s athletic director, who in May 2012 was caught on camera placing dog feces on his ex-wife’s car in the school parking lot. 
Just months before, Alan Carr also lied to school administrators about secretly putting an upsetting newspaper article in his ex-wife’s mailbox, records show.
Carr and his ex-wife, also a teacher at the high school, had divorced shortly before the actions occurred.
An administrative law judge initially ruled in April to revoke Carr’s tenure, saying “his ability to serve as a proper example for students has been severely compromised.” The district school board had contended Carr’s behavior violated its anti-bullying policy and warranted dismissal from his tenured position. 
But Commissioner Chris Cerf this week said that punishment would go too far. 
Cerf said Carr’s actions, “although reprehensible, were not as egregious as the conduct that has been reported in some prior cases relating to teacher termination.” He also noted the “highly improper” incident “stemmed from a domestic incident not associated with (Carr’s) school duties.” [emphasis mine]
Obviously, I don't know all the particulars, so I won't comment on whether Carr is guilty or not. But here we have yet another incident where Chris Cerf seems more than happy to throw himself into a matter of local school governance and render a decision solely on the basis of his personal judgement.

You'll remember when Cerf overturned the decision of the Perth Amboy BOE to fire their controversial superintendent, Janine Caffrey. But that was just one of a series of events that point to a pattern of autocracy throughout New Jersey's school system.

Now, I understand that New Jersey's laws give the Commissioner the right to render judgements on all matters arising under school law. But the Commissioner also has an obligation to show restraint when overturning the decision of both a local school board and an administrative judge. In other words: he better have a damn good reason for reversing a previous decision. Does he?
Cerf said Carr’s actions, “although reprehensible, were not as egregious as the conduct that has been reported in some prior cases relating to teacher termination.” He also noted the “highly improper” incident “stemmed from a domestic incident not associated with (Carr’s) school duties.” 
Cerf instead said Carr must forfeit 120 days’ pay that had already been withheld as a result of his tenure charge. He said Carr also must give up a future salary increase and is to be suspended for an additional six months without pay.
Cerf is saying that there needs to be leniency here on Carr's behalf, because this arose out of a personal relationship. But even if the incident came out of a domestic dispute, these two people were still coworkers. Since when does the Commissioner have the right to overstep both a school board and an administrative judge in a matter of workplace harassment? Would Cerf have been OK with the termination if Carr's victim had not been his ex-wife?

Cerf implies that more egregious behavior has been let slide before. But I very much doubt there are many cases on file of ex-spouses who are employed at the same school engaging in behavior this outrageous. In other words, Cerf is making a value judgement; he's weighing the conduct here against other, separate cases. It seems to me that he ought not to do that unless there is a clear indication that the charges against Carr are frivolous, politically motivated, or fraudulent.

For that matter, what training does Cerf have to adjudicate these matters? I know he went to law school and clerked with Sandra Day O'Connor (admittedly, that's impressive), but I don't think he's ever been in a position to render legal judgments. His confirmation hearing certainly never hit on his qualifications to hear such matters, let alone determine what is and isn't a fair punishment. Does Chris Cerf really have the skills, training and standing to be able to make what is a legal determination in contradiction to a qualified administrative law judge?

Now, some of you may think I'm being inconsistent, because I am a strong supporter of teacher tenure. But it seems to me that the process worked exactly as it should have. Carr received due process; he was removed from his position. That's all tenure is: a guarantee of due process.

But when someone like Cerf comes in and, for all intents and purposes, vacates the decisions that follow from the process, it calls into question the validity of the entire system. How do I or any other educator know this can't happen the other way as well? What if the Commissioner decides to overturn an arbitrator's decision in favor of a teacher on a tenure charge simply because he decides he wants to?

No one can trust New Jersey's tenure laws if the decisions of administrative judges are overturned on the Commissioner's whims.

Again, I'm not privy to the particulars of this case, and even if I were, I'm not a lawyer. Maybe Carr was treated unfairly. But if Cerf is going to, once again, strip away local control, he should tread very lightly. Or he might wind up stepping in the same stuff Carr smeared over his ex-wife's car.

NJ education law, that is!


Mrs. King's music students said...

In what other profession would a long term employee lose his job and benefits accrued over YEARS of service, for putting dog poop on his ex'es car? She will recover.

We should be applauding Cerf on overturning the abuse of power displayed by this BOE. And while he's on this trail, we should urge him to take this opportunity to right some other wrongs that only apply to teachers - the last of the indentured servants in the eyes of the judicial system.

BOEs have abused untenured teachers for years, citing their right to terminate them with or without cause, and they're certainly no strangers to trumping up charges against employees they just don't like while ignoring the outright criminal actions of their fellow board members. Trenton comes to mind.

ad77 said...

1. you have to read the entire article in the Courier Post (The Jazzman has a hyperlink to it - "what I have to report")

2. we are trying to get our students to stop bullying other students or just other people in general

3. this so-called teacher was harassing (bullying) his wife where they both taught in a very public environment - this is not just a domestic issue, this is a school issue in regards to professionalism.

So - what happens when a student at that school decides to smear dog crap on a fellow student's car and sent the fellow student nasty notes?

The lesson is.....

at Haddon Township High School - that's OK because a precedent has been set by the Commissioner of Education himself because he said it's OK for teachers to do it!

Mrs. King's music students said...

I don't know... It just seems like we should like we should try to 'engage' the ed. commissioner on the larger points now while he's demonstrating an interest in ed. law at a grassroots level. Especially with him being a lawyer and all.

Having been terminated twice in NJ - 1 with and 1 w/o cause - the attorneys I consulted in both instances said essentially the same things 1) "we feel your pain" 2) BOEs are notoriously corrupt 3) they'll win anyway because untenured teachers are indentured servants in the eyes of NJ law. When I weigh this one questionable reversal against the 47 and 1/2% new teachers wrongfully terminated by corrupt BOEs every 4 years, I'm just sayin'....

I may be a little jaded about the dog poop and nasty letter coming from urban schools where slashed tires and broken windshields are the norm. And we were never even married to the fellows doing this!

Unknown said...

This is a difficult one and, I believe, is in a gray netherworld between public and private because one of Carr's actions took place in the school parking lot. I tend to come down on the side of "separation of home and state," and lean towards agreeing with MKMS on this overall.

This was a domestic dispute and should be handled by the police, not employers. The article in the mailbox had nothing to do with the school--unless it was the school mailbox, which isn't clarified in the article.

I say this as local boards are attempting to overstep their bounds. Ours is attempting to control whether or not teachers can have part-time jobs on their own time. We are also not allowed to post where we work on social media, which, they believe, includes Linked In, impairing our ability to network, post our resumes, apply for summer jobs, consulting, etc through the most active online business networking site. Many employers ask for your Linked In profile.

Let's not forget about the Florida teacher who was pressured to resign, being told she would be fired if she didn't, because a parent complained about a photo on Facebook of her holding a beer in the Guinness brewery in Ireland over summer break.

They do not own us; they rent us from 8am to 3pm (or so) Monday through Friday.

Admittedly, Carr's case is not black and white. It is, however, a great example of not sh*tting where you eat...and why couples should never work together, unless it's a home-based business.

giuseppe said...

The corporate education reformers and their bought and paid for political allies are working overtime to turn all teachers into non-tenured teachers, with no rights, no voice, no union and no actual recourse to an unjust termination of job. They want all teachers to be glorified indentured servants, part time workers. The Rheeformers do not want expensive teachers with advanced degrees and 15 to 40 years of service.

Mrs. King's music students said...

No question about that. And I'm pretty sure they'd never consider doing our jobs for us. Pontificating from a distance and claiming everything would be better if they did is all they're good for.

But this forum is a great way to draw other teachers' attention to the implications of CHANGING THE LAWS that continue to hold us hostage and bind us with extra special rules (and not in a good way). Unfortunately, the NJEA is not hearing their name in all this (seeing what's in it for them). They're a top-down entity that no longer recognizes their members and failed to organize the membership across the state for YEARS. They chose to divide and conquer it instead. Ultimately, it will be teachers that cause the pendulum to swing the other way for themselves.