Thursday, August 03, 2006

Interim AD Emerges At Confusing Meeting

While searching for a new athletic director, the Board of Education has approved hiring Daniel Cone as interim athletic director.

Cone will be in charge of 54 sports programs in the middle and high schools. He will received a pro-rated salary of $87,300. Cone said he has been working in the district for eight years and has been both a paid and volunteer coach in various sports for the same period. He has coached 16 years in all, counting work outside the district, he said.

“I’m just excited,” he said after the vote on Wednesday (Aug. 2, 2006). “Excited to start the year, and see what tomorrow brings.”

Meanwhile, a group of residents, teachers and others were waiting to see what the evening itself would bring.

According to a very small legal notice published on July 31, the board would be holding a closed session to discuss “the superintendent’s contract.” The notice indicated action might be taken, which would mean the board would come out and vote in public. The executive session began at 6:30 p.m. in the Plainfield High School conference room, but a public portion, expected at 7:30 p.m., did not start until 8:40 p.m. By then a small crowd had assembled in an outer office.

An agenda was passed out as members of the public took seats on brand-new furniture in the conference room. There was no mention of the superintendent’s contract.

Several people spoke out on the difficulty of finding out about the meeting, which was not posted on the district web site. Resident Simone Peterman noted the irony of having new tables and chairs when teachers were being terminated, but Schools Superintendent Paula Howard said the purchase was made in February with money that could not have been applied to teachers’ salaries.

Teacher David Cullen said he was one of the unnamed persons who were being terminated that evening, and made an emotional pitch to be kept on.

“I’m willing to pledge my future to the district,“ he said.

“We have been working diligently to cut down that list,“ Paula Howard said.

The district gave termination notices to all non-tenured staff members after being forced to cut more than $14 million from its budget. Although the school budget passed in April, Gov. Jon Corzine ordered the Abbott districts in May to submit “flat” budgets with no increases. The revised Plainfield budget is still under state review, clouding plans for September.

On Wednesday, 16 positions were up for termination. But teacher Tiffany Corbett, who was present for the vote, said only 15 were terminated after the board emerged from yet another closed session.

Earlier, the board approved hiring Cone and also payment of stipends for 20 coach assignments. The board also passed the last item, elimination of a pre-school disabled class at Woodland School, Corbett said.

No public action was taken on the superintendent‘s contract.

The degree of confusion about the meeting was apparent when one of the board‘s attorneys said he only heard about the 6:30 p.m. meeting at 4 p.m. that day.

--Bernice Paglia


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