Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Carter Gets Warm Reception

It was standing room only at Interim Superintendent Peter Carter’s first school board business meeting Tuesday, but the crowd was not there to question the whirlwind events that brought him to Plainfield.

Instead, the school board received a standing ovation for the June 8 votes to accept the June 6 resignation of former Superintendent Paula Howard, to hire Carter and then to approve his recommendation of Michael Donow to fill the vacant school business administrator/board secretary position.

Carter, a career superintendent who retired in 2004 from the Ringwood district, said he is in Plainfield only “for people who are 3 to 18 years of age.” Recalling the years when he lived in neighboring Piscataway, Carter remembered meeting with former superintendents Larry Leverett and the recently deceased Annette Kearney.

“At one point, I said I wish I could afford to live here,” he quipped, alluding to Plainfield’s historic mansions.

“And I remember your children – beautiful children,” he said in asking for support. He pledged, “I will do everything I can while here.”

Most of the speakers who came to the microphone in public comment supported the board’s decisions.

Retired educator Geraldine Boone likened Howard’s sudden resignation to a “temper tantrum” and with the board’s acceptance of it, she said, “It’s over.”

“I think the change is good,” Boone said.

Others concurred.

“I stand behind the board 100 percent,” activist Brenda Gilbert said.

Gilbert later guided the wheelchair of former Mayor Richard L. Taylor, an amputee due to diabetes, to the microphone, where he gave his “unequivocal support” to the school board.

But not all agreed.

The Rev. Tracey Brown, a former board member, did not speak publicly but said privately she felt some board members who took Howard’s side in the past acted in a two-sided and fickle way by endorsing the sudden change. “I’m really appalled,” she said.

Dissenters to the decision to accept Howard’s resignation, including former board members, had met last week with Union County Schools Superintendent Carmen Centuolo in Assemblyman Jerry Green’s Watchung Avenue office. But their concerns were eclipsed Tuesday by the outpouring of support for the board’s decisions.

In further changes, the board accepted the resignation of Howard’s Chief of Staff Angelina Chiaravalloti Tuesday effective July 31, but in a “walk-on” item also abolished the title of chief of staff effective July 1. In other last-minute changes, the board approved hiring an assistant superintendent, Walter F. Rusak, at $600 per day.

The board approved hiring of Garnell V. Bailey at $135,000 per year to serve as Human Resources director starting in September.

Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley, the minority law firm that previously replaced Weiner Lesniak as general counsel, will now also replace Weiner Lesniak as labor counsel effective July 1.

After a presentation on test scores, Carter said, “Those are not my test scores,” and vowed to seek improvement.

Carter already wangled a calendar change that will have students returning on Sept. 6 instead of Sept. 10.

Meanwhile, the district will undertake a search for a new permanent superintendent and if he’s lucky, Carter will return to his daily routine of observing the Atlantic Ocean from Rehoboth Beach, Del.

--Bernice Paglia


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