Thursday, October 11, 2007

Two Meetings Tonight

If you had to pick between a forum on what Plainfield wants in its next schools superintendent and a Board of Education meeting with state representatives to probe why Plainfield got only 11 percent for governance in a state review, which would you pick?

Some question.

Tonight a representative of the superintendent search firm will meet with community members and staff to collect information on what Plainfield wants in a new superintendent. That meeting is 7 p.m. in the Plainfield High School auditorium, 950 Park Ave.

The other meeting is billed on the district’s web site as starting at 6:30 p.m. at Clinton Elementary School.
The stated purpose is “TO ESTABLISH BOARD GOALS FOR 2007-2008.”

Good luck to the few who try to track these developments for the rest of us.

Those going to the superintendent search forum should bring their filled-out surveys on qualities they wish to see in the next superintendent. These forms can be downloaded from the district web site or picked up either in English or Spanish, at the Plainfield Public Library.

Some residents received first-class letters inviting them to fill out the form. But even though the letter said the form was enclosed, it was not. So another round of first-class letters went out, with the forms this time. This little episode raises questions not only about why the effort was faulty and wasteful, but why a selected group received a special invitation. Are these the movers and shakers of Plainfield? Who compiled the list? Why wasn’t I on it?? (Just a joke, folks.)

The importance of the forms is that the search firm, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, will rely on them to come up with a profile of the type of chief school administrator the community wants. Those who apply to be superintendent will then be compared to the leadership profile to pick the five top candidates. That group will be presented to the Plainfield Board of Education for refinement to three, and then a single finalist for board approval in February.

The process is supposed to eliminate politics from the equation.

As for the governance issue, Plaintalker previously reported some of the findings. In contrast to the chief school administrator, the nine-member board can undergo shifts every April, when three seats are up for election. Any political leader with five supporters on the board can then influence actions taken and the future of the district. The board is supposed to be non-political, but an astute observer can detect leanings, if not outright allegiances, among the members and candidates.

Plainfield is among the 30 or so most needy districts in the state, the Abbott districts that receive copious amounts of state aid. Local school taxes here account for only $17 million of the budget. By contrast, Plainfield’s state aid for 2006-07 was $99,967,767. This formula is under attack by suburban districts where the proportions are reversed. In general, non-Abbott districts don’t see much bang for the buck in terms of student performance in the Abbott districts.

As Assemblyman Jerry Green has often warned, the state aid formula could change, demanding more from local taxpayers for school costs. Board members must become better stewards of public funding. That’s one reason why tonight’s session on governance is as important as the search for a new superintendent.

There may be some shamans and swamis that can be in two places at once, but I don’t have those skills. I am picking the meeting within walking distance of my home and I am hoping someone will go to Clinton School and report on that meeting.

--Bernice Paglia


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