Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Top School Administrators Still Leaving

Interim Schools Superintendent Peter E. Carter said Tuesday (Nov. 20, 2007) he may stay on after Dec. 31, but he said both Interim Assistant Superintendent Walter Rusak and Interim School Board Administrator/Board Secretary Michael Donow “have not altered their intentions” to leave the district on that date.

The departures will leave the district with fractured leadership unless new administrators can be found quickly. A superintendent search is underway, but a candidate may not emerge until early next year and may not be able to take over until later.

Carter, Donow and Rusak came to the district shortly after the sudden resignation of former Schools Superintendent Paula Howard in June. Former School Board Administrator/Board Secretary Victor Demming had resigned earlier, leaving the two top administrative jobs vacant. Rusak’s post was created by resolution and later he was also named interim principal of Plainfield High School.

The board took no action Tuesday on accepting any of the resignations that were submitted Nov. 7. Carter had been expected to stay on until June 30.

The “post-6/11 team,” as Carter styled himself, Rusak and Donow, soon found themselves dealing with a harsh state monitoring report on district performance. They appeared to be doing their best to address the deficits that preceded their coming to the district when something went wrong in a recent closed session with the school board.

Ever the gentleman, Carter described the falling-out as “a bit of a FAMILY MISSTEP” (his emphasis), but he declined to give details.

Carter called his colleagues’ decision “a serious deterrent to my remaining with you too much longer after December 31.” He promised to clarify his decision in his December 1 letter to the community.

“For now, Plainfield, let me close by saying what I stated a week or so ago, I still love the job, I love the kids, I love the community.” Carter said.

The news of the team’s resignations was leaked to the press Nov. 8 in a possible breach of board conduct. So far, the board member who sent the letter to the press has not been identified.

In another report related to the June events, board attorney Raymond Hamlin said a state Department of Education compliance investigation found that his firm recommended Carter for the post.

“We did not recommend him,” Hamlin said Tuesday.

Hamlin said the firm has 45 days to file an appeal, “which we intend to do.”

Carter was retired and living in Rehoboth Beach, Del., when he received a phone call on the beach, as he related in past meetings. But the question of who called him was never resolved. Howard’s resignation was submitted June 6 and accepted June 8 in an emergency meeting with no printed resolutions. As Plaintalker reported, Carter’s June 8 hiring was followed by his recommendation to hire Donow the same evening.

Hamlin said Tuesday there was an allegation of a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act regarding the emergency Friday night meeting June 8. But no one filed a challenge within the time limits and the matter is now beyond challenge, he said.

Assemblyman Jerry Green raised a question at the time of Carter’s hiring, saying Hamlin had represented Carter in a legal challenge to Carter’s failure to win a top post with the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. Carter was one of four finalists and a lawsuit alleged he was passed over due to racial discrimination.

Whatever the issues are, as of Dec. 31 or shortly thereafter, the district will be left with large gaps in the administration. An interested observer Tuesday was Union County Schools Superintendent Carmen Centuolo, who could be seen taking notes and nodding her head in agreement on some issues. Recently named executive superintendent for Union County, Centuolo may have extra sway in getting the situation settled in Plainfield.

--Bernice Paglia


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