Thursday, November 08, 2007

An Un-Journalistic Commentary

Putting your business on the street – abhorrent.

Word on the street – delicious.

The juicy morsel dropped Thursday was that the post-611 team of Carter, Donow and Rusak has tendered its mass resignation as of Dec. 31. The issue is compensation, one source said. Three sources who should know confirmed the team’s stated intention to quit.

Interim Schools Superintendent Peter E. Carter did not return an e-mail inquiry. School Board President Pat Barksdale was traveling and returned a call while I was at a Planning Board meeting, but left no comment. It should be noted that district schools and offices were closed for the NJEA convention.

For those who have not followed the news, Michael Donow is the interim school secretary/business administrator and Walter Rusak was hired as interim assistant superintendent and later given the job of interim Plainfield High School principal.

If I were still in the newsroom, I could not report this without someone or several people going on the record. Even as a blogger, I try to hold up a journalistic standard. But this alleged turn of events is just too strange to wait for all the facts to be in.

First of all, after the initial frisson of possible big breaking news, there is the horror of what this could mean if it plays out as currently portrayed. The post-6/11 team came to a district in desperate, immediate need of succor and appeared to be offering just that, a calm and methodical approach to fixing what could be fixed and giving comfort for the community.

On Thursday, Assemblyman Jerry Green pinned the onus on the school board, saying he met with Carter and agreed to work with him. But he said that accord triggered discord with the board, whom he characterized as “all New Democrats,” a code term for followers of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams.

Green is Plainfield’s face in Trenton, where, as he says, there are “too many dishes on the table.”

They range from what the district will gain in a revised school construction plan to the future of Abbott district funding to how best the district will respond to a state monitoring report that found it deficient in four out of five performance areas.

One of those ratings was for governance, meaning the school board itself. The Plainfield board received a rating of 11 percent out of a possible 100 percent.

Except for one new member, it is the same board that renewed former Schools Superintendent Paula Howard’s contract, then accepted her June 6 resignation after some closed -session dispute. Two days later, the board approved the hiring of Carter and Donow, closely followed by the hiring of Rusak.

“My concern is that we have to start over,” Green said Thursday.

If in fact the post-6/11 administration departs even as the district is searching for a new superintendent, business administrator, high school principal and other administrators, the search may be thrown into turmoil. Who will be in charge? The state?

Whatever comfort level people were beginning to enjoy with the post-6/11 team, how depressing is it to think they may be gone?

Green suggests starting over with a new board, not legally possible when only three seats come up for election each year. Under the new state monitoring system, outside board members may be added, but there is no provision for a whole new board, short of state takeover.

Whatever happened in closed session may come out in the next two weeks in board meetings, or maybe not. It is worth noting that board members are not supposed to leak happenings from closed session, but somehow the word gets around. This propensity to go public adds to the evidence that the board is indeed lacking in the understanding of governance.

If this new disruption actually takes place, outsiders will not probe the nuances but will merely add it as evidence that Plainfield is dysfunctional and will continue to be so.

--Bernice Paglia


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