Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Commentary on Board Actions

Twice last week Board of Education President Patricia Barksdale rolled out her New Year’s mantra: “Mitigate in ’08. then elevate.”

At least it’s a step up from the “bloviate, then obfuscate” approach that left more than one seasoned board member in the dark over the true nature of the recent report from the state Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance. It was briefly discussed in open session, but until Plaintalker got a copy and wrote a blog post about it, the full implications were not clear even to the whole board.

One of the state officials who came to Plainfield for Thursday’s meeting with the board emerged from closed session wearing a button with the previous slogan, “We’re serious about learning.” While it was a nice gesture of the official to accept the button, given the NJQSAC findings, the state apparently would beg to differ.

We don’t know what went on in closed session, but this writer got the impression that the board managed to wangle a different leadership solution than what DOE Commissioner Lucille E. Davy, Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer, Assistant Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks and Union County Schools Superintendent Carmen Centuolo had in mind. The closed session was only supposed to take half an hour, but took three times that long, hinting at some serious bargaining.

The way it stands now, Garnell Bailey, hired as Human Resources director at $135,000 per year starting in September, will also serve as interim superintendent at an extra stipend of $1,200 per week as of Dec. 21. Bailey, a well-regarded and popular city native, has held high-level posts in several districts, but has never been a chief school administrator before. So here we have an untried person newly hired to head a district that failed to meet four out of five performance areas, including a score of only 38 percent for Personnel.

The upshot was that the state and county officials agreed to support Bailey in the interim superintendent position, with technical assistance from an outside skilled administrator.

With no offense intended to the board or administration, this appears to be a victory in a clash of wills. But getting one’s way may or may not be the bottom line. Residents and taxpayers need to pay close attention to interactions between the district and the state in coming months.

--Bernice Paglia


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