Thursday, December 20, 2007

State Will Support New Interim Superintendent

The Plainfield school district will receive “technical assistance” from the state Department of Education while new Interim Schools Superintendent Garnell Bailey serves until hiring of a permanent superintendent, officials said Thursday.

A crowd of about 150 people including clergy, staff, parents, past board members and elected officials conversed for an hour and a half in the Plainfield High School Library while the school board met in closed session with state DOE Commissioner Lucille E. Davy, Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer, Assistant Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks and Union County Schools Superintendent Carmen Centuolo while the board remained in closed session.

The 6 p.m. executive session went on until nearly 8 p.m., well past the advertised 6:30 p.m. start of the public session.

Given that the district faced loss of its top officials in June and again this month, members of the public turned out in force to hear about “the future direction of the district,” as the meeting’s topic was billed in a legal notice Wednesday.

Former Schools Superintendent Paula Howard resigned in June, following the May resignation of school business administrator/board secretary Victor Demming. The board approved hiring of Interim Superintendent Peter E. Carter June 8, and accepted his recommendation that night to hire Michael Donow as school business administrator /board secretary.

The board also soon hired Walter Rusak as assistant superintendent and later made him interim principal at Plainfield High School as well. But Carter is out as of Dec. 21 and Donow and Rusak will be gone Dec. 31. The board did hire former school business administrator Gary Ottmann Tuesday to serve as school business administrator/board secretary from Jan. 2, 2008 until June 2009

Davy was ill and went home after the closed session, but Spicer said the DOE had offered to support the district during the superintendent search “for six months or as long as it takes.” Spicer said the state will ask a person with experience in New York “cluster schools“ and who is also a professor at Johns Hopkins University to help out.

“He is an expert in teaching and learning,” she said, but declined to name the person as the decision to ask him for help only took place that night. If the individual agrees to the task, the district and state will each pay half of the cost, as yet unknown, to engage him.

The district has a search underway for a permanent superintendent and five finalists may be available for board screening by January.

In public comment, speakers questioned whether the district was being placed under state monitoring and asked how new state funding plans would affect Abbott districts, the 31 poorest in the state. Plainfield currently receives about 80 percent of its budget from state funding, but may have to shoulder a larger tax burden as formulas shift.

The new funding plan is online and calls for a two-year freeze in Abbott funding, after which funding may be reduced if student performance does not improve.

“If the district fails to make progress with assistance, then the local district may have to raise taxes,” Centuolo said.

The great cry from wealthier districts has been that the huge influxes of funding to Abbott districts have not produced improvements. Assemblyman Jerry Green, who has been warning of the changes for many months, repeated his warnings Thursday.

The pledge of state assistance did not go over well with Eric Jones, president of the 1,200-member Plainfield Education Association, who told the board, “It appears you are cutting her knees off before she begins,” referring to Bailey.

But Spicer said, “You lost an experienced superintendent and you are getting a new one.”

Centuolo noted that Bailey will still be performing as director of Human Resources while being interim superintendent and said, “We want to make sure Mrs. Bailey has an opportunity for success.”

--Bernice Paglia


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