What Would Jefferson Think?
All shall be resolved and consequences dealt in good time. This writer for one would like to let the process take place without all the speculation, name-calling and drama that does not make it go any faster. By saying so, I accept the fact that I will now be added to the list of people to attack.
What happened on Tuesday? About 150 people gathered for a 6 p.m. special meeting on personnel issues. After the flag salute, the board members went into closed session. At intervals, someone came out to say the board was still working on the issues. The crowd started out chatting in small groups, calling or texting people, reading or passing the time hashing over recent events. Later, some broke into “We Shall Overcome,” although the immediate thing to overcome was boredom.
Former school board member Robert Darden took the floor to read a commentary he had prepared at home. He also said people were encouraging him to run in the April school board election. (The filing date is March 1, by the way.)
Perhaps board attorney Terry Ridley made a mistake by stating late in the session that board members were close to resolving the issues. When they filed in and Board President Lenny Cathcart announced no action would be taken, the crowd went wild – not in a good way. Most went home, but some stayed on. One woman repeatedly shouted, “This is outrageous!”
People were outraged that no microphone had been provided, nor a period for public comment. But special meetings don’t normally include public comment. And if there is no action to be taken even after two and a half hours of closed-door palaver, that’s it. Schools Superintendent Steve Gallon III did not leave in a tumbrel as some may have wished.
Gallon’s previously-scheduled meeting with editors at the Courier News took place this week in the midst of the personnel controversies. Having sat through many an edit board, I can see how his wish to focus on the positives of his tenure collided with the editors’ quest for more news on the controversies. The story ran with the headline, “Plainfield schools chief’s future unclear,” and in response Gallon posted an “open letter” to the community on the district web site.
“Finally, I was asked about my future in the Plainfield Public Schools. If there were a need to discuss my future with the Plainfield Public Schools, it would first be with the Plainfield Board of Education, not the media,” Gallon wrote.
Regarding the recent emergency and special meetings, whatever can’t be said right now will have to be made public at some point. The state Department of Education’s Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance is looking into some aspects of the controversy and other officials are investigating the issues as well.
There are just four weeks to the filing date to run for the school board. The Plainfield forum on nj.com is afire with rumors and finger-pointing. A tone is being set of running for office based on who people want to get rid of, not why they want to serve a stint setting district policy and approving a budget. Not all who file will want to seek votes based on how likely they will be out for blood at 1200 Myrtle Avenue, but it’s definitely a notion that’s out there as campaign time approaches.
Day-to-day life in the schools is continuing, despite the controversies and despite the lack of a new contract with the Plainfield Education Association. The district web site highlights many positive things going on in schools, but has few good-news clips to post lately as the investigations continue. The bust of Thomas Jefferson will no doubt look down on a few more unhappy meetings in coming weeks.