The needler in the haystack.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Throwing rocks at the schools superintendent

Like the rock which recently crashed into a Freehold homeowner's bathroom, the Speaking Out piece in the Courier on January 14 which attacked Plainfield schools superintendent Paula Howard struck without warning.

Unlike the Freehold meteorite, however, it did not fall from the heavens. It came from a much more earthly source -- someone who identifies himself as Scott Booker and as a Plainfield resident.

Enquiring Plainfielders want to know: Who is Mr. Booker?
Where is he coming from? Who is behind Mr. Booker?


As Bernice notes in her Plaintalker piece, the letter garnered some reaction on the Ledger's Plainfield Forum ("1295. Scott Booker for School Board").

But who is the mysterious and well-spoken -- make that EXTREMELY well-spoken -- Mr. Booker?

No one seems to know, though an Internet search shows there appears to be an S. Booker who lives in Plainfield. Regular school board meeting attendees don't seem to know of him, nor do City Hall regulars. Is he a parent? An interested citizen? A cat's-paw?


PT must admit he didn't take a close look at the piece until urged by a school board member (who is NOT a supporter of Dr. Howard). So, where IS Mr. Booker coming from in this lengthy piece?

First of all, note that the piece is extremely well organized and well-written. Almost, it seems to PT -- who has made a living wordsmithing -- PROFESSIONALLY DONE. That in itself is curious, and if I were an editor, it would set off alarm bells.

The bulk of Mr. Booker's list of complaints reads like a broadside from the unions, which have been engaged in a bitter contract dispute with the Board of Ed. (Let's be clear, the union contract is struck with the Board, not the Superintendent, who is, so to speak, a 'hired hand'.) There is also inside poop -- the kind of stuff discussed in Executive Session -- which I will touch on below.

But Mr. Booker cleverly employs several techniques in the process:
  • Making unverified (lack of textbooks) or unverifiable ('massive exodus' of students) assertions;

  • Irrelevant asides (that Dr. Howard does not live in the district, the numbers of children in charter schools); and

  • Coloring the discussion with highly emotive language ('cronies,' 'irreversible damage,' 'fiasco,' etc.).
It is a very clever use of the classic IBM marketing technique known as FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

But two points deserve closer scrutiny: the unidentified 'audit' and the matter of the Personnel Director.

It is not clear what exactly the 'audit' referred to was or who performed it. But, it seems possible to PT that it was an internal matter, performed either by the State or at the request of the Board of Ed. As such, it would most likely have been an item covered by the state law that governs what can be discussed in EXECUTIVE SESSION. Items discussed thusly are CONFIDENTIAL until the matter of concern is resolved, and PARTICIPANTS IN THE DISCUSSION who divulge such matters violate proper policy and procedure.

So, some questions emerge: Was this audit a matter discussed in Executive Session? If so, how does it come that Mr. Booker has such detailed knowledge of same? If the matter was resolved and made public, when? And where is the record in the Board of Ed minutes? Did Mr. Booker use an OPRA request to obtain the information? Or was he 'fed' by a person or persons unknown with an axe to grind?

Secondly, the matter of the Personnel Director. The issues mentioned certainly are serious -- hints of incompetence and/or dereliction of duty.

But something else caught PT's attention: WHEN all this happened. Mr. Booker asserts that the personnel director has not been present since FEBRUARY 2006. PT hears through the grapevine that a tacit 'buyout' may have been arranged with the party in question -- though no formal agreement was ever inked (or indeed, may even have been allowed by the State).

The interesting thing about all this is that the current Mayor -- Sharon Robinson-Briggs -- would have been President of the Board of Ed when at least some of the alleged improprieties took place (she resigned to take the office of Mayor in January, 2006).**

Now, who would want to embarrass the Mayor? And why?

Word in the street also has it that Ms. Campbell is preparing to make the personnel director matter an issue in her upcoming campaign for re-election to the Board. Curious, since she was an ally of Robinson-Briggs in her mayoral campaign.


So, who is behind Mr. Booker? Assemblyman Green, as some assert? The unions, as others assert? Or no one? No one, that is, except the mysterious Mr. Booker himself.

Color me curious.

**This information updated 12:40 PM, 1/22/2007.

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Anonymous said...

Just as interesting as the "mysterious" Scott Booker is the often heard comment that Jerry Green-Sharon Robinson Briggs duo is/ was interested in getting rid of Howard so that a long time political crony, Tony Lewis, Asbury Park could be employed as Supt. in Plainfield. Does that rumor still has "legs?"At one point, Tony was "fired" in Asbury Park but had to be rehired because of a "technicality" on the part of the Board of Education in Asbury Park. The Asbury Park School District was recently sent "help" from the New Jersey State Department of Education.Who needs Asbury's "failing" Supt. in Plainfield? When you control "city hall" and the "school system" that is serious control in Plainfield! Campbell,Login-Leach, Robinson-Briggs(when she was on the BOE)and sometimes Rev.Brown would vote with them, as they sought to discredit Howard.The Plainfield Education Association's hierachy joined the Campbell-Login-Leach-Robinson-Briggs group and became vicious at BOE meetings toward Howard and spoke to her as if there were a Master-Slave relationship going on.
Keep an eye on the up-coming Board of Education candidates, especially the ones supported by the Plainfield Education Association and on Campbell's "ticket."