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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Schools - Ledger: Filling of 2 top posts eases Plainfield crisis

NOTE: This story appeared in the Ledger's print edition only, transcribed by DD.

Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, June 13, 2007, page 49.

School hirings solidify finances

Filling of 2 top posts eases Plainfield crisis


Plainfield's school board avoided a payroll crunch this week, hiring an interim superintendent and a new business administrator in time to deal with the district's finances after last week's surprise reisgnation of Superintendent Paula Howard.

Former Ringwood Superintendent Peter Carter and former Teaneck Administrator Michael Donow started work in their respective roles for the troubled school district on Monday afternoon, the school board office said yesterday. Their temporary assignments will enable the school system, one of the state's Abbott districts, to send off staff paychecks this week and handle district finances while the shcool board tries to find permanent replacements.

Carter and Donow did not immediately return telephone calls yesterday about whether either would seek to stay on in the jobs.

But controversy continued to swell about the circumstances of Howard's departure.

After a falling out in a private session on June 5, she submitted her resignation, but remained on the job last week, through Friday afternoon. Howard also offered to continue handling the district's finances to avoid problems while an interim superintendent was sought.

"Her answer cam Saturday morning, when boxes and garbage bags with her personal belongings from her office were dropped off at her home," said Assemblyman Jerry Green, who has monitored the district's troubles.

Her interim replacement and an interim business administrator had been approved in a special meeting called by the board late Friday night. Howard was not invited to the meeting or informed of it, said Green.

Board of education president Patricia Barksdale could not be reached for comment about Green's remarks yesterday. Last week she repeatedly declined to discuss the specifics of Howard's departure, saying only that district operations would not be interrupted.

The specific reasons for the resignation of Howard, who was hired in 2003, have not been made public. The board extended her contract in December for another three years, at an annual salary of $160,000, but there continued to be private clashes with the board over control of the day-to-day operations.

Howard could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Green said he fears the animosity that has grown between the board and the former superintendent, along with Howard's treatment over the weekend, could invite more trouble for the school district at a time when it is under state scrutiny.

"There is a professional way of doing things, and that does not appear to be what is going on there," said Green. "Paula Howard was willing to stay on, to handle things after her resignation, and that was the answer she got. ... Whatever the circumstances of her resignation, things like this invite lawsuits."

Plainfield, a K-12 district, is among the state's "Abbott" schools, receiving about 70 percent of its $140 million annual funding from the state. The district has 13 schools and remains on the state's "in need of improvement" list.

Howard's resignation followed the June 1 departure of business administrator Victor Demming, who left ot take a similar job in East Orange.

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