Delivered to 15,000 Plainfield "doorsteps" Monday, Wednesday, Friday & Sunday

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Will Plainfield's BOE race focus on real issues or real distractions?

Now that candidates for Plainfield's Board of Ed election have filed (see stories here and here), there will be the inevitable campaigning.

Will the races focus on real issues or real distractions?

So far, the distractions have been getting the most attention.


Chief among these are the matters swirling around Superintendent (or Chief School Administrators -- CSA -- as the bureaucratese puts it) Steve Gallon III.

Still unresolved after intense public questioning, a dramatic Fox5 News segment, and an ongoing state investigation are the murky initial decisions made concerning the titles, qualifications and justifiable salaries for two of the cadre of three administrators Gallon brought along with him from Florida.

Whether Gallon pulled the wool over the eyes of BOE members is still not resolved, nor is the question (which the state is investigating) of whether there is fraud with regard to the initial appointments and possibly unjustifiable salaries.

While there is considerable resentment of the STYLE of Gallon and his cadre ('arrogance', 'hubris', 'disdain' -- take your pick), I have yet to see or hear a WELL-REASONED, SUBSTANTIVE POLICY CRITIQUE of either the strategic vision Gallon has outlined (see here) or the steps that HAVE been taken to implement the plan.

What there has been so far is considerable 'pot-and-pan banging' that has generated more heat than light.

Notwithstanding the issues around Dr. Gallon's tenure as the mid-point in his four-year contract approaches, there have been real achievements.
  • MIDDLE SCHOOLS -- The middle schools have been a problem for years and are the main exit point for families with concerns about the District -- particularly with regard to student safety. The move to expand some of the elementary schools to K-6 and K-8 configurations has helped to mitigate this middle school situation somewhat. Evidence is beginning to suggest that 'smaller learning communities' do pay off, but one of the difficulties is that of having a longstanding investment in large-scale physical facilities (think of Maxson and Hubbard) that inhibit the full benefits of smaller-scale 'academies'. Nevertheless, a start has been made.

  • SPECIALIZED SCHOOLS -- The launch of PAAS (the Plainfield Academy for the Arts and Advanced Studies) and the Barack Obama Academy for Academic and Civic Development have in effect created three segments at the high school level, each with a different focus. A good start, but only time will tell if the three emphases will succeed. Will the Obama Academy be able to effectively engage its students and help them prepare for productive adult lives? Will PAAS become a true magnet school and attract students from families whose previous choice has been to withdraw and use private or religious schools? And will the High School find a path ahead without both the brightest and the most troubled students?

  • SCHOOL VIOLENCE -- Getting the High School removed from the state's list of 'Persistently Dangerous Schools' is a real achievement, even though making the schools -- and getting to and going home from them -- consistently and constantly safe is a real challenge. (I have suggested elsewhere -- see here -- that the District needs to think through the implications of today's technologies for its approach to this issue.)

  • UNIFORMS -- I am one of those who think this is a big deal. Giving youngsters a structured dress program has the twin advantages of 1) saving families enormously in yearly clothing outlays and 2) of channeling kids' natural competitiveness away from external dress and hopefully toward other opportunities like sports, academics or extracurricular activities. (And yes, I do understand there are issues with 'gangs'.)

Are there issues on which to campaign? Youbetcha!
  • CURRICULUM -- Though the discussion is sometimes murky, the bottom line appears to be this: Dr. Gallon has not yet gotten a district-wide curriculum in place. It is hard to understand why, if the decision was made to abandon the site-based curriculums, this didn't become a #1 front-burner priority with a 'hurry-up' mandate. (To be fair, the state itself has zigzagged and may still in the future.)

  • TEXTBOOKS -- This is simply embarrassing in the extreme. After much probing by Maria Pellum on her blog (see here), we still find no complete resolution of the issue. If one of Dr. Gallon's designees has let the District down in this regard, where is the accountability? On the other hand, if textbooks fell in the cracks because of the way responsibility is organized, who is to blame for that? We are not talking rocket science here, folks.

  • FUNDING CUTS -- Gov. Christie has already made moves regarding school funding by insisting surpluses be used to cover budgets. Dr. Gallon has written about this issue recently on the District's blog (see here). Matters are only going to become more difficult -- partly because of the fiscal difficulties in which the state finds itself (and which Gov. Christie must address) and the legislation advanced by Asm Jerry Green voiding the Abbott Districts which is expected to have tax implications for Plainfield residents from the second year and going forward.

  • CONTRACT -- Lastly, the 'elephant in the room' of the unsettled employee contract situation. Several observers have noted the large element of teacher and staff participation in BOE and other meetings around the issues I outlined as 'distractions' above. Hardly ever spoken aloud has been the fact that there are unresolved contracts at hand. While the unions are right to want to have a contract and remove the uncertainties of working without one, there are other factors in play. The political mood throughout the state with regard to public worker unions, their clout and their defense of generous benefit and pension conditions in these extraordinarily difficult times is putting them in a difficult position (see an outline of the situation here). Taxpayers are in a rebellious mood. And seniors, who vote disproportionately in school board elections, are anxious and worried over the fact that they are not getting a cost-of-living adjustment in their Social Security checks this year, and look askance at those who are asking for 4%-6% increases. The unions also have to consider a backlash if they overplay their hands, especially if the state restores the 'last, best offer' options for contract settlements which school districts lost in 2003.

Three incumbents are running for re-election: Wilma Campbell, Martin Cox and Christian Estevez. Union members I know are saying that Cox and Estevez are not likely to get their support. While Campbell may be counting on that support, she may be vulnerable over the matter of curriculum -- she sits on the Curriculum Committee -- and the role played by lack of a district-wide curriculum in moving our kids' education forward. Campbell also has the fact that she pretty much played a go-along, get-along role for well over a year after Gallon's hiring (she was one of the three who went to Miami for an onsite investigation and reported back enthusiastically in favor of his hiring).

Are there slates, as was rumored over recent weeks?

When I attended the public meeting organized by candidate Renata Hernandez, I expected to hear that those who took part that evening were going to run as a slate (Hernandez herself, Wilma Campbell, Danielle Fletcher and Rasheed Abdul-Haqq). However, I came away from the evening with the distinct impression they hadn't worked out who would run for what and what a platform would be.

On the other hand, incumbents Christian Estevez and Martin Cox have recruited two able and committed community activists to run with them -- Mary Burgwinkle (for a 3-year term) and Carmencita Pile (for Bridget Rivers' unexpired term).

Both women were powerful and effective workers in building grassroots support for President Obama in Plainfield when he was a candidate and had neither the support of Assemblyman Jerry Green nor the state's Democratic Party.
No matter how things unfold over the next few weeks, it is certainly going to be a lively and interesting campaign.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

View today's CLIPS here. Not getting your own CLIPS email daily? Click here to subscribe.


Anonymous said...

Dan, Mrs. Wilma Campbell have sat on the committee of CURRICULUM and INSTRUCTION for her entire tenure on the Plainfield Board of Education. Now you do the math. Mrs. Campbell have chaired that committee through 2 Cheif School Administrator's. There is no excuse as to why the citizen's of Plainfield are still talking about a curriculum. I say to the comunity please do your researh on all the canidates, especially the incumbents, see which committee's they sit on and evaluate what they have done.

Anonymous said...

Why should anyone be surprised by your enthusiasm for Cox, Estevez, and Burgwinkel? Ms. Pile I don't know but apparently she's running with them. So what we can expect if they are elected is more of the same s**t from the administration and more of the same stuff from the BOE we've had in the recent past. Curriculum, textbooks, intimidation of staff, administrative dictatorship and misconduct, who cares?

Anonymous said...


I am very dissapointed in the incumbants. They have allowed Steve Gallon to walk all over them.

Now we are on the NY news.

Sorry, you are right some of the time. This one, you are completely on the wrong side.

Anonymous said...


You have raised important issues about the education in Plainfield and Gallon. Love him or hate him, Dr. Gallon has done more in his time here than has been done in years. Who cares about his style? Probably people who are now being held ACCOUNTABLE in what has been a failing district.

And as for textbooks, we have seen more new books since Gallon arrived than we have seen in years.

Let's pray that they do stick with the issues. See,s like the superintendent has been one of the only people doing so despite all of the chaos. The link to his recent letter is here.

Anonymous said...

To 10:36am - Remember you do not have to vote the entire ticket. You can vote for whomever you want.

Anonymous said...

I just want to say to Mary Burgwinkle you go Girl. You have my support 101%

Anonymous said...

Sure, Dan, administrative misconduct (some of it criminal) is merely a "distraction" and not a "real" issue? Nice try. Tell that to the kids getting cheated and the teachers and staff getting mistreated. And tell it to the parents too. They'll swallow it whole, won't they.

Anonymous said...

I am with Gallon and the BOE on the teacher contract issue. The word is that the PEA leadership tried to hijack the BOE by asking for a nearly 6% increase. They wanted this with no new standards for accountability. Remember this is the same union that would not support the district in applying for millions in federal dollars.

Let's see who they endorse.

Anonymous said...

Would you please shed some light on just what Martin and Christian have done that has been wonderful? I understand that you are going to cheer them on, but what have they done for us lately?

Christian was also one of the three (Wilma and Pat and Christian) went to Miami to interview. Christian also spoke about how impressed he was with the good doctor.

Martin, who's family has been in Plainfield for over 125 years (a fact he shares during each election) was also a chair of the C&I committee and has also been the chair of Human Resource.

So if you are going to talk about what you see as a challenge for one incumbent then wouldn't it be fair to point that out about the other two?

As far as I can see, and also what has been printed in the paper, Wilma has stood up to question and vote against the grain when needed. However, what has Martin and Christian done to deserve a vote to return?

Anonymous said...

Are you now the PR person for Steve? Does he have you snowed too? Persistantly dangerous high school still. Gallon manipulates the numbers. Everyone knows! Uniforms what a joke. Not all children wear them. Maybe they look nice but have you seen the state released report card? Kids look great but only two schools met the state requirements. The rest failed. DUH! What's up with that? No one is talking about that now are they?

Anonymous said...

Mrs. Campbell was busy cutting deals for her sister to get a hefty contract with the BOE as the negotiator for the teachers contract. That is why the kids dont have a curriculum while she was the chairperson. Why wouls she care her own children never attended the schools in Plainfield.

Lets see if the union endorses her knowing that her sister was on the other side of the contract negotiations.

Anonymous said...

I will agree with some posters that Gallon has done a lot of good things asince getting here. That is what makes the current controversies so sad.
What needs to be considered right now is that it is the BOE's job to prevent Gallon from making these mistakes. Their job is to vote on his proposals. When he says lets spend money on new textbooks, they should vote yes. When he says lets hire all of my friends from Florida instead of promoting loyal Plainfield employees, they should vote no. But they just seem to be smitten by this well dressed southern man and they just can't seem to say no to him. So, they need to go. With a decent BOE helping to steer Gallon away from trouble, this district could be in great shape down the road.

Anonymous said...

I find this all very interesting. The strategic plan is COPIED from the QSAC report from the spring prior his official entrance into Plainfield in July. The plan was created by the INTERIM director of Curriculum and Instruction at the time, if anyone had done more for this district than in previous years it was she! She accomplished more in the 6 months that she was there than anything Gallon has done. Are you serious????