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Friday, May 7, 2010

Christie needs to intervene in Plainfield schools mess now!

Empty chairs at Plainfeild BOE table.

Gov. Chris Christie needs to intervene in Plainfield's public schools mess immediately!

Rumors abound that the Board of Ed will take action at an emergency meeting this afternoon to suspend Superintendent Steve Gallon III and replace him with Dr. Garnell Bailey as an interim acting superintendent pending the outcome of criminal charges Gallon and two associates face.

Gov. Chris Christie needs to intervene now to prevent the situation with the Plainfield public schools from getting worse.

In the first place, IF Dr. Bailey is being considered for an interim position, the Board of Ed would be putting itself in an untenable position, and that would be a gross misstep for a new board facing such heavy challenges.

By her own admission, Dr. Bailey was involved in the very situation(s) which have put the Plainfield schools in the glare of unfavorable publicity. Bringing her back as chief school administrator -- even temporarily -- could not possibly reassure the public that the situation will be thoroughly dealt with.

Gov. Christie needs to intervene to make sure that if Dr. Gallon is suspended, a TRULY INDEPENDENT, TOUGH-MINDED ADMINISTRATOR will be put in place to see to the cleaning up of the personnel mess in the Plainfield Public Schools, which involves not only Gallon and his companions, but 16 cases prior to Gallon's arrival (and under Dr. Bailey's purview) that need to be addressed.

Plainfield taxpayers and the state -- which underwrites the vast bulk of the local BOE budget -- deserve to know that the root causes of the difficulties will be rooted out and dealt with.

Beyond this emergent, local cause for action by the Governor, there are two other issues that deserve his attention.

Coupled with the recent raid by the FBI on Toms River school district superintendent Michael Ritacco's home and office in connection with investigation of an insurance corruption scheme (see here), the state has an obvious interest in seeing that there is a standard policy in place for dealing with superintendents arrested, indicted or involved in criminal probes.

The Courier's Mark Spivey pointed out some terms of Dr. Gallon's contract with the Board of Ed (see here) --
...Gallon's current contract, which extends through June 2012, indicates that the board is not permitted to hold discussions regarding his performance in public session without his consent. The contract also indicates that he cannot be terminated unless a case of "inefficiency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming a superintendent or other just cause" arises...

To my mind, the failure to include in the contract language directly referencing arrests, indictments or involvement in criminal probes is a glaring omission that indicates school districts everywhere in New Jersey would benefit from a stiffening by the state of contractual conditions.

Perhaps the governor should take a lesson from the New Jersey's real estate industry, where a standard fill-in-the-blanks contract form is in place. A practice such as this makes it perfectly clear that certain uniform terms of employment language is used across the board, with individual districts able to insert salary, length of contract and other standard items, but also to add at the end of the contract -- AND CLEARLY INDICATED AS ADDITIONAL OR UNUSUAL TERMS -- any other clauses negotiated between the parties.

Making such contracts public as a matter of course would over time give everyone -- the public, the state, AND PROSPECTIVE SUPERINTENDENTS -- a useful 'apples-to-apples' tool for comparing NJ superintendents' contracts.
Secondly, the experience with the Gallon case has left a bad taste in many people's mouths concerning what can only be viewed as an EXCESSIVE DESIRE FOR SECRECY in personnel matters.

Let me be clear: It is perfectly fine that EVALUATIONS, ESPECIALLY WITH AN EYE TO NEGATIVE OUTCOMES REGARDING THE EMPLOYEE, are conducted in camera, with the employee given the opportunity to exercise the 'Rice notice' option of a public hearing.

What strikes me as excessive is that ordinary, garden-variety information is shielded from the public's scrutiny.

The state should make it abundantly clear that at the very least the following types of information about ANY PUBLIC EMPLOYEE, INCLUDING SCHOOL DISTRICTS are public records and must be made available to the public upon request --
  • Employee's name
  • Employee's job title (and, where applicable, civil service title)
  • Employee's qualifications for the job, including education and certifications
  • Employee's salary
Furthermore, in light of the runaround Dr. Gallon has been able to give in relation to enquiries about the suspended assistant superintendent, Dr. Angela Kemp, the public should be allowed to know the following about suspended employees --
  • Employee's name
  • Employee's job title (and, where applicable, civil service title)
  • Employee's duties, if any, while on suspension
  • Employee's whereabouts during working hours
Having this kind of information available would go a long way toward reassuring the public that its interests -- as the footers-of-the-bill-of-last-resort -- are being attended to.
Plainfield has given Gov. Christie an unprecedented opportunity to teach from its example. Hey, any reform policies could even go down as 'The Plainfield Rules'.

Wouldn't that be something nice to be in the history books for?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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olddoc said...

You write what I have been preaching for months, only much better. This board must appeal to the DOE for temporary help.

I think the "conduct unbecoming" under the circumstances would stand up in court for dismissal without severance.

Bob said...

I totally agree that the state needs to set guidelines that are clear and fair to the public and employee. We need to make sure that we who are footing the bill are allowed to know what is going on. The secrecy in Gallon's contract and tenure makes one suspicious and we have found that our suspicions were correct and grounded in all this crap that Gallon and the BOE have heaped upon Plainfield. I also am tired of hearing so much negativity about Plainfield and would like to see something good come out of this.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Then make a left and on to City Hall!!

Anonymous said...

you know if christie got involved and helped clean up plainfield school alone, that would probably restore the entire budget cut that is being proposed for the state.

there's lots at stake here. not just for the kids....

Anonymous said...

The contract also indicates that he cannot be terminated unless a case of "inefficiency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming a superintendent or other just cause" arises...

Clearly Gallon's conduct of condoning stealing from another school district is unbecoming a superintendent,,,,don't you think!

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed Dan,
I thought you were smarter than that. I was one of the 16 jobs that were changed. The change had nothing to do with certification, titles or anything else. That was all a part of the Gallon cover up game. QSAC said that all was well with HR until the Miami crew showed up. Your information is tainted along with your opinion.

Anonymous said...

Christie should have intervened in this situation months ago. Like with our Muhlenberg hospital problem. It isn't that he didn't know.

Anonymous said...

The state already has a statute on the books. By law the person arrested must notify the Super and then official action can be taken by the board. I'm not sure what the statute says to do if the super is the one with the FOUL play.

Bailey has baggage as well. She's not Gallon but not innocent in all of this either.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like there is just cause to terminatet the contract under the conduct unbecoming a superintendent or other just cause language.

Can't get any clearer than that.

Anonymous said...

Where has Christie been? And why do you think that a call from Dan Damon now will get him to intervene? Olddoc is right, this has been going on for months.