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Frustration Mounts at Perth Amboy Board of Education Special Meeting

The Board of Education met at a special meeting on Wednesday, June 13, 2012. *Photo by Joseph L. Kuchie

By Joseph L. Kuchie—

PERTH AMBOY — Frustration mounted at the special Perth Amboy board of education meeting on June 13th as the board attempted to agree on the Superintendent’s propositions for the 2012-2013 school year.

The agenda for the meeting consisted of 38 different items that needed board approval, but only 32 were successfully motioned and passed. The entire process took over four hours, including a two-hour private session and two hour discussion.

Conflict ensued over two portions of the agenda, one including the Teach-to-One program and the other dealing with Reading Horizon Training. Vice President Kenneth Puccio was firmly against the Teach-to-One program, insisting that he would not allow Perth Amboy’s education system to become privatized.

“We are spending a lot of money for outside consultants to come in with no guarantee that it will work,” Puccio said. “Why do people have to come in and teach? We don’t need to privatize Perth Amboy because we have teachers that can teach the kids. We will not privatize this school district while I’m on this board.”

Superintendent Dr. Caffrey defended her plan to bring Teach-to-One to Perth Amboy, saying that the teachers of the district strongly supported the idea and that this program would be the best way to improve scores in the middle school.

“I urge the board to move forward with the plan and let it pass today. It can dynamically transform the McGinnis School,” Caffrey said. “I’m not privatizing the school district, that’s not what this is. The teachers brought this idea to you.”

AFT President Donna Chiera, who sat in the audience for the entire meeting, took Caffrey’s side during the public session of the meeting. She confirmed that the teachers did approve this new program, and that Teach-for-One would definitely help the district’s test scores.

“Dr. Caffrey was 100 percent right about the Teach-for-One program. The teachers were excited about it and based on that excitement, the AFT supported it,” Chiera said. “This has nothing to do with the cost or privatizing the district.”

The board was also split on proposition six which would bring in Elizabeth Willaum to instruct the staff on Dual Language Training. Some believed that the training would better the district, but it would eventually be tabled until the next board meeting due to a lack of data needed for further action.

“I want to see data for this year compared to last year before we move this proposition, we don’t even know the results yet,” Puccio said. “I’m not saying to do away with the whole thing, but I’m not comfortable changing our dual language program without seeing the data. The training is not for another two months, why is it important to vote right now? Wait until we have more information.”

Board member Israel Varela was against many of the decisions proposed by Caffrey, explaining that he did not have the proper information on most of the propositions to confidently vote. Varela would eventually vote “nay” on 16 propositions, and wished that more information were given to the board before they decided to meet and deal with these important issues.

“I’m uncomfortable voting on this whole situation and almost everything on the agenda. We are not getting the information we need,” Varela said. “I am unable to have an intelligent conversation on most of this, and I wish I had a little more knowledge.”

There were also comments made about Caffrey’s current job status, which was brought up by a number of board members during debates on the propositions. Along with Puccio commenting on her attempt to privatize the school district, Caffrey shot down accusations that she was getting paid to bring in programs such as AMIkids.

“There were some rumors that I was getting paid off by some of these programs. When it was voted to place me on leave… one of the items on the list said I was getting a financial advantage by bringing them into Perth Amboy. That is not true,” Caffrey said. “I’m doing what is best for our kids. There was a belief that I was getting paid off to put it on the agenda… so I believed it was due for another vote.”

The board recently voted to invoke the doctrine of necessity for a second time against Dr. Caffrey, but no further action was taken and Caffrey remained Superintendent. Board attorney Isabel Machado addressed the comments made by the rest of the board, urging them to refrain from making comments about Caffrey’s status and remaining focused on the meeting’s real goals.

The propositions that were tabled will be discussed at the next Board meeting on June 28th.

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