Categorized | Local Perspectives

COMMUNITY VOICE: Discourse Between Board and Superintendent

As a member of the Perth Amboy Board of Education, I have watched uncomfortably as my Board leadership and our superintendent of schools have been engaged in a lengthy and public battle with allegations of ethic violations occurring on both sides. I am writing this letter to address some of the concerns, which have been discussed in the media regarding the debate between the Perth Amboy Superintendent Dr. Janine Walker Caffery and the Board. The opinions expressed in this article are mine alone and they are not intended to be representative of the Board. However, I can no longer sit idly by while the District continues to spiral downward with no end in sight. Over the course of the past several months I have been witness to parents, teachers and staff members expressing their frustration and trying to understand these issues and determine which side is in the right.

The Board leadership has cited several allegations against the superintendent of schools. I take no formal position as to these issues at this time as these allegations are currently being reviewed by an administrative law judge. Hopefully, this judge will render a decision soon and bring this matter to rest. However in the process of defending herself against these allegations, Dr. Caffrey has indicated her belief that the Board is attempting to remove her in retaliation for her cooperation in an Attorney General investigation regarding the Board president and also for her refusal to hire friends of certain Board members. These two accusations are quite serious and raise questions about the integrity of the entire school district. I wish to address these two issues in greater length and offer suggestions as to how the Board may resolve these allegations and begin the process of restoring public confidence in itself.

Dr. Caffrey stated that Board President Samuel Lebrault filled out a lunch application in order to obtain either a free or reduced lunch for his children. According to an April 25th article Dr. Caffrey stated Mr. Lebrault attempted to take advantage of a free or reduced lunch program which he is not entitled to. After hearing this I made some inquiries and was able to confirm that the state Attorney General’s office has visited our school district on several occasions in order to investigate possible improprieties involving our school lunch program. Investigators came into the district and interviewed both current and former staff members. As of this date, they have seized a limited number of lunch applications for different schools years belonging to at least one Board of Education member. There has been no final disposition of this case and the investigation appears to be ongoing.

The allegations charged by the superintendent concerning school lunch application are not unique to Perth Amboy. This is a problem which appears to exist in other schools districts through out the state. We have heard stories like this in the media recently including the indictment of the Elizabeth Board of Education President. In order to attempt to curtail this type of illegal behavior from occurring, I would like to offer the following solution.

The lunch application process is very confusing for some parents. After reviewing the State issued application, I noted that there is no place to check off for “record only”. I believe that our school district may seek to encourage parents to fill out the application whether or not their child was entitled to the free or reduced lunch program solely to have a record of a child’s status. I can understand this practice from a record keeping perspective. However, it is important that parents who are attempting to comply with such a request, understand that they may be completing the form for information purposes only if they are not qualified for the program. It is my understanding that the standard State issued form cannot be altered. My proposal is simply to add a cover page that would allow the parent to check off the following if applicable:

“I understand that I am not entitled to a free or reduced lunch and I am filling out this form for school records only. I understand this information will be secured at the Board office and is for school use only.”

Dr. Caffrey has also alleged that certain Board members have attempted to dictate to her that she must hire certain specific individuals who may not be the best-qualified persons. It has been a long-standing practice for Board members to recommend candidates for interview to the superintendent. However, it completely improper for a board member to insist on the hiring of a specific candidate, as this is the sole responsibility of the superintendent as provided by state law. I believe that in order to avoid possible over stepping of Board authority, that this referral process should be more open to the community for review. My proposal is that a form be created so that when a referral is made to the superintendent, this form is filled out and submitted to the Business Administrator. The form would be maintained in the Business office. Should a person from the public want to inquire about a new hire that was referred to the superintendent, this referral form could be produced. This makes the referral process more transparent to the public. The form should have the following information on it:

Name of Applicant

Name of Board member/employee making the referral

How long the Board member/employee know each other

Possible conflicts

A reason why this person would be qualified for position.

The solutions I have offered are just another way to provide another safety measure in how we conduct the business of the school district. I believe by making the process more accessible for review by the public we will help restore confidence in this Board of Education. On a personal, note it is my sincere hope that by setting these types of rules that the Board and the superintendent can finally begin to move our district forward in the right direction.

Mark Carvajal
Member Perth Amboy Board of Education

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