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Derek Jess Appointed Acting School Superintendent by Perth Amboy BOE

Jess Will Conduct Meetings Until Permanent Replacement Found –

By Katherine Massopust & Carolyn Maxwell —

PERTH AMBOY – Board Secretary Derek Jess was appointed Acting Superintendent of Schools for a period of three months. Board Member Maria Garcia asked if an interim Superintendent needs to be certified. The Board Attorney answered that it is not necessary under these circumstances, but after 3 months it has to go before the Board if more time is needed in finding a Superintendent.

Jess was proud to announce that Perth Amboy Public Schools received an award for safety in 2013 for Buildings and Grounds. The Board will be given the Award at the School Board’s Association Convention in Atlantic City this week.

The awards for Teacher of the Year for 2013 – 2014 were given out.

There was a presentation by Walter Kaczmarek, State Service Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart to Board Member Israel Varela for his service to the community on behalf of students, parents and citizens. Semper Fidelis – Always Faithful – the motto of the Marine Corps.

During the business portion of the meeting Board Vice- President Kenneth Puccio was the sole “No” vote on a resolution for approval of the Preschool Education Program Contract with the Raritan Bay YMCA. He stated that he did not know the price existing costs $1 million. Board Member Obi Gonzalez stated that she voted “Yes” because there was no reason to give up on the program since it was already up and running. 75 children are already enrolled and it would not be fair to them to discontinue the program at this time. Board Member Maria Garcia agreed with Gonzalez and voted “Yes.”

There was controversy over the funding for “Project Read.” Project Read is a program in conjunction with Rutgers University. The item stated that in the event that private foundation money becomes unavailable, the total amount paid to Rutgers (combined foundation and district funds) will not exceed the amount stated in the proposal. This item was tabled from the 8/29/13 Board Meeting.

Board Member Milady Tejeda stated that the program ran for 2 months. Board Member Obi Gonzalez along with Board Member Dianne Roman recommended that the Board Attorney clear up the reason why funding was taken away for this project. “I want it to be a clear contract and done correctly,” stated Gonzalez.

Board Secretary/Acting Superintendent Jess suggested that the Board untable the contract.

Board President Mark Carvajal proposed to propel the funding thru October. “We must be careful not to set a precedence.”

The item was untabled. Board Member Obi Gonzalez stated, “We are going to amend the Project Read to the end of November.

Board Member Dianne Roman stated, “I’ve received letters from teachers advocating Project Read. We’ve made an investment. I’ve gotten many e-mails supporting it.”

During the Old Business portion of the meeting Board Member Milady Tejada asked Board Secretary/Acting Superintendent Derek Jess what happened to the $39 million in surplus money?

Jess replied “We have more than $39 million. We wish to provide students with a one to one technology, get these buildings air conditioned and to get a new High School built. We are waiting for the SDA (School Development Authority) to get back to us.”

Tejada continued, “Some students have no books.” Board Member Anton J. Massopust agreed with Tejada, “I can’t understand why we have classes with no books.” Jess answered, “All the students will have books. There is money to purchase books.” Board Member Israel Varela stated, “The staff has a problem with parking. There are areas we can do something about. Teachers are having their cars towed. Now that we are open, am I allowed to go back into the buildings?” Board Member Obi Gonzalez wanted to compliment this Board for tonight’s meeting (working together) and thanked Jess and Carvajal as well.

During the public portion of the meeting handicapped High School Student Stephanie Rodriguez spoke about the elevator being broke in the High School. “Some of my classes were upstairs. Periods 7, 8 & 9 I had classes in the conference room downstairs. It doesn’t take too long to fix an elevator.” Stephanie Rodriguez asked the Board 2 questions: “Who prepares the budget and what is the surplus?”

Jess responded, “A group of administrators prepare the budget and the Board has a $40 million surplus.”

“Then why can’t a bus be provided for students. Presently, you have to be an athlete to board the shuttle. If you’re an athlete – aren’t you supposed to be in great shape? Then why do you need a bus? Where is this $40 million going? This safety award is a piece of crap. There’s asbestos. The Stem School has narrow steps and the High School has mold. With $40 million can’t you fix these problems?”

Parent Donna Stewart spoke about a problem involving school lunches that she had mentioned at previous meetings. “The issue with the food is still the same. Kids are given cheese sandwiches because their parents didn’t fill out a form. Not everyone is on welfare or unemployed. I was told I had to fill out a form in the summer at the school. Then I found out I could have filled out the form online. Still kids have to pay $2.50 and get a cheese sandwich. You should stop punishing children by giving them a substandard lunch and not giving them credit when they overpay for their lunch. We as the PTO will continue to meet. We have to have real conversations. The Superintendent (Caffrey) cannot filter the conversations we need to hear. We’re playing games. Stop playing games. Enough is enough.”

Earlier in the meeting Jess read a report on vandalism, incidences of violence and suspensions in the school system. This report included involvement of weapons in incidents. Resident Sharon Hubberman asked, “There was 152 student offenses and only six suspensions? The number of acts of violence in relation to suspensions; what qualifies for a suspension? $7 million were appropriated for schoolbooks at a budget meeting. Was that $7 million held hostage? They need to make sure that schools that are operating are made ADA compliant.”

Leslie Morrow from the Center for Literacy Development and Project Read stated, “Our services are in demand. Look at what we’re doing. Grades K-4 are the most important grades for children. If children are not at a certain level by 4th Grade only 10% can later get past that level. We have several of our coaches here. Just think about K-4. With a quality education you are more likely to be employed at a higher level and more likely to lead a middle class life. If you are not literate you are more likely to suffer poor health and live at a lower financial status. Meet us, talk with us; see what we’re doing.” She invited the Board Members to come to the Project Read Program at Rutgers University. “I would like to talk to all of you.”

Student Miatta Hans, a sophomore, spoke about the AP Physics course. “We don’t have any labs. Stem (the Stem School) does not really have anything. We have no resources to do labs. We asked many other honors program students and they want to come to the main campus. Sixteen out of 17 students signed the petition.”

Resident Alan Silber said, “In a political ad it states “plans for a new high school.” Why was an employee paid 15 months for doing nothing? Has there been an investigation? You have to do due diligence.”

“The Board is searching for a position. You are asking the new Athletic Director to search and pick criteria for a new baseball coach. What criteria did you use to search for the Athletic Director? Although I do approve of this Athletic Director. You should have the same criteria for all the persons that you hire.”

Resident Stanley Sierakowski stated that he heard that there is going to be a new federal program where all students will get a free breakfast and lunch regardless of their income. Jess responded that as far as he knows the Board does not know of such a program but he would look into it.

Sierakowksi continued, “An employee was found guilty for selling alcohol on school property. Did he lie to Superintendent Caffrey? Can we recoup the money paid to this employee if he lied? Caffrey should be investigated if she lied. If Superintendent Caffrey did not conduct an investigation she obstructed justice and should be prosecuted.”

Three students who attend the After School Learning Center spoke about the lack of any snacks. “We want our afternoon snacks, especially with your big budget. We cannot concentrate if we are hungry.”

A teacher spoke and stated, “If you want to know what programs work, survey the teachers. You should think about bringing back Dr. Vivian Rodriguez.”

Another student, Rosemary stated, “Students are passionate about clubs. With $40 million some of this can go towards clubs. Students break out of their shells in clubs.”

“You should highlight safety as a problem. How many of you have gone into the bathrooms and have seen the bad conditions. Athletes shouldn’t always come first. I’d like to see the High School open a little bit earlier because I drop off my siblings early at their schools to help out my Mom who works.”

Teacher Lynn Audett said, “I have been doing Project Read for 22 years.” Referring to the program that was talked about at the meeting by the representative from Rutgers. Audett said, “It is just an updated version of what I’ve been doing. I love Project Read. I’m just concerned about the funding for this program. Give this young lady (referring to Stephanie Rodriguez) a working elevator.”

Former Board of Education President Sam Lebreault spoke, “Aren’t our kids awesome. My chest swells with pride. I want to congratulate the Teachers of the Year.” Lebreault praised Israel Varela and said he deserved the award presented to him earlier in the meeting by Walter Kaczmarek.

Lebreault began speaking about Stephanie Rodriguez and said that it should be very simple to send Rodriguez to the Cranford to continue her studies. The Board Attorney warned Lebreault that he could not talk about a student and her situation during the meeting. After the Attorney’s statement, Stephanie Rodriguez remarked, “I give him my permission,” but the Board Attorney stated that Lebreault could not continue.

Lebreault asked how long they had this surplus money. Jess replied, “It is going on a third year.”

Lebreault stated, “When I was President, we were saving for a new high school. There should be $80 million. Where is all this surplus money going to?” The timer ran out and he could not continue.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:20 p.m.

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