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Perth Amboy School District scuffle illustrates need to end local control

pizzurosal073111_optBY SALVATORE PIZZURO
COMMENTARY

The current turmoil in the Perth Amboy public schools serves as an illustration of why it is time to end local community control of education. Nepotism and political malfeasance is rife in local districts, with little or no oversight by State officials. School Superintendent Janine Caffrey has been relieved of her duties and placed on paid administrative leave, in an apparent political struggle over control. Furthermore, the reasons for her administrative decapitation leave more questions than answers.

This writer disagrees with Janine Caffrey’s position on teacher tenure. Without tenure, classroom teachers will be subject to the local political whims of school board members who want to replace them with their friends, relatives and political cronies, As it is, New Jersey’s schools are still rife with nepotism. Without tenure, teachers will be terminated because they supported the wrong political party or because they spoke up on issues that were in disagreement with school board members.

Caffrey did not receive the support of local teachers when the Perth Amboy school board voted to place her on administrative leave. Nevertheless, she was initially hired to engage in education reform, and she was clear about how she was going to do it. Radical change will inevitably ruffle some feathers, and it certainly did in Perth Amboy. The community is still trying to recover from the misdeeds of public officials. Former Perth Amboy Mayor and State Assemblyman Joe Vas is in prison for accepting graft and betraying the public trust. Current school board President Samuel Lebreault is under investigation for fraudulently applying for the free school lunch program for his children when his family was not qualified. Furthermore, the original application for the school lunch program mysteriously disappeared from the files, but a copy was nevertheless recovered. Lebreault was at a loss to provide an explanation.

Perth Amboy parents have protested the Board’s action against Caffrey, citing the need for the reform that the Superintendent was sponsoring.

Yes, this writer disagrees with the bulk of the reform issues that Caffrey was fostering. Nevertheless, she is a highly qualified school administrator who was badly needed in a community that has been beset with scandal. The Board initially hired her to engage in radical reform and that is what she was doing.

This current Perth Amboy scuffle is a clear indication of the dangers that accompany local control. For decades, school districts have engaged in nepotism and political cronyism, with little or no oversight by State officials. The time to end local control of public school districts is now.

Dr. Salvatore Pizzuro, a Disability Policy Specialist, holds a doctorate in Developmental Disabilities from Columbia University and an advanced degree in Disability Law from New York Law School.

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