Does the State Have the Courage To Take Over Lakewood Public Schools?

Jonathan Shutman,Ed.D., is a retired school principal and administrator who has worked in the Marlboro, North Brunswick, and Montclair public school districts. He is presently a part-time support ESL and math teacher for CNA and LPN students at the Monmouth County Vocational School District. He is the author of  “Disability Abuse in Educational Settings.”

The recent news reported by Stacey Barchenger, “Lakewood School Board Lawyer’s $600,000 Contract Breaks Rules” reports the additional $29,000 in family health insurance and $350/hour for any additional litigation the lawyer has negotiated for himself. .Beyond this exorbitant “retainer” that has been determined as wrongly doled out like a salary, most school districts do not provide full family health benefits until the employee is tenured.

But then again, Lakewood is different. This is only one example of fiscal mismanagement and rule-breaking. Upon investigation of district practices enabled by the board, superintendent, and attorney, district matters are likely far, far worse. One example: Auditing of records would reveal that observations for non-tenured professional staff in the area of special education are negligent according to what is required in NJ Statute N.J.A.C. 6A:10. As described in N.J.A.C. 6A:10-6.1(a), certified personnel shall receive at least three observations, as required pursuant to N.J.S.A. 18A:27-3.1., and a summative evaluation. These have not been done as required by code.

Some non-tenured certified special education staff, not of the ultra-Orthodox community, were given their first observation reports in May. In May, at the end of the school year! This was the only observation, and then they were not renewed. How can such action be justified? They should have been given three observations and a summative evaluation. But for most of the school year, there was no supervisor in special services. No administrative accountability. Any administrator could have conducted these observations but did not.

The superintendent, at a salary of close to $200,000 with benefits, was responsible for overseeing this critical area of staff effectiveness. She apparently did not. Might it have had something to do with the approximate $1,000,000 of local and state funds allocated to enrich the lawyer and superintendent? No money left for a supervisor, at maybe $75,000 a year? If this has happened in the critical area of special education, it prompts one to suspect observations and evaluations have not been followed according to statute in other areas.

Why such negligence? One might surmise that the reason is so the majority community can make new hires more malleable to their will and interests.

Worse, regardless of political party, the NJ State Department of Education has been enabling Lakewood’s inequitable funding and student services for years. This is seen in the practice of favoring parochial school students over public school students by allowing disproportionate financial allocations to religious schools that offer little secular instruction, nor accountability for classified students in these schools.

It is beyond time that state monitors suspend the entire administrative leadership, board of education, and current attorney, and take over the district. Why must we pay for the continued fiscal excess and abuse, the state and local monies that are siphoned away from the justly-deserving Lakewood public education students? Who expects that the $28 million in loans will be repaid?  No one.

State monitors, also salaried, have been ineffective. Only by a state takeover of the Lakewood Public Schools will anything change.

Will the new administration in Trenton and state legislators show the political will, depth, and courage to do what is just and right?

What do you think?

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