Voice of the People: Coquito In Perth Amboy

James J. Devine

James J. Devine

By James J. Devine

Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran, acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, Mayor Wilda Díaz, and others who have defended Perth Amboy School Superintendent Janine Caffrey have eggnog on their faces.

School board members voted twice to place Caffrey on administrative leave and negotiate a settlement of the last two years of her contract, but Cerf, an unelected bureaucrat with an ethical cloud hanging over him, overturned the majority action of the duly-elected representatives of Perth Amboy.

When the school board wanted to suspend Caffrey, the action was opposed by a Star-Ledger editorial, Moran, Díaz and a secretive group funded by billionaires who want to undermine free public education with a radical agenda marketed under the banner of reform.

Now, it turns out that Caffrey failed to take action when Richardson School Principal Alvaro Cores allowed a secretary, Hector Muniz, to sell an alcoholic beverage at the school last November and December.

Coquito, an eggnog-like alcoholic beverage made with egg yolks, rum, and coconut juice, is traditionally served in Puerto Rico during the Christmas holidays.

Another Richardson School secretary, Susan Nieves, filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the district, Caffrey, Cores and others saying she reported the coquito sales and was reprimanded, suspended and then transferred to another school.

Members of the school board who want to oust Caffrey have a long list of transgressions, including insubordination and underhanded efforts to subvert the delivery of free public education by diverting funds to private-sector instruction. Whitewashing the illegal sale of alcohol was not among the initial charges.

The defense of Caffrey appears to be a string of smoke screens intended to protect someone who wants to deprive teachers of their tenure rights, which allow them to be fired only if there is a proper cause. Tenure is the only thing stopping someone from turning public school employees into a political army. For Caffrey to resist being fired is pure hypocrisy.

Caffrey appeared in a YouTube video stating that board members unethically rejected her choices for job hires. Although Mark Carvahol, Kurt Rebovitch and Dianne Roman reportedly responded to pressure from City Hall when they rejected the Superintendent’s choice to serve as the district’s Human Resources director, they were not among the members voting to terminate her.

Her ludicrous accusation that a board member tried to get free lunches is a blatant lie. Caffrey knows every parent is asked to supply a completed nutrition program application because needy children could be subject to scorn and bullying if only they were compelled to return the documents.

What Caffrey advocates as ‘education reform’ is no longer the process of improving public education. Instead she uses a right-wing code for privatization or union-busting. Tremendous rhetoric about charter schools, teacher tenure and performance pay have hijacked sound public discourse and replaced research and best practices proved to increase student achievement with right-wing political mantras.

Political rhetoric on ‘education reform’ is full of myths aimed at reducing public-school funding and limiting access to classes for poor children. Attention given to U.S. students falling behind academically ignores the fact that child poverty in America has risen above 23 percent, while European poverty rates are below 10 percent.

There are no easy answers to some problems, but Perth Amboy is a complex example of the correct way to improve education among working class and poor children. Disrupting these schools is one way hinder recognition that government spending makes a vast improvement in quality.

An advocate for right-wing free market Republican ideas poised to undermine a successful school district, Caffrey has a subversive agenda that Moran, Cerf, Díaz and the rest either ignorantly or intentionally abetted. They owe Perth Amboy voters and parents an explanation and perhaps, an apology.

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