PERTH AMBOY — While the school administrator complains that Board of Education (BOE) members waste money defending against her fight to keep a $172,000 job, Superintendent Janine Caffrey has squandered at least a million dollars by suspending more than a dozen teachers with pay and replacing them by substitutes.
A recent Star-Ledger news article centered on Caffrey’s claims that the school board spent $70,000 on legal fees to sever her contract after they decided she is incompetent, insubordinate and ideologically opposed to the direction elected officials want to take the district.
The public is getting a one-sided view of things, however, because school board members are not permitted to make public comments disparaging their employees, even if, like Caffrey, they advocate for policies that would mean the end of free public education as it exists now. Caffrey supports policies that encourage school privatization and corporate profiteering.
In one case, Caffrey suspended a teacher on suspicion of abusive conduct but within a month, state officials at the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) and an independent psychiatrist cleared the educator.
However, Caffrey refused to reinstate the teacher, who has been out for about a year collecting a salary over $80,000 while his classes have been covered by a $50,000 substitute. While vindicated of any wrongdoing and still collecting a paycheck, the teacher suspended by Caffrey remains out of the classroom and feels traumatized by this unfair treatment.
At least 12 other professional educators have been removed by Caffrey and she openly supports an end to teacher tenure, the disciplinary process that prevents school employees from being subjected to political interference, intellectual intimidation and other injustices. Caffrey wants to eliminate the process for teachers to contest decisions to fire them but she is battling representatives elected by Perth Amboy voters because the same panel that hired her, wants to let her go after seeing her in action.
To keep her job, Caffrey has turned to local politicians such as Mayor Wilda Diaz and her political allies and a bevy of public relations tricks. Those politicians are supporting Caffrey by providing cover and working to elect school board members who will let her keep her job despite the harm she intends to do to economically disadvantaged children.
“Whether one likes the job that Dr. Caffrey is doing or not, one has to ask if the leadership of the Board handled this situation the best way possible,” said Councilman Kenneth Gonzalez. “It seems like there has been an exorbitant waste of time and tax payer money spent on this.”
Gonzalez, whose wife is a school board candidate, was BOE president and a close ally of former Mayor Joe Vas when the insurance broker who donated heavily to their campaign funds robbed nearly $2.6 million from the school district, which received nothing in return.
Frances Gartland and his company, Federal Hill Risk Management, donated $65,566 in 2008 alone to campaigns in New Jersey, including the winning re-election of Kenneth Gonzalez and the unsuccessful Vas effort. The Councilman has not relinquished funds donated to his campaign by criminals, but with comments like these, Kenneth Gonzalez clearly hopes to turn the public against the other elected officials who are trying to be responsible.
Kenneth Gonzalez and others who were close to Vas now strongly support Diaz for re-election and they are hoping to take back control of the city’s public school system.