PERTH AMBOY — Cleared of wrongdoing, Board of Education members expressed pleasure that they will have a chance to present their cases in public to further refute allegations raised by an administrator desperate to keep her $177,000 job.
Baseless ethics complaints brought by Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey against Board of Education members were dismissed Tuesday by the state School Ethics Commission but Board President Samuel Lebreault, Vice President Kenneth Puccio and Israel Varela, Milady Tejeda and Obdulia Gonzalez have also won a right to go before a state administrative law judge to disprove some of the charges.
The school board members faced an array of bogus accusations after they moved to get rid of Caffrey when they discovered her anti-public education agenda could hurt children and taxpayers in the city.
Caffrey, who on Saturday was placed on paid administrative leave and told that her contract will not be renewed by the school board, sought to have the state School Ethics Commission cloud the issues that led to her being fired. A Star-Ledger article erroneously reported that the commission said innocent board members violated ethics act in dealing with superintendent, but authorities confirmed that no such assertion was made.
“A finding of probable cause is not an adjudication on the merits,” according to a School Ethics Commission spokesperson, who noted that each of the opinions allowing members to make their cases public clearly includes that statement. “Some of these decisions declared that the board members were ‘not guilty’ of doing wrong but everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Many of the complaints were frivolous and most were dismissed but some board members wanted to refute accusations in public.”
On Sept. 12, a state administrative law judge ruled that the board acted properly in its second vote to remove Caffrey. The commission passed no judgment in its opinion other than to allow board members to defend themselves against the charges filed by Caffrey and Alvaro Cores, who lost his job as principal of Herbert Richardson Elementary School after he allowed alcoholic beverage to be sold on school grounds.
One complaint that will be aired in public suggests it is unethical for Varela to have lunch with his wife, based on a new policy Caffrey instituted forbidding board members to enter school buildings without her permission.
Varela’s wife has worked as a teacher for 32 years and the couple has been married for 24 years, so he has had a long-standing practice of joining her for lunch at the Dr. Herbert N. Richardson School.
“I was in the Marine Corps when my wife got her job,” Varela said. “It’s disgraceful to make fun of me and my family. I’m only a board member for three years.”
Cores, who accused board members who fired him of waging a smear campaign also filed a lawsuit against the taxpayer, claiming his firing violated of state law even though he allegedly purchased bottles of coquito from Hector Muniz.
That story conflicts with the account of another school secretary, Susan Nieves, who filed her own whistle-blower lawsuit against the district, Caffrey, Cores and others because she was reprimanded, suspended and then transferred to another school after she reported the illegal coquito sales.
While Caffrey has been able to persuade Education Commissioner Chris Cerf to interfere with the local elected officials’ decisions twice, it is unlikely that she will return to the job now.
Although Perth Amboy is a district that gets most of its funding from the state instead of local property taxpayers, Caffrey strongly supports the political agenda shared by Mayor Wilda Diaz, Chris Christie and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, which would privatize education, use tuition vouchers to put public money in private and parochial schools, and cut benefits and job security for teachers.
Those so-called reforms could more than triple the total tax bill for the average homeowner.
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