From the minute I took my seat on the school board last April it’s been apparent that my colleagues were not nearly as committed to reform as we had promised during the campaign. For nine months I loyally backed my team in public. But behind closed doors I argued for a tougher stand in union negotiations, a harder line on spending, greater transparency and a commitment to hiring the best people. At almost every step I met stiff resistance. In virtually every case my arguments lost out. Now, following our amateurish search and then the rush to hire an inexperienced superintendent, it’s clear that I must resign from Kids First (the political organization with whom I ran for the board). My fellow board member Carrie Gilliard quit Kids First at Tuesday’s meeting.
In my opinion, the search got off on the wrong foot. When the previous superintendent quit last June, I said the board should hire a headhunting firm that would find top candidates. I envisioned a hunt that would look at executives at, say, KIPP or Teach for America, where Washington’s Michelle Rhee started. I never got a hearing. Instead, I was blindsided at the September meeting with a resolution that the search would start immediately and that the NJ School Boards Association would conduct it. That would largely limit the applicants to NJ public-school administrators.
Much of Kids First was fixated on hiring someone – anyone – before the April election to avoid losing that power if it lost control of the board. I thought we should find the best candidate, no matter how long it took. As it happened, the NJSBA presented us with a very shallow pool of candidates. Of 21 who applied, only six were worth interviewing, and two of those soon
dropped out. Of the remaining four, only one had ever run a district. Then we conducted a very cursory due diligence. A trip to Frank Romano’s district was not organized until last Tuesday, after he had already been offered the job. I thought we should heed references from Millburn, but I was told I was just digging up dirt. Then Tuesday I was blindsided again – this time with the news that we were voting to hire Romano that night, although the board and public had been told this was off the agenda. Carrie and I voted no. My main reason is that he doesn’t have the right educational philosophy for our district. Test scores could fall even further. What’s more, his salary and guaranteed raises are far too high.
Volunteering for the school board demands countless hours. We all get some of the myriad decisions wrong. But one thing I can’t get wrong is following the principles on which I was elected: treat the taxpayers’ money as if it were my own, keep the public informed and never forget to put the kids first. I’m not putting together a slate to challenge Kids First in April,
but I encourage true reformers to demand accountability and consider running for the board.