Maureen Sullivan resigns from Kids First
Feb 14, 2010 | 4606 views | 5 5 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Dear Editor:

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.

Maureen Sullivan

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February 18, 2010
What about the hate streaming from Sullivan? She's accusing some of the most respected people in the community and on the board of being part of the machine because she disagrees with them. It's a carefully selected accusation that she knows will do the maximum damage to their reputations and Kids First. Where's the truth in this vicious mud slinging from Sullivan?
February 18, 2010
Maureen, I hope that you will continue the fight you started. I watched the new BoE closely for the past year, and I am not impressed at all by its performance. The hate steaming from these anonymous posts strengthens my conviction that you speak the truth. Don't let these vicious attacks demoralize you. Just endorse an honest person!
February 18, 2010
"Carrie and I didn't leave Kids First, Kids First left us."

Cue the violins...its an electoral slate not a marriage. You resigned. But nice play for the sympathy vote.
February 17, 2010
The only thing thrown under the bus was the promise of openness and transparency made by the KF team. Can it possibly matter what they said back in September? On Feb. 6 they said the superintendent hire was not on the agenda for Feb. 9. It did not appear on the agenda posted to the district website or handed out on the night of the meeting. It was not put in writing at the last minute as a "live" item. The details of the contract were hammered out between 7 and 9 p.m. in closed session, as members of the public disappeared. Again, the audience was given no official word that the superintendent would be hired that night. Heck, I wasn't aware it was going to happen. Theresa M. read the resolution to the remnants of the crowd. Read it, because even the members of the board did not have a written copy of the resolution.

If you think I'm going to sign on for that kind of bogus shenanigans, you don't know me as well as you think you do.

To answer a few points:

...I am not the lead union negotiator. I am a member of the governance/personnel committee, which includes Theresa and Ruth (Rose is a member of every committee in her role as board president). Rose handled most of the details of the search and negotiation, including the last-minute closed door conversations she had with Romano that led up to the final deal. Ruth is head of the negotiating team for the custodian's contract of which I was a member along with the usually absent Jimmy Farina.

...I was at every meeting regarding the superintendent search. At NO meeting did Carrie Gilliard demand that a candidate be included after the deadline had passed. In fact, she NEVER mentioned that she had a candidate in mind at a meeting or to me individually. I believe her when she says she met a guy at a conference and he passed along his resume. But who believes Carrie? She quit KF so she must be destroyed. During the deliberations both Carrie and I asked the NJSBA search coordinator what the process was to open up the search. She told us that if we were not happy with the finalists there was absolutely no problem with running another ad and going out for more applicants. That proposition was never considered.

...I'm curious how you know that he had "unfinished business" in Fort Lee. I never heard that before. You must have awfully good sources inside the negotiating room or perhaps in Fort Lee. Don't forget, it was Dr. Romano who was quoted in a local newspaper after the offer was made but before the contract were hammered out saying he had the job. I said nothing about the contract publicly until I realized the KF team was going to violate protocol by ramming it through in a thoroughly inapproapriate manner.

...Dr. Romano does not have a signed contract with this district and does not start until July 1. He is not an employee. (Board members cannot comment on an employee's performance in public without the employee's permission.)

Carrie and I didn't leave Kids First, Kids First left us.
February 17, 2010
Because Ms. Sullivan's wishes were thwarted with regard to the Superintendent selection, what we have here is a very unseemly, innappropriate tantrum where she not only throws her colleagues under the bus, she backs the bus up over them a couple of times- this because she held a minority opinion which did not prevail.

The substance and charges may be her feelings, but that is all they are. For example, the notion that her colleagues hadn't taken a "tough stand" on union negotiations; Ms. Sullivan IS the lead union negotiator, so is she angry with herself? She refers to the Board search as "amateurish" yet she aligns herself with Ms. Gilliard who demanded the application of a friend be accepted AFTER the deadline for submissions had passed. Ms. Sullivan claims to be "blindsided" by the news Romano was being voted on at the Feb. 9 meeting, when the Feb. 9th date been announced to the public as being the selection date long before, and was put on as a live agenda item the day of the meeting when Dr. Romano had settled unfinished business back in Fort Lee.

Further, I believe repeating BoE matters that transpired "behind closed doors" is a violation of protocol, and since the public was not privy to these conversations, what we have is a disgruntled Board member's view without an 'objective source' (the public) for a fair hearing for the members being attacked. Extremely unfair, extremely innapropriate. In addition, a sitting member of the Board attacking school employees publicly is a violation of School Board ethics rules, pretty "amateurish" conduct for an elected official.

It is allso extremely counterproductive to attack and insult the incoming Superintendent; if Ms. Sullivan truly had the interest of the "kids first", she would understand that she was sowing the seeds for a dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship which Dr. Romano which will not serve the kids or our community well. It seems Ms.Sullivan is more interested in politcal games; passing the torch to a "new slate of reformers" instead of continuing the steady progress that Kids First has made.

Finally, referring to the moms of Kids First whose children are currently in the public schools as playing "machine politics" is absurd and insulting. These women did not pull their kids out of public school, they are keeping them there becasue they are profoundly committed to improving educational standards in our public schools and are fighting for the benefit of their own children, as well as the larger community.

What a shame.