In what has become an escalating conflict with the Jersey City Board of Education, Dr. Marcia Lyles has added charges to her lawsuit, claiming the board acted improperly when they gave her notice of non-renewal in January, and later in early February, relieved her of her duties as superintendent of schools.
The board voted on a resolution at its reorganization meeting in early January to not renew Lyles contract, which expires on June 30, 2020.
Lyles filed suit in federal court on Jan. 31, claiming her civil rights have been violated and that the board and the teachers’ union had created a hostile working environment.
In what some Lyles supporters believe may have been retaliation for the lawsuit, the board voted in early February to relieve Lyles of her duties, although the district will continue to pay her salary until the termination of her contract.
Lyles’ added more charges to her lawsuit on Feb, 19, claiming that the four board members who voted to remove her acted improperly because she had not been properly notified.
Under state law, a school employee must receive what is called a “Rice Letter,” which notifies the employee that his or her job will be discussed at a public meeting. This was not done for either the January non-renewal vote or when the board relieved Lyles of her duties in early February.
Board President Sudhan Thomas said that under advice of legal counsel, he could not comment on the ongoing suit. But prior to the filing of the suit, Thomas responded to questions about the lack of a Rice Letter by saying that the board voted without discussion.
Lyles’ original suit alleges that school board members – who had teachers union support to get elected – had conspired with the union to interfere with her job as chief administrator of the school district.
While Thomas claims Lyles mismanaged the school’s finances, Board Trustee Matt Schapiro argued that the loss of surplus in the budget was directly tied to loss of state aid, not mismanagement.
Thomas and other trustees who voted against Lyles also claim she hired a group of her allies to key positions, some of whom did not have proper Civil Service titles. The board fired eight employees last June.
Lyles defenders, including former board members, claim the attacks on her are designed to wrestle hiring power away from Lyles so the board can control job placement, in what her defenders see as a return to the bad old days of patronage that was one reason the state took control of the city school system in 1988.
Local control over the district wasn’t fully restored until October 2018.
The key position targeted, these former board members claim, is the head of Human Resources, with the hope of installing someone more friendly to the union.
Thomas argues that Lyles misled the school board about student performance.
“Students in the southern portion of the city, which are largely black and brown, are not showing the improvements that are being seen downtown and other parts of the city.” — Sudhan Thomas
Schapiro disputed this, claiming that under Lyles the district regained control of the district, and part of this was based on improvements to student test scores citywide.
Cathy Coyle, who served as state monitor for the Department of Education since 2015 and is considered an ally of Lyles, filed suit against the school board on Feb. 4, claiming the vote to relieve Lyles of her duties was done improperly because of lack of public notice about the meeting.
But a court ruled in the board’s favor provided they redo their vote at the Feb. 24 meeting.
The board voted also on Feb. 4 to have associate superintendents Franklin Walker and Ellen Ruane manage district operations until a permanent replacement can be found.
As of Feb. 21, however, Thomas said no search has begun to find a replacement for Lyles.
“We want to see Frankin and Ellen are going to do,” Thomas said, saying that he may propose that the job of superintendent be divided among two people, similar to the chancellor system in New York (where Lyles worked before coming to Jersey City.)
“There would be one superintendent for instructional duties, and another for non-instructional duties,” Thomas said. “This is my personal vision. I’m not certain the board will accept it.”
For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org