Ethics Complaints Headed to Court

Schools Chief at Odds with Some Board Members

Staff Report | Asbury Park Press

 PERTH AMBOY — A number of ethics complaints filed against city Board of Education members appear headed to hearings before a state administrative law judge following decisions announced Tuesday by the state School Ethics Commission.

Some of the ethics complaints brought by Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey against Board President Samuel Lebreault, Vice President Kenneth Puccio and board members Israel Varela, Milady Tejeda and Obdulia Gonzalez are slated to go before the judge. Some of the other charges against some board members were dismissed.

Caffrey, who on Saturday was placed on paid administrative leave by the school board, said the commission agreed with her that Lebreault, Varela and Puccio interfered with the day-to-day activities of the district, hiring and used their positions for personal gain for themselves and others. She said the ethics charges against Tejeda and Gonzalez will move forward with an administrative law judge hearing.

Caffrey, who was hired last year to lead reform in the district, has been at odds with the school board for months. This is the second time since April that the board has placed her on paid administrative leave.

According to the commission, the charges involving Lebreault relate to attempts to hire a bus driver who had confronted the superintendent, and his request that Caffrey provide him with employment information that he could give to the community before the job was posted.

Messages for Lebreault were not returned before this issue went to press.

The commission found probable cause that Puccio had violated school ethics law by expressing how he was appalled that two principals had reported his presence in the school as ambiguous because of his dual roles as a school board member and juvenile detective.

Puccio said he had not heard from his attorney about the ethics commission’s decision.

Varela was found to have violated school ethics law by attempting to block the hiring of a recommended bus driver in favor of another bus driver, for repeatedly entering a district school without signing in, and without approval in compliance with school safety procedures.


But Varela said he would walk away from the school board if someone can give him the name of one person he has tried to help secure a job for while serving on the school board. Varela said his wife has worked as a district teacher for 32 years and the couple has been married for 24 years.

“Give me one name of a family or friend,” he said. “I was in the Marine Corps when my wife got her job. It’s disgraceful to make fun of me and my family. I’m only a board member for three years.”

Upset with policy

Varela said Caffrey instituted a policy of board members not being allowed to enter school buildings without her permission.

But he has had a long-standing practice of taking his wife to lunch each day or bringing her lunch. His wife is a teacher at the Dr. Herbert N. Richardson 21st Century School. Because Varela works near the school, his wife sometimes would request that he pick up a special treat for her students.

“No other superintendent or principal had a problem. It was never addressed,” he said. “Over 20 years I’ve had lunch with my wife. Other husbands have lunch with their wives.”

Varela said any staff members he encounters during those visits usually just discuss updates of their families, people Varela has known for years. They don’t discuss school issues or the superintendent.

“That does not worry me at all, (having the ethics complaints) go to a hearing,” said Varela, who also faces a hearing for allegedly approaching a secretary at the Richardson School to advance a smear campaign against former Richardson Principal Al Cores, whose contract was not renewed by the school board following allegations of an alcoholic holiday drink being sold at the elementary school.

All counts of ethics complaints involving Gonzalez are scheduled to go to an administrative law hearing, but the commission’s decision does not detail what the ethics complaints involve. And one ethics complaint involving Tejeda is scheduled to go to court, but details about that complaint were not immediately available.

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