Education in the Media
State Education Chief Orders Perth Amboy Superintendent be Reinstated ImmediatelyMay 8, 2012
PERTH AMBOY — Embattled Perth Amboy schools Superintendent Janine Caffrey will be back on the job today after acting state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf overturned a vote by the local school board last month to remove her.
In a letter to the board and Caffrey, dated today, Cerf said the decision to place the superintendent on paid administrative leave lacked sufficient votes. The nine-member board voted, 4-0, on April 25 to remove Caffrey. Five board members abstained, four of whom cited conflicts because they have relatives employed by the Middlesex County district.
"I find the majority of the nine-member board must have voted in favor of the action in order for the board to appropriately place (Caffrey) on administrative leave," Cerf wrote in his letter in which he granted Caffrey’s request for immediate reinstatement.
"It definitely feels good," Caffrey said today.
Cerf also acknowledged the ongoing disupute between Caffrey and the board and offered a mediator to help resolve the discord.
In voting to remove Caffrey, the board listed 22 charges, including giving interviews to the media, damaging staff morale, failing to give the board necessary information and accusing board members of pushing their friends for district jobs.
Caffrey, who called the charges "baseless," said her return to work may be rocky.
"I know that the fight is just beginning," she said. "At least I can get back to doing my job for the children."
Board President Samuel Lebreault said he was aware of Cerf’s decision, but declined to comment until he had more time to review it. Calls to other board members were not returned.
Board members met again Monday night, and took a second vote to remove Caffery, this time invoking a "doctrine of necessity," a state regulation allowing members to vote despite conflicts.
The board then listed 24 charges against the outspoken superintendent and voted, 6-0, to place her on leave. This time, three members abstained, saying the quickly called special session may have violated state regulations for government meetings.
Cerf gave the board until noon Monday to file a brief supporting its April 25 vote.
"If the board believes any subsequent action alters this result, it will have to make such argument by way of a motion," Cerf said.
Caffrey has been a vocal proponent of the same brand of education reform Cerf and Gov. Chris Christie have been advocating. Both camps agree teacher tenure should be based on student performance in the classroom and that a practice known as ‘last-in, first-out’, which protects senior teachers from layoffs, should be abolished.
The proposed reforms, however, have been unpopular with Perth Amboy’s teachers union and school board, both of which have accused Caffrey of forcing changes upon them rather than working together. Caffrey’s unwavering support for the reforms — which she has said stem from personal experience with ineffective teachers — has alienated her from her staff.
At the April 25 meeting, Perth Amboy district staff cheered when the board placed Caffrey on leave.
Cerf acknowledged the dispute between Caffrey and the board and offered a mediator to resolve the discord.