Education in the Media
Chris Cerf's Rescue of Perth Amboy Superintendent Gives Mediation a ChanceMay 11, 2012
It was a relief when acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf came to the rescue of Perth Amboy’s embattled superintendent, Janine Caffrey, by reinstating her to her job.
The school board was way out of line in removing Caffrey in the first place. To get the flavor of this fight, know that the man leading the charge against her, board president Samuel Lebreault, is under investigation because he applied to get free lunches for his kids in school, even though he knew he didn’t qualify. Caffrey says he also repeatedly pressed her to make patronage hires and was furious when she refused.
One more snippet: One of the board’s complaints against Caffrey is that she wrote an op-ed that appeared in The Star-Ledger outlining how the state’s antiquated tenure law hurts students. So it seems that speaking your mind on a public issue is, for this school board, a firing offense.
Now this fight enters its next phase. Our hope is that both sides can put aside the poisonous personal feelings and focus on the welfare of the students by embracing the peace offerings from the state-appointed mediator, Michael Osnato, former superintendent of Montclair schools.
Caffrey has put in place reforms that deserve more time to play out. She has been in her post for less than a year, and all her major policy changes have been approved by the board. The board needs to give her more time.
For her part, Caffrey could call a cease-fire in her criticism of the board. She was courageous to speak out on tenure, and she has every right to feel indignant toward the board over her treatment. But this is a time for diplomacy and conciliation.
A cease-fire is more likely to hold if she and board members show restraint.
The real resolution of this conflict should come in November, when four of Caffrey’s leading critics on the board face re-election. This case perfectly illustrates the hazards presented by the toxic politics that all school reformers face. It is a screaming argument in favor of mayoral control of urban schools.
But for now, our hope is that Caffrey is allowed to do her job, at least until November, when the voters of Perth Amboy can render their verdict.