Assembly Education Committee Discuss the “Limo Lady”, “Mother Lode”, “Gravy Trains”, and “”Stupid School Board Members” on June 12th
Sometimes a public issue takes on a life of its own and it seems that Keansburg superintendent contract is doing that and affecting all district superintendent contracts in New Jersey. I must warn you however that the discussion at the Assembly Education Committee did not just take the superintendents to task but school board members as well. Many board members have complained to me about legislators using these meetings as a “bully pulpit” unfairly criticizing school districts. While that is true and even Education Committee Chair Joseph Cryan said that we are “demi-godding it” he also said “that everyone is talking” about this issue and then along comes the revelation of a similar situation in Hoboken and now the legislators feel obligated to not only speak to the issue but do something about it. (Never a good thing) We cannot blame them on this one though for as Assemblyman Cryan said it is not just legislators who are talking about this it “is the type of thing that gets talked about in the Shop-Rite when you’re waiting for your cold cuts!” Not only is it on everyone’s mind but it will fuel other seemingly unrelated legislation such as moving school elections to November and school consolidation. As one legislator told me after the meeting I do not hear from my constituents on most issues but this one I am getting a lot of calls and e-mails.
While the superintendents are taking hits for asking for these excessive contracts with remarks by Assemblyman Cryan that alluded to the Keansburg superintendent as the “limo lady” (For those of you who are unaware Barbara Trzeszkowski the Keansburg superintendent is the same administrator who showed up at an Assembly Budget jearing in a stretch limousine asking for more state aid for her struggling district. This ironic episode is not lost on the legislators) and that her retirement was a “mother lode“. They did not spare their venom on school board members but in fact saved most of it for them. Assemblyman Joseph Malone wondered “How stupid can the school board members be?” to allow this contract and not contact their board attorney. Cryan followed this up with the fact that in both Hoboken and Keansburg, nine people agreed to these contracts which he can not fathom as he said “Fact of the matter is that people got elected to do the dam job and they didn’t do it!”.
We all know that legislators like to take credit for solving problems and I believe that this situation is no different and in fact it has been handed to them on a silver platter with little downside politically. What scares me is that this problem is fueling not only a solution to the excessive superintendent contracts but will lead to some other legislation in the area of school elections and consolidation as I stated earlier. Why do I believe this? First of all Commissioner Davy in responding to a discussion on the “market” for superintendents indicated that “our work on consolidation and shared services will – should help us address this issue” translation- lets consolidate districts and then we won’t need so many superintendents who are over paid. Assemblyman Cryan also remarked that those who are against the school board elections in November should know that the Keansburg board president received 214 votes. So it appears that the ramifications of these contracts will have far reaching affects.
There is only one thing that may stop this call for change and that is the legislature’s summer break. The legislature will break for the summer and not come back until September. I do not think however that this issue will go away since the DOE is now reviewing all superintendent contracts in the state. I believe they will release a report of what they found and this release is something that the newspapers love. It makes great copy because even little perks such as a district car can outrage a community and embarrass a school board and superintendent. School board members and superintendents will have a difficult job battling headlines so we better prepare now for the onslaught that will likely come.
One remark that stayed with me after the meeting was Assemblyman Cryan’s remark that superintendents seem to be on a “gravy train”. In my next blog I will discuss where he wants that “gravy train” to go and where it may go and what we need to do about it.