The state monitor for the Pleasantville School District overstepped her authority when she refused to approve the school board’s choice of Clarence Alston as its new superintendent, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez has ruled.
The attorney for state monitor Constance Bauer had argued the law gives the monitor the power to oversee all school staffing.
But in a decision issued Friday, Mendez said state law specifically requires that a monitor’s decisions “must be grounded in fiscal reasoning.” It says Bauer’s decision was “woefully lacking of any fiscal rationale.”
Mendez specifically noted the law allowing for school monitors, the School District Fiscal Accountability Act, is different from the commonly called “Takeover Act,” under which the school board would cede all authority to a state monitor.
The decision marks a more than year-long conflict between school board members and the state monitor.
The board had attempted to hire Alston in May 2016, but only got four affirmative votes. The board voted again in August, and was able to get a five-vote majority for Alston, but the state monitor refused to approve him.
In a June 2016 memo to the board, Bauer said she did not believe he is “well suited to fit the needs of the Pleasantville School District.”
Instead, she appointed retired Wildwood Superintendent Dennis Anderson as interim superintendent.
The board last week approved Anderson as interim for another year, with a provision that allows for a 30-day exit clause if a permanent superintendent is named.
Alston had served as interim and then permanent superintendent in the district from 2006 to 2009, when his contract was not renewed by the district’s state monitor at that time, John Deserable, according to The Press of Atlantic City archives.
Alston’s attorney, David Castellani, said he will be in touch with the district’s attorney about obtaining a contract for Alston. He will also file to get Alston back pay for the last school year, plus reimbursement for legal costs. Alston also still has a discrimination complaint against the district and state monitor because of the monitor’s actions.
“It is ironic that the reason (the state) appoints a fiscal monitor is to save money, but now she is costing them money,” Castellani said.
Dan Gallagher, who represented the school board, said he would meet with members to discuss the decision and what action to take. He said one concern is who will pay the costs resulting from the decision.
He said under the law, the district pays the state monitor and her attorney, but he knows school board members will have questions about why they should have to pay for the monitor’s actions.
Bauer’s attorney, Sidney Sayovitz, could not be reached for comment. A state Department of Education spokesman said they do not comment on litigation.
Mendez also ruled that Alston did not have to first exhaust all administrative remedies to his complaint before going to court because the appointment of a superintendent “is undoubtedly a matter of great importance to the community of Pleasantville, which in this court’s opinion, greatly benefits from a resolution by the court.”