New Jersey state government appoints monitors to oversee local government entities when they have demonstrated they cannot responsibly manage their affairs.
The monitor is supposed to allow the state and public to see what’s going on and help the entity move in the right direction.
In Pleasantville, the school district has not improved adequately under its state monitors. The current monitor’s actions have needlessly cost the district money and undermined public awareness.
The Pleasantville School District got its first state monitor in 2007 under the then-new School District Fiscal Accountability Act.
Despite some of the highest per-pupil costs in the region, Pleasantville schools perform poorly on various measures and the school board and administration have been hobbled by seemingly endless political and personal infighting.
Despite state oversight, an audit in 2013 found gross overspending by the district and a lack of program and financial oversight. The turmoil was evident in the constant personnel turnover, including 11 superintendents and seven human resources directors in 10 years.
No question the district needs at least monitoring. Maybe the state should consider the next step, a temporary takeover.
But meanwhile, state monitor Constance Bauer has been creating problems herself.
Last year, the board attempted to rehire Clarence Alston as superintendent. After two tries over a couple of months, barely enough board members supported the rehiring to proceed.
Bauer then sent the board a memo saying Alston did not fit the district’s needs and would not be approved. She instead appointed a retired Wildwood superintendent on an interim basis.
Alston sued, and Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled Bauer failed to ground her decision not to hire Alston in the fiscal reasoning required by the act that permits monitors. The board now has offered Alston a three-year contract and his attorney is pursuing back pay, legal costs and damages of as much as $400,000.
We’re a bit puzzled why a previous state monitor was able to not renew Alston’s contract, but Bauer couldn’t reject a new contract. Maybe there’s a difference in the situation or the basis for the action provided by the monitor — it’s hard to tell.
Which points to a troubling practice by Bauer: She makes it difficult to see what she’s doing and why she’s doing it, which is crucial to understand the district and efforts to rehabilitate it.
The School District Fiscal Accountability Act and Bauer’s contract require her to report monthly to the board of education and the public. She doesn’t. She just sends letters and memos to the board, and instead of even making those public, she says it’s up to the board and administration to put them into the public record.
This is unacceptable. The district needs more transparency and accountability, not less.
And yet, despite these obvious failings by Bauer, the state education commissioner reappointed her at the end of last month.
We think the state needs to better monitor its school district monitors.