Sometimes people have problems largely of their own making that only they can overcome. That’s the case with the Pleasantville Board of Education and schools administration.
For years the district has been beset by financial irregularities, prompting the state Department of Education to require a fiscal monitor over the district for more than a decade. That alone should have convinced the board and administration to get their house in order.
Instead, the state found it necessary to appoint a second monitor, the board revealed a few weeks ago.
The state DOE had warned local officials in February that might be necessary — or even a state takeover of the district — in response to their wasting time on infighting over procedures and personalities. It had discussed with them issues that needed addressing, including unrecognized job titles, administrative spending caps, excessive legal costs and high administrative costs.
In his memo on appointing the new monitor, N.J. Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet noted the Pleasantville School Board again this year adopted a budget that required a staffing reduction but then failed to implement the reduction.
The board had tried over three meetings in May to approve the reduction in force — which targeted unrecognized titles like principal on special assignment and dean of students — but failed.
Since the state DOE had already approved Pleasantville’s budget based on the cuts, it had no choice but to step in and restore order.
Now, in addition to its operational and organizational problems, the Pleasantville district must pay the salaries of two state monitors who shouldn’t be necessary.
A state takeover seems like it might be next, but there are signs that key people in Pleasantville, within and outside the school system, recognize they’ve got one last chance to put things right and avoid that.
City Councilman and former school board member Lawrence “Tony” Davenport put it succinctly: “If we don’t step up and straighten ourselves out, it’s going to be a takeover.”
At a June school board meeting to again consider the reduction in force, board attorney James Carroll told members, “The state has made it very clear that if the board fails to vote on it tonight, it is likely to be a state takeover. … If it doesn’t get approved, a lot more people are going to lose their jobs.”
The school board finally approved the reduction it had committed to, cutting two principals on special assignment, two deans of students and nine others.
School board President Carla Thomas said she was “glad that is over with and we can move forward with the district.” Carroll said board members are ready to show the state that members could work together to do what’s needed.
We hope so.
The administration of Gov. Phil Murphy doesn’t like school takeovers and will try to avoid taking full responsibility for Pleasantville schools. But if Pleasantville officials don’t restore the necessary level of professionalism, the state will have no choice.
Those officials seem to have looked into the abyss and stepped away from it.
Good. The path forward is pretty obvious — focus more on the educational needs of Pleasantville’s children, even if it requires putting aside one’s own interests.
The state has given Pleasantville another chance. It might be the last.