Published in the Courier News, Friday, November 9, 2007
Three Plainfield school officials submit resignations
Interim superintendent, business administrator and assistant superintendent
site [sic] compensation in letter to school board.
By BRANDON LAUSCH
PLAINFIELD -- Five months after the city's top school administrators suddenly resigned from the district, three replacements have told Board of Education members they are prepared to leave their posts over a private contractual dispute.
In a joint letter sent Wednesday to school board members, Interim Superintendent Peter E. Carter, Interim Business Administrator Michael Donow and Interim Assistant Superintendent Walter Rusak -- who also serves as high-school principal -- said "it appears that we have been unable to come to an agreement on the time required to adequately perform the duties inherent in these positions."
In the letter, obtained Thursday night by the Courier News, the district heads say they "agonized many hours and many days" following an Oct. 16 business meeting that "ended in an abrupt adjournment without the courtesy of at least recognition of our request for compensation for some of our plus forty work week hours."
"The message sent to us by the Board was clear," the letter states. "We are perplexed as to what may have caused such disrespect."
To ensure a smooth transition for the more than 6,000 children who attend Plainfield's 13 public schools, Carter, Donow and Rusak said the resignations will take effect Dec. 31 instead of within the next 10 days, as their contract allows. The search for a permanent superintendent is expected to end in February.
When Carter and Donow were appointed, officials said Carter would receive $850 a day for his service, while Donow would earn $700 a day. Carter, Donow and Rusak could not be reached for comment. City schools were closed Thursday and will remain that way today because of the New Jersey Education Association convention in Atlantic City.
Board President Patricia Barksdale, who early Thursday night was returning home from a trip, said, "I don't have anything that supports any resignations." She did not return a subsequent phone call. Other board members and a district spokesman did not return messages.
Former Superintendent Paula Howard resigned June 6. Just days later, the Board of Education hired Carter as interim superintendent, and he took the post June 11. The district has an interim school business administrator/board secretary because Victor Demming left the district in June, and has other interim posts because several of Howard's cabinet members were found to be uncertified for their jobs.
In the five months since Carter took control of the district, he repeatedly has underscored a "post-6/11" mindset he said he has instilled in city educators. In a recent community forum designed to address low scores Plainfield's schools received this year in a stinging state monitoring report, Carter assured residents that administrators have quickly responded to deficiencies identified by the state, improved teacher morale and worked to incorporate parents into the educational process.
The state report, released in August and known as the NJ Quality Single Accountability Continuum, revealed the district scored below 50 percent in four of five key areas. The analysis was one in a series of state evaluations that have placed schools in Plainfield, an Abbott district, below federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards.
Though Carter, Donow and Rusak said they "have been forced to sever our ties" with the school board, Carter said he will be making several suggestions at upcoming board meetings to ensure "important initiatives" aimed at meeting education guidelines continue after his departure.
Those suggestions will come during Tuesday's work and study session, followed by "recommendations for action" at the board's Nov. 20 meeting, according to the letter.
"It has been, and continues to be, our pleasure to be a catalyst in the vast improvement of the Plainfield Public Schools," the letter concludes.
Brandon Lausch can be reached at (908) 707-3175 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.