Sunday, July 20, 2008

Incompetence, Impotence and Baseless Charges

Other bloggers have challenged the Long Branch Advocate (now rated "Favorite" by Sophia's Mom!) to offer hard suggestions on how we could do a better job than Joseph “Mr. Visionary” Ferraina and the Long Branch Board of Education. Despite their preposterous premises that only Mr. Ferraina possesses a gift of management so enlightened and advanced to justify a compensation package of close to a third of a million dollars, the Long Branch Advocate has never shrunk from a challenge, even ones made by anonymous confederates of those doing harm to our community.

So, here goes:

Suggestion No. 1: Never name a school building after yourself or another living person. It invites disaster, puffs egos and belittles the work ethic that an honest day’s work earns one an honest day’s pay.

Suggestion No. 2: When running a major, multi-million dollar, urban, depressed school district, a nationwide search for the best and brightest candidates should be earnestly undertaken to fill vacancies for Superintendent and Principal positions. Internal candidates should only be hired if they are clearly the “best and brightest.” Candidates who do not possess an earned Doctorate in education or other appropriate field should not be considered for the Superintendent’s position or any Principal-level position at the Middle School or High School level.

Suggestion No. 3: Never personally benefit from holding elected or appointed office beyond just compensation due for services rendered. Free meals, trips, cars, drivers, insurance, personal pension plans, reimbursement for health expenses and the like SMACK of unjust compensation or collusion.

Suggestion No. 4: Excellent working relationships with municipal leaders must be developed and maintained at all times—just because the school is not run by the city does not mean that the two should not work as a team.

Suggestion No. 5: Nepotism is bad. Don’t hire your friends or family to positions in the school district and don’t pressure others to do so on your behalf. If a friend or family member is qualified to hold such a position, they will no doubt find work in another district without your intervention—and if they do a good job in that position they will likely hold it for many years without your help.

Then again, if a friend or family member needs your help in order to get a job you probably are doing more harm to society than good by pulling strings to get them public employment.

Suggestion No. 6: Just because you have the money, doesn’t mean you need to spend the money. It is bad enough that we are classified as an Abbott District—don’t make things worse by spending every possible dollar on things that are nice to have but are not required to have. School districts like ours don’t need three or more principals per school and multiple assistant superintendents for every function under the sun—just because you can afford it on the backs of taxpayers outside of the district.

Long Branch is a great town. If our schools and students NEED something, we should pay for it ourselves within our own means. If we are going to spend this kind of money in the schools we should have a better track record (graduation rates, No Child Left Behind ratings) to show for it.

Suggestion No. 7: Debate is good and healthy for democracy. Public discourse on matters of public decisions is imperative for the health of our republic. Dissent in the media or by members of the pubic should be actively engaged by those elected and appointed to offices of public trust—NOT crushed. Hiring local reporters and dissenters to silence all questions and commentary is contrary to the democratic ideal.

Having said that, this blog was silenced for a time due to the volume and variety of threats and challenges made by supporters of the people and programs we questioned online. We were guilty of silence when challenged once—but won’t be twice.

Suggestion No. 8: Publicly advertise the means and methods for citizens interested in running for seats on the Board of Education when the time for nominations arrives in the winter. Incumbents should not hide from competition. . . and the Board Secretary should not dodge responsibility for promoting participatory democracy.

Suggestion No. 9: Positions of employment within the School District should be strictly limited to those positions promoting student achievement and supporting the personnel systems that provide those positions. Promotion of elected officials, appointed officials or programs that are “nice” but not directly related to student achievement should be eliminated from service and barred from future use.

Suggestion No. 10: All paid employees who hold responsibility for the overall success of programs, schools or district operations should be paid an honest salary for honest work and then offered incentives for successful accomplishment of key benchmarks directly related to the positive advancement of student achievement. Such benchmarks should not be easily achieved or they should be included in the expectations of the base position.

So, for those naysayers out there who say we are all talk and no suggestion, here ya go. Fire away.

We will gladly respond to your efforts to discredit our participation in exercising our first


Anonymous said...

simple solution -- if superintendents are akin to corporate CEO's, as Long Branch superintendent Joseph M. Ferraina says of his own job, then pass a law that ALL school administrators' salaries and benefits be tied to performance, just like a CEO or company president's is. For example, if a school or district does not make annual yearly progress under No Child Left Behind for a certain amount of years in a row, THROW THE ADMINISTRATORS OUT! With a law like this, you'll see two things happen: (1) schools will get better, or (2) bad principals and superintendents will be out on their asses, and a new team can come in to make it better. Tieing performance metrics to these contracts will give school boards ammunition to get rid of underperforming administrators, rather than contiuing to give them chance after chance after chance. If a law like this this were in place, there would have been a whole new management team in Long Branch A LONG LONG LONG LONG TIME AGO.

Anonymous said...

Thank you...finally someone else sees the ineptitude of the LB school system...these issues are exactly why my daughter is now homeschooled!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow, things must be friggin TERRIBLE if homeschooling is the answer to ANY problem! What an awful solution!

Anonymous said...

Schools chief faces questions from state
Shore superintendent's business deals scrutinized
Monday, July 28, 2008
Star-Ledger Staff
In nearly four decades since he arrived at Long Branch public schools, Superintendent Joseph Ferraina has become one of the most effective, outspoken and best-paid school administrators in New Jersey.

Now, State Education Commissioner Lucille Davy has raised questions about a series of business dealings between Ferraina and both district employees and a prominent school board member, citing possible ethics violations.

Ferraina, for example, has owned three thoroughbreds in partnership with a Long Branch high school teacher and a retired school principal Ferraina had hired.

He bought his home, a block and a half off the ocean, from the parents of Rose Widdis, a prominent school board member who signed three lucrative additions to Ferraina's school contract, which is now worth more than $300,000 a year. He outfitted the home with tile from a store Widdis' family ran, and used a school plumber and contractors who have been hired by the school district.

Ferraina, 58, who has been superintendent for 14 years, said he has done nothing wrong. After 38 years in the tight-knit city, he said, it is inevitable for his public and private jobs to overlap.

"I know almost everybody," he said. "I could not go into anything with someone I don't know."

But last week Davy asked the Education Department's Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance to review a series of transactions to determine if they should be referred to the School Ethics Commission, the state entity that enforces conflict of interest statutes.

"In this case, it appears to me there could potentially be some ethical issues raised," she said.

Widdis said she had no role in Ferraina's transactions with her family, and said she had never acted improperly on the board.

"I never voted on anything that would have caused a conflict for me," said Widdis, adding she had "absolutely not" made money from the sale of her parents' home to Ferraina.

Ferraina denied his private transactions posed any conflict, saying he does not "directly supervise" any of the school employees he has dealt with privately, and adding he paid full price for the home and for any work school contractors have done for him.

State ethics regulations prohibit school officials from using their positions to "secure unwarranted privileges, advantages or employment" for themselves or family members, but do not explicitly bar administrators and board officers from doing work with employees or others they supervise.

The state's Code of Ethics for school board members prohibits using schools "for personal gain or for the gain of friends."

Kevin Garifine, a plumber who earns $55,000 as a Long Branch school employee, said his work on Ferraina's home was done after school hours and that he charged Ferraina his standard rate.

But Davy said the arrangement needed a closer look.

"There are questions," she said. "Do they really work off school time? Did anything else go on that could be in that unethical cone?"

Told of Davy's review, Ferraina had little comment. "She's the commissioner," he said. "Whatever she wants, I have no problem."

The review ordered by Davy comes at a time of increasing tension between the state and local administrators.

This spring, Davy, Gov. Jon Corzine and many Trenton lawmakers expressed outrage at the $740,000 retirement package for the long-time superintendent in Keansburg, which like Long Branch is one of the state's poorest and, thus, heavily subsidized by the state. The payout to the Keansburg official has been suspended pending a court challenge and renegotiation, and legislation to cut such perks is pending.

Ferraina's contract will pay him $233,000 this year with another $75,000 in benefits. Those benefits include $40,000 in sick day and vacation day credits, a $11,678 annuity contribution, and a $9,000 car allowance.

Widdis defended Ferraina's contract. "He's a very, very hard worker," she said. "He works very hard for the district. He's very dedicated."

As for his dabbling in horse ownership -- one, Sheer Silk, placed third Friday in a race at Monmouth Park in neighboring Oceanport -- Ferraina said it started two years ago at the invitation of a friend.

Since 2006, Ferraina and partners have bought three horses -- the others are Zephyr Cat and Cuban Larry -- each claimed for between $6,000 and $7,500. Ferraina said he covered most of the partnership's training expenses.

"I've been working all my life; I've been saving money since I was 19 years old," said Ferraina. "I can afford to spend a few dollars here and there and not have a problem with it."

Anonymous said...


This just in...

Ferraina referred to ethics board

Anonymous said...

The man has lost his mind. . . and from the looks of it, is about to lose his job, too.