RARITAN TWP., NJ – Dr. Johanna Ruberto was approved by the Flemington-Raritan School District board at its regular meeting yesterday to become its Interim Superintendent. She'll start in the job on July 3.
But that’s not the only change coming to the K-8 school district, and some of the controversies that have plagued the district remain.
Raritan Township resident Mitchelle Drulis told the board she thought yesterday was “a refreshing change” from previous meetings of the school board that she’d attended. Fellow township resident Ron Tonge said the change in its “tone and tenor .. and the interaction with the community” was “very positive and I appreciate it very much.”
Board President Anna Fallon left the meeting about 15 minutes after the public session began, citing a “work-related issue.” In her absence, Dr. Dennis Copeland chaired the meeting.
In a sharp departure from previous meetings, Copeland dispensed with the time limit imposed on members of the public who chose to speak.
Copeland also told the public that in response to its questions, unless additional research is needed, “if a question is raised and we have an immediate response from any member of the board, counsel or the individual in the superintendent’s seat we will provide a response immediately.”
Previously, the board’s agendas stated the public comment period “is not a forum for the Board to respond ... However, the board will certainly give all comments appropriate consideration.”
Robert Hunter Elementary School Principal Dr. Kathleen Suchorsky said that when the district’s previous Superintendent Dr. Maryrose Caulfield was relieved of her duties by the board on June 13, “I thought this abuse had ended.”
The remark referred to the allegations of retribution and secrecy that have plagued Caulfield and have been aired in public meetings for months.
But Suchorsky said Caulfield appears to still be on the job in the district, and cited a critical performance evaluation that Caulfield rendered on June 22 to which Suchorsky objected.
For nearly two years while working under Caulfield, Suchorsky said she “endured repeated false accusations, verbal and mental abuse.” And with her still on the job, Caulfield “has contributed to emails, harassment and berating staff,” she said.
In the past, Caulfield “used her position to obstruct public records, by instructing IT staff to covertly recall and delete incriminating emails she had sent harassing and falsely accusing staff,” Suchorsky said. She said her union’s attorney is “ready to sue the Board of Education for this continued abuse and unfair treatment.”
Township resident Sue Mitcheltree, who had previously asked that Caulfield be put “on immediate administrative leave,” asked the board if it was true that Caulfield still had district email access and an active district swipe card.
“Yes, she does,” answered Stephanie Voorhees, the Board Secretary who the school board ostensibly named as Acting Superintendent after Caulfield’s resignation.
Fellow township resident Rachael White criticized the “lack of transparency” regarding Caulfield’s resignation.
White said she was “under the impression” that Caulfield was “relieved of her duties as superintendent,” as TAPinto previously reported. “I feel misled, manipulated, again,” she said.
But board attorney John B. Comegno II said that Caulfield was “relieved of duties, but her employment did not terminate.”
“These issues are being addressed and are being immediately addressed,” Comegno answered. “Certain personnel items ... we cannot discuss publically, as you know. We are hearing your concerns.”
School board member Christopher Walker repeated his call for “a change in board leadership ... I again urge my board colleagues to support change in the seat of board president.” He asked that embattled Board President Anna Fallon voluntarily step down as president.
Fallon is presently the target of an effort to have her recalled in a public vote.
Walker’s request was met with loud applause. When it subsided, board member Sandra Borucki revealed a “petition that calls for the immediate resignation” of Fallon as board president. She said five people signed the petition, but she didn’t identify them.
Board member Tim Bart said that under district policy, Fallon’s resignation as president “can only be voluntary,” but added, “We need a fresh start. This is the time.”
Bart said Fallon is an experienced and important member of the board; he seeks only her resignation as Board President, and not her resignation from the school board itself.
“I hope she is able to consider this public request that is not easy to do, but it is for the betterment of Flemington-Raritan and this school board,” Bart said.
Reached by email this morning, Fallon said, “I have not seen the petition, nor do I know who signed it. No one from the Board contacted me prior to the meeting to inform me of their intended actions.
“It’s unfortunate that they chose to make this announcement publicly, without the courtesy of a private conversation,” Fallon wrote. “I remain committed to the district, and to making decisions in the best interest of our school community.”
“Where there’s anger, there’s usually fear and hurt. So let’s start getting rid of it,” said Ruberto, who was warmly welcomed to her new post at the start of the meeting. She’s expected to serve as Interim Superintendent through next June.
Ruberto said that with her, “What you see is what you get ... There’s no magic with mirrors. There’s no lofty talk.”
Ruberto said that notwithstanding her formal education and advanced degrees, “The lessons I learned to be an effective educator were the lessons I learned at the dinner table as a child.”
“I work for teachers and administrators because they’re the front line,” she said, but “I have never made a decision that wasn’t good for kids. I’ve made decisions that people didn’t like, but I’m not standing here before you for likeability.” Instead, Ruberto said she’s, “Here for trust” and to “earn your work ethic.”
Ruberto quoted Mother Teresa.
“Let’s begin. Let’s just begin,” Ruberto said. “I’ll give it my best shot.”
Referring to her 42 years of experience in 10 different school districts, Ruberto – whose children attended the district – said she has “never had an issue. Capiche?”
Ruberto is completing her present post as Interim Superintendent in the Hunterdon Central High School district.