City Hall Tech Internship Had No Students

Kenneth Sumter


PATERSON, NJ - Last September, Paterson Public Schools sent Eastside High teacher Kenneth Sumter on a special assignment to City Hall to set up a technology internship for high school students, officials said. To give Sumter time to do that, they substantially cut his teaching workload, according to a state audit.
Five months later, after Sumter's City Hall work became embroiled in controversy, the school district scrapped Sumter's special assignment and restored his full class schedule. Over those five months, however, the school district never sent any students to City Hall or to any other city office to participate in the technology internship that Sumter was supposed to set up, education officials said.
What happened to the internship program? State-appointed Schools Superintendent Donnie Evans said Sumter first had to do some work on the city's technology system before the internship could begin.

During that time, Evans said he was not aware that Sumter became a city employee in September with  a $50,000 job as Mayor Jeffrey Jones' technology director as he continued to make $87,676 in salary and benefits from the school district. Sumter's city job, however, was not a secret in Paterson. Between September and late February, Sumter attended several public city meetings as a member of Jones' staff.
Sumter's two full-time Paterson government jobs triggered an audit by the New Jersey Department of Education's Office of Fiscal Accountability and Compliance as well as an in-house investigation by Paterson Public School. The state audit, which was made public last week, detailed the accommodations the school district made to allow Sumter "to attend his job with the city.'' Paterson Public Schools' investigation report will be released soon, according to Evans.
On Monday, the Board of Education is scheduled to vote on a "corrective action plan" in response to the state audit and district investigation regarding the Sumter situation. Sumter could not be reached for comment.
In April, Jones cut Sumter's city salary by $5,000 and downgraded his status from full- to part-time, a move that essentially meant he would be paid more money per hour. Sumter's wife, Shavonda, a candidate for State Assembly, had been Jones' campaign manager last year.
The disclosure that Sumter never got around to starting the City Hall technology internship raises questions about the school district's oversight of Sumter's special assignment:
*Who exactly at Paterson Public Schools was overseeing the teacher's work on the internship proposal? Does that person oversee other internships?
*Are there other instances in which teachers are assigned to internship programs in which they spend the majority of their time working outside their assigned schools and have their teaching workloads reduced?
*Did Sumter file any reports or memos with the school district about the proposed City hall technology internship program while he was working at City Hall?
*When exactly did school district officials expect to begin enrolling students in the City Hall technology internship? submitted these questions to Evans and his communication director on Friday, but has not yet received answers.
In an interview on Thursday, Evans said the school's district goal in sending Sumter to City Hall was two-fold. In addition to starting the internship, Evans said Sumter's assignment was designed as part of a proposed shared services agreement with the Jones administration. In return for Sumter's services, the city would assign on-duty police officers to patrol the schools - a move that was supposed to allow the district to save on the $500,000 it was spending to pay off-duty cops to patrol the schools, Evans said.
In September, the city and school district worked out a draft of the Sumter shared services agreement, Evans said. But Paterson Public Schools was not satisfied with the proposal, according to the superintendent. "It wasn't detailed enough,'' Evans said. 
So, while the city and school district continued working on the conditions of the deal, Sumter continued reporting for work at City Hall - an assignment that produced paychecks for him from both the school district and the city.
Almost five months later, on February 14, the city began providing the on-duty police patrols at the schools, fulfilling its side of the tentative shared service agreement. But at that point, neither the City Council nor the Board of Education had voted to approve the deal and no one had signed the document. 
By early April, however, the school district returned to the practice of hiring off-duty cops for school security and the city police department discontinued the on-duty patrols called for under the unapproved shared services agreement.

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