PATERSON, NJ – After more than 20 years as the principal at School 11, Paula Santana was transferred to a new job last summer.
City education officials put her in the new position of “principal on assignment” at the district’s administrative offices at 90 Delaware Avenue and they kept her annual salary at $143,156.
Now Santana is fighting to get her old job back and one of arguments in the legal petition she filed with the New Jersey Department of Education last September is that there was nothing to do in the new position.
“It became clear that she was simply being placed ‘out of the way’,” says Santana’s lawsuit, “as the new position had absolutely no duties or functions. While struggling to find productivity, the position is essentially to be away from the public eye.”
PatersonPress.com attempted to find out whether the circumstances of Santana's employment changed after she filed the petition. But no one would say. The district’s spokeswoman, Terry Corallo, declined to comment on Santana’s complaint, saying it remained in litigation. Santana and her attorney, William Koy, also declined to speak about the situation.
Santana’s petition highlights a practice that some city school officials call sending people to the “rubber room.’’ In short, it entails transferring educators whose performances may have come under question from their school positions and reassigning them to the district’s administrative offices.
At the start of this school year, Paterson Public Schools had eight people in the “principal on assignment” position and they were making a total of about $950,000. Not all of those individuals were doing a bad job in their previous positions, said school board members and education advocates. Moreover, not all the principal on assignment slots are do-nothing jobs, they say.
“Some of the principals on assignment are working real hard,’’ said Irene Sterling, president of the Paterson Education Fund, an advocacy group. Sterling cited Richard Sanducci Jr. who is working on district initiatives to improve attendance and the registration process.
School board member Errol Kerr said he saw the principal on assignment job as a “utility position.’’ The district tries to match each individual’s skills with tasks that need to be done, Kerr said.
School board president Christopher Irving said he was confident that the principals on assignment, including Santana, were being given productive duties. “You don’t collect all that money without doing anything,’’ Irving said.
The lowest salary among the eight principals on assignment is $120,909 and the highest is $145,996, according to district records provided to PatersonPress.com at the start of this school year. All of the eight principals have been put in the position during the past two years, according to the records.
Grace Giglio, head of Paterson’s Principals and Supervisors Association, said the union has raised some questions about the principal on assignment positions, but has not taken a position against or in favor of the practice of putting some of its members in those positions.
The district’s website includes a six-page description of the principal on assignment job, including a list of 34 functions and responsibilities. Most of them seem rather general, such as Number 5: “Serve as a role model for students, dressing professionally, demonstrating the importance and relevance of learning, accepting responsibility, and demonstrating pride in the education profession.”
In her petition, Santana said she requested a job description, but did not receive one.
Santana suffers from a respiratory disorder that requires her to carry oxygen with her, according to her legal filing. She alleges that an incident involving her disorder precipitated her removal as principal from School 11. She says a “breathing incident” forced her to leave a meeting with state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans in August 2011 and made it difficult for her to reschedule the session.
After the incident, Santana maintains in her petition that she became the target of harassment and retaliation. Santana alleges that for the first time in her career, one that started in Paterson schools more than three decades ago, she received a substandard evaluation.
The petition says Santana was notified of her transfer in June 2012 and that it took effect July 1. She was told her special assignment would be “compliance reporting,’’ according to the legal papers.
But Santana “objected to this new position as she has never had any compliance training in her career,” the petition said.
Santana calls the new assignment “an insult.”