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Congressman’s Daughter Got School District Promotion Despite Suspended Driver’s License

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Great Falls Academy is one of the schools that Nicole Payne oversees.
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PATERSON, NJ – Nicole Payne got some good news over the summer. The daughter of a long-time New Jersey congressman received a promotion from Paterson Public Schools, an appointment to the $113,630 position of interim Director of Non-Traditional Programs. She oversees Paterson’s four alternative education schools.

But Payne also got some bad news over the summer.  The state suspended her driver’s license for three years effective July 10, according to motor vehicle records.

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The penalty resulted from summonses she received in April in Jamesburg for driving with a suspended license and for not installing an ignition interlocking device on her vehicle, a requirement that stemmed from a previous driving under the influence conviction in an August 2011 incident in Bloomfield, the records show.

PatersonPress.com, which confirmed Payne’s suspended driving status through a series of Open Public Records Act requests, asked Paterson Public Schools spokeswoman Terry Corallo how the director travels among the four alternative schools she supervises while her license is suspended. Corallo said Payne is “currently taking public transportation or cabs (or walking) when necessary to perform her responsibilities for the district.’’

When asked in an email whether the district was reimbursing Payne for cab fare and other travel expenses, Corallo did not respond.

The school district’s job description for the alternate education director’s position lists having a “valid driver’s license with no serious infractions” as one of the requisite qualifications. Corallo did not respond when asked in an email how Payne was given the promotion when she did not meet the driver’s license criteria.

Board of Education President Christopher Irving was caught off guard when asked about Payne’s driving status by PatersonPress.com, saying he was unaware of the situation. Irving said he would ask state-appointed superintendent Donnie Evans whether he knew of Payne’s suspension, and if he did, why he had not informed school board members.

“It certainly creates a level of concern,’’ said Irving. The board president also said of Payne: “She’s good at what she does.’’

Corallo would not say whether Payne had alerted the district about her suspended license. “Traffic violations (non-criminal) do not need to be reported to the district,’’ Corallo said.

Corallo said, “in speaking with Ms. Payne, this is a one year suspension.’’ But information provided by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission indicates otherwise. The records say Payne’s license has been suspended 365 days for not installing the ignition interlocking device and for 730 days for driving while her license was suspended. Those penalties are supposed to be served consecutively, and Payne would not be eligible to have a valid license until 2015, according to the records.

Payne also received a summons for driving without insurance when she was issued the other two violations in Jamesburg earlier this year, the records show.

Corallo did not respond when asked whether Payne has had use of a district-owned vehicle during her employment in Paterson.

District officials have been quick to praise Payne’s performance. In the summer, when asked about the promotion, Corallo said, “Leaders like Nicole Payne are tremendous assets for this district.  The alternative education students she serves have truly benefited from her compassion, patience, and guidance.’’

Payne did not respond to a message left on her office voice mail. It’s not clear how the East Orange resident commutes between Essex County and Paterson. Public transportation is available between the two cities.

Payne’s main office is at YES Academy at 45 Smith Street, a short walk from the Paterson train station and near many bus stops. In addition to YES, she also supervises Destiny Academy at 47 State Street, Great Falls Academy at 11 22nd Avenue and Silk City Academy at 151 Ellison Street. The longest distance between any of those schools is about a mile.

While Payne’s director’s job is an “interim” appointment, her permanent job title with the district is principal of the YES and Destiny academies. The promotion, which became effective July 1, raised Payne’s salary by about $13,000.

Payne came to Paterson several years ago. Prior to that, she worked from 1997 to 2008 for Essex Regional Educational Services Commission, where she served as a teacher, supervisor, vice principal and principal at various alternative education schools, according to her resume. Payne, who was born in 1974, got her B.A. from Michigan State University and her Masters from Montclair State University, her resume says.

Payne’s father, Donald Payne Sr., died in March. A former Newark councilman, Donald Payne had become New Jersey’s first black congressman in 1989 and continued serving in the House until his death. His son and Nicole’s brother, Donald Payne Jr., won this week’s election for the congressional seat.

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