Education

Questions Arise Over City School Officials' Plans to Go to New Mexico For Training

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The El Dorado Hotel in Santa Fe is where the Houston-based Center for Reform of School Systems is supposed to hold various training programs this month.
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PATERSON, NJ – State-appointed schools superintendent Donnie Evans and all nine members of the Board of Education have been planning to go to New Mexico this weekend for a training session that officials say would not be paid for with taxpayers’ money.

But despite repeated inquiries from PatersonPress.com during the past several days, district officials have not revealed exactly where the $25,000 to cover the cost of the trip to Santa Fe would come from.

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And now the trip itself is in doubt, largely because the state education department has questions about the way the district would pay for the trip, according to city school officials.

The school board authorized the trip at its meeting on July 12 and officials were planning to fly to New Mexico on Thursday and return to New Jersey on Monday. The board’s agenda said the trip would “be funded by private revenues not connected to the general fund budget, tax levy, state or federal funds.’’

The training is being provided by the Houston-based Center for Reform of School Systems as part of its Reform Governance in Action program. In addition to the Paterson contingent, groups from Syracuse and Buffalo, N.Y. also are supposed to attend, Evans said at last week’s board meeting.

The training, among other things, is supposed to help the superintendent and board members learn ways to work together better, officials said. In fact, it’s not clear how much longer Evans will be working with the Paterson school board. His contract expires next month and the state has not announced whether it will be renewed. Evans’ contract has a clause that requires he receive such notification by July 30.

The board’s vote last week in favor of the Santa Fe trip was unanimous. In addition to Evans and the nine board members, one other high-ranking district official is on the list of potential attendees, according to district spokeswoman, Terry Corallo. But that official’s identity was not released.

Paterson Schools Commissioner Jonathan Hodges said he learned Tuesday night that the state education department may force the district to cancel the trip. Hodges argued that the education department’s intervention wasn’t fair because Trenton has demanded that the school board “expand its capacity” before the district returns to local control, but he said the state hasn’t provided the training for board members to do that.

“This is vital training,’’ said Hodges. “How can they (the state) stand in the way of that?’’

“He’s doing what they’re not doing,’’ Hodges said of Evans’ plan for the Santa Fe training conference.

Last summer, board members were not so sure they wanted to be part of the Center for Reform training program.

Evans first proposed the idea at the Aug. 17, 2011 board meeting and the commissioners refused to approve it, saying they needed more information. A week after that, the board approved the district’s participation in the program by a 4-3 vote, with two members abstaining. Those who voted against it said they did not think it was a good use of the district’s limited resources.

At that time, district documents indicated the training program would cost $280,000 over the course of two years.  Participants would attend “four institutes and 10 on-site work sessions over a 24-month period,’’ the board’s resolution said.

It was not clear whether the scope of the training had been significantly scaled down since the original plan, or if the Santa Fe trip was supposed to be part of the overall $280,000 expenditure.

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