PATERSON, NJ – Former Board of Education President Theodore “TJ” Best has taken a $75,000 job as Paterson Public Schools’ interim Supervisor of Special Projects.
Best, who serves as a Passaic County Freeholder, started work on Monday. In the spring, he had been retained as a consultant who helped craft the district’s “Transformation Plan.’’ That contract was for $30,000. He now fills a new full-time position in the district’s communications department at a time when the state-appointed superintendent, Donnie Evans, is trying to cut administrative costs by 25 percent over the next two years.
“Something is wrong about this,’’ said school board member Errol Kerr. “This was not part of the structure that the superintendent told us about. I don’t think the superintendent has adequately communicated this to the board.’’
“I have mixed feelings about this,’’ said school board member Corey Teague. “I don’t have anything against TJ personally, I respect him. But I have questions for Dr. Evans and what he’s trying to accomplish with this. To me, it doesn’t make sense.’’
School board member Manuel Martinez acknowledged there would be a “negative public perception” of Best’s hiring. “Some people are going to think it’s favoritism,’’ said Martinez. “But TJ is a qualified and capable individual. He knows the inner workings of the district. He has done well for the district and I think he will continue to do well for the district.’’
The job description provided by the district says the Special Projects supervisor “will provide broad range support to the district by overseeing a wide variety of Board of Education projects and events and by playing an active role in the district’s efforts to utilize online media channels to effectively communicate with a culturally diverse public. The Special Projects Supervisor will have an in-depth understanding of website design and digital technology, and will help to lead the school district’s exploration and usage of new media/social media tools to facilitate two-way communication with key stakeholders.’’
But district spokeswoman Terry Corallo, who will be Best’s supervisor, said he will not work on the social media project. Instead, she said he will focus his effort on helping the district regain local control through the state’s Quality Single Accountability Continuum process, also known as QSAC.
“Having previous Board experience, Mr. Best is a resident expert for our district on QSAC,’’ said Corallo. “As you know, returning local control has been a key district focus, and our ability to do so will be tied to the upcoming QSAC evaluation (in October). Mr. Best will be working on this for the next few months as we re-evaluate the Supervisor position and go through a formal hiring process (not likely until November).’’
Corallo added that the supervisor’s position “was always intended to be more than managing social media – it was always written as one that will manage special Board projects.’’
Kerr questioned the wisdom of hiring someone to work on QSAC because the state education department has made it clear that it will be changing that process. “Why do we need to hire somebody to manage something that’s already considered dead?’’ Kerr asked. “Don’t give us that lame argument. Find some other excuse if you want to give someone a job.’’
Last month, the district had picked someone else for the communications department supervisor’s job. But officials decided not to hire that person when they learned he had inappropriate postings on his MySpace page.
“Since we were unsuccessful filling this role, we went back to our pool of applicants,’’ Corallo said, “and made a decision based upon an upcoming priority project – QSAC.’’ Best was among the original field of applicants, according to Corallo.
Kerr said the district should have sought a new pool of applicants when the focus of the job duties changed from social media to QSAC.
Corallo said more than 20 people applied for the job when the opening was originally posted in March.
Peter Tirri, president of the Paterson Education Association, the union that represents city teachers. said he doubted the hiring process was fair.
“Let’s be clear here, what they’re doing is giving somebody’s buddy a job,’’ said Tirri. “He’s a politician and he’s getting a job.’’
“One of the reasons we were taken over by the state was there was too much nepotism and political interference in the district,’’ Tirri added.