Pleasantville school board monitor reinstates suspended superintendent

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PLEASANTVILLE – Less than 24 hours after the Board of Education voted Tuesday to place School District Superintendent Garnell Bailey on paid leave, school district monitor James Riehman reversed the decision.

Bailey returned to work Thursday, Feb. 14 after Riehman, who was appointed by the state Department of Education to oversee the district and has the authority to overturn board decisions, reversed the board Wednesday.

“I have no comment at this time,” Bailey said Thursday morning.

The board had placed Bailey on paid administrative leave effective immediately at its Feb. 12 meeting.

“All nine on the Board of Education have been elected by the people of Pleasantville,” Board Vice President Joanne Famularo said in a phone interview Thursday. “Five of them, their voices have been silenced.”

Bailey was suspended by a 5-4 vote with new President Darleen Bey-Blocker, Famularo and recently-elected members Tony Davenport, Jerome Page and Michael Bright voting for the suspension.

Board members Maria Vazquez, Ethel Seymore, Ketsy Alicea and Paul Moore Jr. voted against.

“For the record, I need more information before I can make a decision,” Alicea said. “Therefore I am voting no.”

The vote followed a 90-minute executive session that Bailey did not attend.

“You see the process,” Bailey said as she left the meeting. “We have a learnable, teachable moment. Let the process take its course.”

The board immediately approved the appointment of former district employee Patricia Sofia as acting superintendent, but that appointment was overturned by the monitor as well.

“I do not know who this person is,” Alicea said before casting a no vote.

Bey-Blocker cited no reason for the board’s decision to place Bailey on leave. However, Page said after the meeting that Bailey was put on leave pending the results of an investigation that should take about two weeks to complete.

He declined to elaborate further.

The investigation apparently has been reversed by the monitor as well.

The board session was adjourned when Bailey’s supporters shouted from the audience and rushed the microphone to voice their disapproval as several city police officers stood by.

“You all follow your master board leader,” board member Moore said as some board members left after the vote to adjourn.

Earlier in the meeting, the board had approved hiring a special council to oversee an investigation. However, the board did not indicate in public who would be investigated.

Once the vote was cast, the meeting atmosphere grew increasingly chaotic. People loudly shouted their feelings of disapproval for the board’s actions.

“There are many differences of opinion in this room,” Bey-Blocker said. “I hope it’s about the children.”

Within minutes, Bey-Blocker called for a vote to adjourn.

Several members of the seven-member City Council also attended the meeting.

“You are in violation of the Sunshine Law,” City Councilman Lincoln Green shouted as the meeting ended. “You are in violation of the Sunshine Law because you did not have a public comment session.”

“You have embarrassed the city of Pleasantville,” Councilman William Christmas said after Green had moved from in front of the microphone.

Council President Judy Ward and Councilman Gus Harmon also attended, as did longtime school board member Doris Graves.

Maria Vazquez, who was appointed to the school board late last year, attempted to continue the meeting by encouraging other people up to the microphone to speak.

Lisa Brown, a former secretary to the three assistant high school principals, agreed with the decision to place Bailey on leave.

Brown said she was fired in early January after she contacted state education officials about excessive spending in the school district.

“They are hiring family members as secretaries and paying them $15,000 to $20,000 more a year than me,” she said. “Everybody was getting raises.”

She said she contacted state officials because “I care for the children.”

Brown said she was fired because she was a whistleblower and has since filed a lawsuit against the school district. She said she worked in the district for more than a year and never had a bad performance evaluation.

“Bailey called me a troublemaker and fired me on the spot,” she said.

Bailey was hired as interim superintendent on Sept. 28, 2011 after the board had placed Superintendent Gloria Grantham on paid leave pending the investigation of her handling of a mold remediation project at LeedsAvenueSchool.

Grantham’s star faded in the district in 2011 as she dealt with a large amount of staff layoffs necessitated by huge cuts in state funding.
Before working in Pleasantville, Bailey served as superintendent in the PlainfieldSchool District.

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