PLEASANTVILLE — Department of Education officials introduced Lester W. Richens of Neptune as the new state-appointed monitor for the troubled Pleasantville Public Schools during the Board of Education’s Sept. 10 meeting.
Richens will take over for outgoing state monitor James Riehman, who has been with the district since 2009. Riehman’s last day is Sept. 13. Pleasantville has had a monitor since 2007.
“I’m looking forward to working with you,” Richens said. “Working together we can accomplish many things.”
Richens had served as a part-time monitor in the Garfield, Asbury Park and Trenton school districts and welcomes the move to full-time status in Pleasantville.
“I see potential here,” he said. “I plan to have a cooperative spirit and I hope board will have a cooperative spirit with me.”
The state appointed-monitor has the authority to overturn school board decisions.
Riehman thanked the board for working with him.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “It’s been longer than most monitors. We’ve kind of had our ups and downs and there have been situations between us.”
Riehman said he understands Board of Education members didn’t always liking having their decisions evaluated or sometimes overturned by a state-appointed monitor.
“I’d feel the same way,” Riehman said.
Though the Board of Education and Riehman disagreed during his tenure, he said he thinks the district has improved its situation since he came on board.
“I think you are moving in the right direction,” he said. “Progress has been made and will continue to be made with your cooperation.”
Richens takes over during uneasy times in the Pleasantville Public Schools district.
Though High School graduation rates increased last year, state mandated test scores results from students in the High School and Middle School continue to trouble district officials. Staff turnover rates remain far above New Jersey averages.
Last month, an audit completed by State Auditor Stephen M. Eells found the PleasantvilleSchool District’s Board of Education and administration “did not ensure the efficient and effective use of school district funds,” costing taxpayers millions of dollars in oversights.
Also in August, a state release indicated school board members falsified income statements so that their family members could receive reduced-price school lunches.
Coming up in November, Pleasantville voters will vote on a referendum to decide if future Board of Education members will be chosen by Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle or by popular vote.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Glen Forney, director of the state DOE Office of Finance.
Forney said Riehman was moved out of Pleasantville because he had reached the limits of service set by the division of pensions for former district officials.
“He was at the end of the line,” Forney said, adding the change in monitors had been decided months ago.
Forney said he was confident Richens would “look into all of the issues and work with the district to come up with a plan.”
Richens’ first opportunity comes quickly. He’ll take part in a special Board of Education meeting to be held at 6 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 17 when the board and district officials will discuss last month’s state auditor’s report.
“We will have monitors here until the district’s officials and Board of Education has the ability to carry on,” Forney said.
However, Forney would not indicate how much longer that would be.
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