Corey Booker Takes on NJEAOctober 2, 2008
UmbrageOctober 6, 2008
For a fine example of how New Jersey clobbers a flea with an uzi, take a look at this story in today’s Star-Ledger regarding the administrators in Freehold Regional School district who got raises based on bogus college degrees.
Here’s the course of events: first, three administrators from Freehold, including Superintendent H. James Wasser, sent in resumes, wrote two-page papers, and were awarded doctoral degrees from a diploma mill called Breyer University. Next they filed for the raises and tuition reimbursements called for in their contracts. These monies were duly awarded. When word leaked out about the fraudulent degrees, Wasser refused to apologize (he did give back the salary increase but is apparently holding onto the tuition costs) while affronted taxpayers and legislators demanded action. Commissioner of Education Lucille Davy was called on the carpet by the Chair of the State Senate’s Education Committee, Shirley Turner, who raged,
It is unfortunate and regretful that we have school administrators enriching themselves by securing phony doctoral degrees through means which render them guilty of nothing short of educational malpractice…It has to stop. And I am sure there is sufficient sentiment in the Legislature and in our communities that it will stop.”
And lickety-split, a new bill is before the State Senate that would, well, bar conniving administrators from collecting entitlements based on fraudulent graduate degrees.
Um, didn’t we skip a step? Specifically, where in this process are the members of the Freehold Board of Education, who are responsible for hiring Wasser in the first place, then approving the salary hike and tuition reimbursement? With all due respect, didn’t one board member out of nine bother to google Wasser’s resume? Didn’t one board member think it odd that a full-time administrator could earn a Ph.D. in less than a year?
The Freehold Board, for whatever reason, blew it bigtime. There will no doubt be some turnover in that board come Election Day in April, and remaining board members would be well-served by exercising appropriate due diligence. But for this we need a new piece of legislation that instructs school board members not to be stupid? Intoned Senate President Dick Codey,
This is a matter, if we allow it to go unchecked, will undermine the foundation of our educational system. At the very least, we have a very serious case of misrepresentation on our hands, and at the worst, you may be looking at fraud.
Let’s not get carried away here. Such slip-ups are part of the charm of home rule. We love our small learning communities that reflect each town’s individuality, but the payback is the risk of anointing inexperienced or unmotivated residents as school board members. Meanwhile, the bill will sail through the Senate and waft over to the DOE, where another carload of regulatory minutiae will be trundled out to 4500 school board members.
Can we try to quantify costs here? The taxpayers of Freehold Regional School District are probably out about $15,000, once you throw together all the cash paid out in tuition and raises. But what’s the tab for the time, labor, and materials to wrangle this bill through the Legislature? Maybe we all could use some remedial math courses.