By Ron Leir
Bernadette McDonald’s effort to retain the presidency of the Kearny Board of Education has been dealt a serious setback, if not a near fatal blow.
On Aug. 26, state Administrative Law Judge Evelyn J. Marose, sitting in Newark, recommended the denial of McDonald’s bid to set aside the BOE’s 6-3 vote June 17 to replace her with Robert O’Malley. McDonald still keeps her board seat.
Now the matter goes to the state Commissioner of Education for a final resolution. The commissioner has 45 days to affirm, reject or modify Marose’s finding.
“I’m disappointed,” McDonald said, when asked for her reaction, “but other than that, I have nothing to say about it.”
McDonald, meanwhile, is focused on seeking re-election to the BOE as part of a threemember “team,” together with newcomers former Kearny Councilwoman Barbara Cifelli-Sherry and Samantha Paris, a CPA.
Also on the Nov. 5 ballot are O’Malley, Renato DaSilva and Daniel Esteves. McDonald, Cifelli-Sherry, Paris, O’Malley and DaSilva are battling for three 3-year seats, while Esteves – who was named to replace Deborah Lowry, following last year’s election, after Lowry was found to be ineligible to serve – is the lone candidate for one 2-year seat.
Christine Nee and Adeline Boyd had filed petitions to run but have since withdrawn from the race.
McDonald, through her attorney Anthony D’Elia, appealed her displacement as board president to the state Department of Education and the matter was referred to the state Office of Administrative Law for review.
McDonald’s petition to the state argued she could only be removed “if she failed to perform a duty expressly imposed upon her, by statue or delineated in the board by-law policies …,” the judge noted in her 4-page opinion. McDonald said she followed the law and board policies during her tenure as president.
But the BOE, represented by special counsel David Rubin, countered that McDonald failed to properly form board committees, and, additionally, based on statements submitted by four unnamed board members, she allegedly:
• “dismissed the concerns” of fellow trustees with whom she differed,
• “selectively excluded” unnamed board members “from receiving e-mails” on board business.
• faulted the Superintendent of Schools for “circulating information to the entire Board rather than only to her,”
• “refused to communicate with the Superintendent of Schools except by e-mail,”
• “improperly micromanaged the Superintendent,”
• “humiliated and berated the Superintendent who she was against appointing in public,”
• “unilaterally and with no authority made statements to local newspapers.”
Such actions, Rubin reasoned, “undermine and disrupt the functioning of the Board and merit removal.”
Marose had nothing directly to say about the BOE’s allegations, but, reacting to McDonald’s contention that she strategically voted with the majority on the motion to dump her from the presidency “so that she would be able at a later meeting to file a motion for reconsideration,” Marose wrote that McDonald “expressed different feelings” at the time the vote was taken.
“She felt was being set up since January [and she] did not need that aggravation. She had personal things to attend to at home. She further noted that she was not going away. She was still on the Board [and] was still going to ask the questions that she would have always asked,” Marose wrote.
Meanwhile, Marose wrote, O’Malley has every right to remain as its president since he was “elected by the majority of the Board members in July” pending a final decision by the Commissioner of Education.
The judge found that no “irreparable harm” would befall McDonald as a result of the BOE’s action because “… she may run for the Board President again, perhaps as early as January.”
But the judge didn’t seem to think that McDonald had a shot at winning her case with the Commissioner. “[She] has not established the likelihood of prevailing on the merits” of her claim against the BOE, Marose concluded.