By Ron Leir
Is Frank Ferraro, the exiled on-leave Kearny superintendent of schools, properly certified to be a public school administrator?
Maybe not, says Kearny Board of Education general counsel Kenneth Lindenfelser.
Of course I am, says Ferraro. This debate figures to drag on for at least another month or so, at which point the BOE will have to resolve a separate question about who’s the leader of the gang – since, on June 30, Acting Superintendent Patricia Blood’s contract extension runs out.
Meanwhile, though, there is the Ferraro matter to consider.
Last Tuesday, Lindenfelser updated the BOE on the status of an “investigation” into Ferraro’s academic credentials that began in March when the BOE hired the Check-M-Out detective agency for $5,000 to check his background.
Lindenfelser said he’d expected to give his report in private session but said that Ferraro had waived his right to privacy. Ferraro, however, wasn’t at the meeting. He was vacationing in Italy.
The Observer wasn’t at the meeting, either; a reporter was attending a Kearny Town Council meeting, scheduled for the same time as the BOE session. However, Lindenfelser provided details about his report to The Observer last week.
Here’s the gist of what he reported to the BOE:
According to Lindenfelser, the BOE investigation has uncovered some information that “may reveal” that Ferraro “doesn’t possess the proper qualifications” for his New York State certification as a school administrator.
“The information we have is that Ferraro’s New Jersey school administrator’s cerification was issued, based on his New York State certification and, if that New York State certification is invalidated, then his New Jersey certification will automatically be invalidated,” Lindenfelser said.
And, if that happens, Lindenfelser said, “[Ferraro’s] contract with the Kearny will be invalidated.” (Ferraro was hired in December 2012 at $167,500 a year and his contract runs through June 30, 2016. After about a year on the job, the BOE placed him on a paid leave.) L
Lindenfelser said the point of contention is whether Ferraro satisfied New York State’s requirement that a candidate for an administrator’s certificate must have completed at least 10 years of teaching experience. More specifically, though, Lindenfelser said, “New York requires you work at least 80% of a school year – or 144 days – to constitute a full year.”
When Ferraro applied to New York State for his administrator’s certificate, he included his time in Kearny as a “full-time permanent substitute” from September 1983 to June 1988 as part of his teaching experience, Lindenfelser said.
“New York State responded to him by saying that to satisfy their requirement, [Ferraro] needed to verify three years of his teaching experience from his time in New Jersey,” Lindenfelser said. “It appears that he had seven years teaching experience elsewhere.”
But Lindenfelser said that a review of Kearny school records at the time showed that Ferraro never accumulated the required number of teaching days for any of his time in the district. He said the records showed he worked 96 days in 1983-84, 81 days in 1984-85, seven days in 1985-86, 87 days in 1986-87 and 44 days in 1987-88.
“[Ferraro] never held a New Jersey teaching certificate during that time,” Lindenfelser said.
Before he was hired by Kearny, Ferraro – responding to a question emailed to him by a BOE representative – said that someone in the district office “wrote to New York on his behalf that he performed all the duties of a permanent teacher from 1983 to 1988,” Lindenfelser said. That letter was “vaguely worded, not disclosing the number of days taught,” he added.
“We don’t know who sent it – we don’t have a copy,” Lindenfelser said. “Based on that letter, New York issued Ferraro his certification in 2008.”
Lindenfelser said that he sent “all of this information and copies of [relevant] documents to the New York State Department of Education on April 9” and, he added, the New York DOE has told him that, “their initial review indicates [Ferraro] does not satisfy their requirements.”
The attorney said he was further told by the New York DOE that “they’d be sending a letter out May 20 advising Ferraro that unless he could prove that he’d satisfied the requirements within 30 days, they’d invalidate his certificate.”
Lindenfelser said that the New Jersey Department of Education “is aware of what’s going on” and that they would be guided by New York’s findings. If New York invalidated Ferraro’s certificate, then “they would pull his New Jersey certificate,” he said. At that point, the attorney said, Ferraro’s contract with Kearny “would expire.”
Meanwhile, Lindenfelser said, “there are other parts of the investigation continuing – there are different roads still open – we have not come to the end of the trail yet but this is the one most advanced.”
Reached in Venice, where he is spending part of his time away from the continuing Kearny intrigue, Ferraro shrugged aside the board attorney’s report.
“I will respond to New York,” Ferraro said. “But this was all clarified seven years ago when they reviewed my Kearny [teaching] experience and I received my [administrator’s] certificate. The Board of Education provided information that I only worked so many hours … but the Kearny records are incomplete. … There’s no way they could certify that’s all the time I worked. …Kearny couldn’t verify how many days I worked.”
In any case, Ferraro said, “when [New York State education officials] looked at my total [teaching experience], they gave me my certificate.”
For that reason, Ferraro said, “I’m not concerned about this at all. It’s not like I misrepresented anything…. I have letters from department chairs in Kearny that I worked that time. … [Since then,] I’ve been an assistant superintendent in New York for five years and superintendent in Kearny for a year. … I’m confident New York will back that up.”
Ferraro asserted that, “This is basically a political situation … This whole thing is a rehash of a claim brought against me by[two Kearny BOE members] and it was dismissed by the [state administrative law] court.”