Letter: ‘Landy: Your English is good but your logic … not so much’

To the Editor:

Councilman Mike Landy’s rebuttal to my letter of June 8 was beautifully written with stunning vocabulary, good sentence structure and proper punctuation. (You know how I swoon over a well-placed comma!)  Unfortunately, his argument is a “house of cards,” a structure built on sand that is rendered moot by the fact that his premises are totally invalid.

Landy’s depiction of a Board of Education so haughty, so arrogant, that it places itself above criticism and beyond questioning, could not be further from the truth. We are, much like the Council members, honest, hardworking people who welcome legitimate questions asked in the appropriate venue.

Our format, much like that of the Council, accommodates and encourages public participation via two items on the agenda.  My objection to Second Ward Councilman Rich Konopka’s remarks (May 24 Council meeting) concerning the progress, or lack thereof, of the Kearny High School capital project, arose out of my concern that they were accusatory in nature, they lacked sufficient background information and they questioned the Board in absentia.

That is neither fair nor professional.  (It should be noted here that both Second Ward Councilmen, Rich Konopka and Jon Giordano, came to a Board meeting, after the fact, on June 6.  A very fruitful, open dialogue ensued leading to the Councilmen sitting with Mark Bruscino, our plant operations manager, to go over the project timeline.

Coincidentally, at that very meeting, the Board scaled a major legal hurdle and passed a resolution awarding the project to the lowest bidder. I believe they left that meeting with a much better understanding of the complex history of the project.

For reasons unknown to me at the time of his letter’s publication, Landy attacked my personal sense of responsibility.  I will be as clear and concise as possible: I take full responsibility for any and all of my actions or inactions from day one of my being seated on the Board.

I refuse, however, to take the blame for the actions of others or for circumstances over which I have no control.  I will not become the “whipping boy” for ills that started five years prior to my election.

After reading Mike’s letter, I attended the Council meeting on June 14, where it became quite evident that his motive for the attack on my character had very little to do with the KHS construction project.  I am paraphrasing, but Landy blurted out that the reason he holds me in such disdain is because when I was a candidate for the Board, he related to me a personal problem he was experiencing with the Kearny School District (the nature of which should not be discussed in this forum). He now complains that I did nothing to remedy his situation. I was merely a candidate, for heaven’s sake! Even as a seated Board member, it is not within my purview to micromanage the district.  There are circumstances that are best dealt with between parents and administration.  As an educational administrator himself, he knows very well that there is a progressive protocol in situations like the one in which he found himself.

The councilman goes on to state that the newly elected Board had certain “priorities,” which diverted our focus from completing the high school.

He cites:

  1. The immediate replacing of the superintendent — a superintendent who was inappropriately hired by the past majority; whose background check was not completed as of the date of his hiring; whose transcripts were not readily available to the Board as a whole; and most importantly whose educational credentials did not meet the requisite in the Board’s own by-laws. Why would a concerned parent choose to have this person lead an educational community in which his own children are stockholders?
  2. The “protection … of a very expensive secretary.” Landy neglects to mention that said employee had an unblemished record for more than 25 years, having served under six superintendents. As a private citizen, I spoke up against the shameful treatment she received from the aforementioned superintendent.
  3. The reinstatement of an employee with a criminal record. Once again, Landy shows his penchant for refusing to see the entire picture. The employee’s youthful transgression was ultimately expunged and the Board negotiated a settlement with the long-time employee when it was found that his confidential personnel file was somehow leaked to the public on the watch of the very same superintendent. The agreement we reached was not only the fair thing to do, but also spared the District liability for millions in damages for violating the employee’s federal and state privacy rights. The agreement was promoted and sanctioned by both the State Ethics Commission and the Commissioner of Education.

To suggest that the current Board affected these changes at the expense of the high school is sheer nonsense.

I appreciate Mike’s admission that his son has had favorable experiences at Kearny High.  As an educator, he must know that good educational practices are executed by gifted administrators, faculty and staff. But nothing happens without the input, encouragement and approval of a dedicated Board.

So, while Landy holds that good things are happening despite the Board, we know that they happen because of the Board.

Finally, my fondest hope is that we put all of this behind us. Both bodies, the Council and the Board, are answerable to the same entity — the residents of Kearny have placed their trust in us and expect us to work together for the betterment of the town we all love.  As far as I am concerned this debate is over. Kumbaya!

Barbara Cifelli-Sherry
Member of the Kearny
Board of Education


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