The tenure hearing that will decide the fate of the teachers’ union president John McEntee, who is accused of unbecoming conduct, began at the district headquarters on Thursday morning.
McEntee was charged with two counts of conduct unbecoming by the school board on March 30th, 2017. He has been on unpaid suspension for 120 days since then. At the hearing on Thursday his side would not consent to having the two days of hearing open to the public.
“Arbitration are private by nature,” said McEntee’s attorney Sanford Oxfeld. He recognized it was both an arbitration and a tenure hearing. He would not say whether it was his or his client’s decision to keep the public out of the hearings.
When asked if the decision was made by McEntee, Oxfled replied, “He doesn’t make decisions.” School officials on their side consented to allowing the hearings to be public.
Arbitrator James Mastriani could not open the hearings to the public without consent from McEntee’s side.
The charges against McEntee stem from an exchange he had with vice principal Sharon Davis on Dec. 19, 2016 at the Frank Napier Academy. He was at the school with two other union officials that day to question Davis about a confidentiality clause in the signature of her emails to teachers.
McEntee told Davis that clause was sufficient for the Paterson Education Association to file a grievance, according to the testimony of a supervisor, who was in the meeting room.
The exchange became tense and the vice principal ordered the union chief out of her office. She called security to have him escorted out. McEntee has maintained he was conducting “protected union activity” at the school.
McEntee is accused of threatening and “verbally and physically” intimidating Davis. He is also accused of “falsely” stating he was “forcibly rejected” from the school by security. Surveillance footage released by the district as part of an open records request showed McEntee and the other two union officials leaving the school building without intervention from security staff.
The 3,000-member strong union has rallied behind McEntee. Members viewed the charges against their chief as a way for former superintendent Donnie Evans to muzzle and retaliate against their outspoken union leader.
McEntee has been critical of Evans’ policies and actions in the district. He organized a no confidence vote against the ex-superintendent and leaked a New Jersey Supreme Court filing where Evans appeared to support the overturning of Abbott v. Burke, a landmark court decision that requires the state government to adequately fund poor school districts.
Evans’ standing was severely damaged by the leak of the court filing. He was seen as little more than a tool of governor Chris Christie’s rather than an ardent defender of the almost 30,000 students, mostly from low-income families, that he was tasked to educate.
The state has badly underfunded the city’s school district over the years by millions of dollars, according to the Newark-based Education Law Center.
Evans filed the charges seeking not to revoke McEntee’s teaching license, but for his suspension.
School officials had witnesses to testify at the hearing on Thursday morning. A second hearing is scheduled for Sept. 19.
Correction (Sept. 14, 2017): A previous version of this erroneously stated suspension was for 180 when in fact it was for 120 days.