The city’s school board is on the cusp of regaining local control of its school system after securing high enough marks in each of the five areas of state evaluation, announced acting superintendent Eileen Shafer on Wednesday night.
Shafer’s announcement that the district has met the needed benchmarks to regain local control after 26 years of state takeover was received with sustained applause at the John F. Kennedy High School auditorium.
“It’s been too long with no local representation and people at the state making decisions for things that affect the Paterson Public Schools. You can’t make those decisions from somewhere far off.,” said Rose Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, an advocacy group. “It’s about time. The citizens will now once again have control.”
Shafer said the state certified the latest Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC), a metric the state uses to evaluate public school districts, scores on Wednesday morning. In all five areas the district scored above 80-percent, the minimum needed to secure local control of an area.
The district scored 100-percent in governance, operations, and personnel. It scored 98-percent in fiscal management and 82-percent in instruction and program. Paterson regained control of three of the five years over the past years. Only two areas — instruction and program; and governance — remained.
“Those scores reflect the hard work of — not just the folks who sit here — but every single board member that ever served in the history of state takeover of the city of Paterson,” said school board member Christopher Irving. “We worked our butts off in the past year. Without the work of tireless individuals this would never happen.”
The next step is for the state board of education to take a vote to return the two remaining areas to local control and pass a resolution to pave the way for a transition plan to restore local control.
Once that is approved, a transition committee will be appointed, according to Theodore “TJ” Best, the district’s resident expert on the QSAC process. A referendum will then have to be placed on the ballot whether to have an elected, appointed, or a hybrid school board. This could happen in November of this year.
Best said if voters select an appointed school board, the city’s mayor would make the appointments. He said a hybrid is a mix of elected and appointed members. The entire transition process to local control can take as long as two years. He said the latest QSAC scores are good for the next three years.
The state is able to re-take control at anytime during the transition period. Paterson is joining both Newark and Jersey City in the transitioning to local control.
“We’ll have a voice. Hopefully they will listen to the community,” said Linda Reid, president of the Parent Education Organizing Council (PEOC).
Paterson was taken over by the state in 1991. A state report described superintendent Frank Napier as incompetent. His “management was characterized by an inability to demonstrate an understanding of the role and function of a chief school administrator,” the report stated. The report criticized Napier for being isolated from daily operations and lacking vision for the district.
The school board at the time was described as inept and busy with petty issues rather than focused on providing a decent education to students.
Shafer thanked teachers, administrators, and other staff for the high marks. “We must continue to strive and to excel,” said Shafer.