A controversial letter that was sent by four school board members to New Jersey education commissioner David Hespe behind the back their president was “not unauthorized,” said school board president Jonathan Hodges.
“It was not an unauthorized letter, people are allowed to write letters,” said Hodges during a phone interview last week. “There were some parts of the letter that was incorrect that they couldn’t do.”
The incorrect part of the letter was a sentence that vaguely suggested the letter spoke for the entire board when in fact it represented the views of school board members Christopher Irving, Chrystal Cleaves, Flavio Rivera, and Kenneth Simmons.
“Please note that this memorandum does not reflect concerns of more than five Board members,” read the perceived incorrect sentence in the letter dated March 6th, 2015. The letter was emailed by the school board’s secretary to Hespe’s secretary. Cleaves said she told the board’s secretary to email the letter, but said she could not take the honor of writing it.
When asked whether the letter was an affront to his authority as the board’s president, Hodges said, “I’m not discussing the letter anymore.”
Hodges said there were much bigger issues at stake like the flat funding of the school district by the state. There’s $173 million that we’ve not received over the last six years, said Hodges. “We could be in financial distress moving forward and people want to get obsessed over a letter? Really?”
During that Monday, March 30th, 2015, the school board voted to approve a budget that placed more than 350 jobs on the cutting board. 197 teaching jobs would be cut, according to school officials.
School board vice-president Simmons distanced himself from the letter stating he neither wrote the letter nor was he involved in subsequent phone conference with the education commissioner. Simmons also said he never signed the letter.
None of the four names listed on the letter signed it. Rivera defended the letter when the matter was brought to light at a March school board meeting, but said he did not write it.
Irving said he had no comments about the letter during a brief phone call last week. Hodges wrote in a social media posting that he received private apology, but had no intention of publicly vilifying anyone of the board members over the letter.
Hodges struck a cooperative note, writing the manner in which the unauthorized letter – he described it using a double negative “not unauthorized” — issue was tackled was harmonious. He wrote his primary goal is to have all board members working together.
The letter states superintendent Donnie Evans was not doing enough to address the dire condition of the schools finances. It suggests several ways to create savings by outsourcing substitute teaching, technology, and instructional aide jobs.