Wednesday, May 11, 2016

More turmoil in Hackensack schools: Board member quits

Hackensack Board of Education member Joseph Barreto was seen in the audience at Tuesday night's school board meeting, not on the dais.


On Monday morning, Hackensack Schools Superintendent Karen Lewis was suspended after a brief meeting with board officials.

At a board meeting Tuesday night, her assistant, Joseph Cicchelli, was named acting superintendent to loud applause and cheers from an audience packed with teachers. 

Now, board member Joseph Barreto has resigned for "personal reasons," board Attorney Richard Salkin said today.

At the meeting Tuesday night, Salkin announced that Barreto was leaving after serving two years on the 9-member board, and for "you conspiracy theorists" that his departure was unrelated to the brouhaha over Lewis.

Barreto was not on the dais Tuesday night, and did not vote on the Cicchelli appointment.

He arrived at the meeting after a statement from board President Jason Nunnermacker, who said he was prevented by law from discussing the reasons Lewis was suspended. 

Barreto's name and photo no longer appear on the board Web site.

At Tuesday night's meeting, Board of Education attorney Richard Salkin, left; with board members Modesto Romero, center, and Daniel Carola.
Members of the public must sign in ahead of time, if they want to comment at school board meetings.

School election

The changes come only three weeks after the April 19 election of two Team Hackensack board candidates backed by the Zisas, who are trying to make a political comeback in a city they ruled for decades. 

Two incumbents and a former trustee were elected to three-year terms, and a small minority of voters approved a $79 million tax levy to support a total budget of $104 million. 

That tax levy has risen steadily. In the 2014-15 budget, it was $73.3 million. School taxes make up 44% of the total bill in Hackensack.

After missing the Monday morning suspension of the Hackensack schools superintendent, Editor Deirdre Sykes of The Record plays catch-up today with a Page 1 photo of Cicchelli at Tuesday night's school board meeting (A-1).

The full story appears on the Local front, where the lead paragraph awkwardly reports the audience was "heavily peopled with district employees [italics added]" (L-1).

Christie absolved

The lead story today reports a federal judge has ordered federal prosecutors to release a list of "unindicted co-conspirators" in the George Washington Bridge scandal, also known as "Bridgegate" (A-1).

But even before the list is made public, The Record apparently has absolved Governor Christie of any role in the conspiracy to close bridge lanes as political retaliation against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee (A-1 and A-6).

The first paragraph says the list "could include members of Governor Christie's inner circle," and later, that it could include "Christie's political allies and top members of his administration, many of whom have since moved on to prominent roles at NJ Transit, the Port Authority, lobbying firms and corporations" (A-6).

Nowhere does The Record say the list could include Christie, who spent more than $10 million in taxpayer funds to defend himself during the investigation.

Rhymes with maniac

One of those references to "inner circle" might include foul-mouthed former Star-Ledger reporter Michael Drewniak, a onetime Christie spokesman who was named "interim chief of staff" at NJ Transit, The Record reported on Tuesday.

Drewniak had no mass-transit experience when he left the Governor's Office in February 2015, and accepted the $147,000-a-year job of "chief of policy and strategic planning" at NJ Transit.

He will perform the new and old duties for the same inflated salary (Tuesday's A-4).

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