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Pleasantville rallies to remove state fiscal monitor
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Pleasantville rallies to remove state fiscal monitor

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Pleasantville school and city officials gather in front of the middle school Tuesday, March 9, 2021 to request that the state remove fiscal monitor Constance Bauer.

Pleasantville school and city officials gather in front of the middle school Tuesday to request that the state remove fiscal monitor Constance Bauer.

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PLEASANTVILLE — After 13 years with a state-appointed monitor overseeing the school district’s financial situation, city and school officials are calling for monitor Constance Bauer’s removal.

“All I want is for our kids to get a quality education,” said Councilman Lawrence “Tony” Davenport, who organized Tuesday’s afternoon rally.

Bauer was not at the rally, and Michael Yaple, spokesperson for the state Department of Education, which oversees the Office of State Monitors, said he could not discuss an individual employee.

However, Yaple said the role of the state monitor is to ensure the district is following the proper statutes, regulations and policies, with the goal being for the district to have the capacity for effective governance.

“As such, the monitors oversee operations but do not manage or decide day-to-day district operations,” Yaple said. “Since 2014, the year before (this) state monitor was assigned to the district, the district’s annual audit findings, or fiscal deficiencies, have declined from 14 findings to one finding as of last year’s audit.”

Outside Pleasantville Middle School, city and school officials, educators and community leaders gathered to call on the state to remove Bauer for what they see as a lack of accountability on behalf of the monitor and the state.

“We are ready to say goodbye to the state monitors,” board member Jerome Page said, adding the salary of the monitor, paid by the district, should be used for programs to help the students. “We’re ready to change the culture of Pleasantville school district.”

Bauer is one of two monitors appointed by the state and paid by Pleasantville. The other, J. Michael Rush, was appointed in 2019 by the state.

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Pleasantville has had a state monitor in place since 2007, although the district had extra state oversight for several years prior.

According to state law, monitors are assigned by the state commissioner of education if the required annual audit of district finances receives an adverse opinion from the auditor or if the audit finds a combination of deficiencies in the budget or operations. State monitors oversee fiscal management of the district’s funds and have the ability to hire, promote and fire employees. They also can override an action or vote by the board of education or chief school administrator on certain occasions.

Bauer is paid $96 an hour. In the 2019-20 school year, she earned $92,040 and Rush earned $81,768.

The speakers criticized Bauer for the recent financial findings of the district’s new superintendent, Natakie Chestnut-Lee, including that the district was paying for more than 100 cellphone lines no one was using, costing the district $173,000 over the past four years.

Board of Education President Julio Sanchez said the system was not working and that he stood behind Chestnut-Lee.

Also present was local activist Steve Young, president of the Atlantic City chapter of the National Action Network, who vowed to stand by the Pleasantville district in its quest.

Following the rally, the school board met for its regular meeting.

During the meeting, the board tabled a vote to remove member Juanita Pryce for missing three consecutive meetings at the advice of its attorney, James Carroll. Carroll said Pryce had sent a letter to him Tuesday afternoon, citing health issues. Sanchez said the board should consider the letter before taking action.

“I think we need to figure out does she anticipate anytime in the near future being able to participate,” Sanchez said.

The board also approved a tentative budget for the next school year of $100.8 million, including special revenue and debt service, with a $10.2 million tax levy. This year’s budget will eliminate the school food service deficit, one of the items that was keeping the state fiscal monitor in the district.

In addition, the board approved a one-year contract with a new law firm, Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt, Cappelli, Tipton & Taylor LLC, which will replace Carroll.

Contact Claire Lowe:

609-272-7251

clowe@pressofac.com

Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. After seven years at The Current and Gazette newspapers, I joined The Press in 2015. I currently cover education.

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