HIGHLAND PARK, NJ—It seems as if the entire small town of Highland Park is up in arms over their new superintendent’s sudden decision to cut loose nine employees in the middle of the school year, outside of the district’s budgeting process.
Tim Capone, who was hired in August by the district, has come under fire for his handling of the debacle, in which both the President and Vice President of the school system’s union were not fired, but instead laid off.
“The fact that our [Highland Parke Education Association] president and vice president were unemployed by our board further complicates an already troubled negotiation where we have reached impasse,” read a statement issued by the union on Monday.
But the nine-member elected board of education has so far stood by Capone, even as residents raised concerns about a misleading item on his resume and the dubious explanation for the layoffs.
One of the women set to lose her job in a matter of days is the guidance secretary at Highland Park High School and her impending departure could mean problems for seniors who are in the process of applying to college.
Also on the chopping block is Kathy Ketofsky, a beloved “student assistance counselor” with more than 24 years service in NJ public schools. She is literally months away from acheiving additional benefits when she reaches 25 years of service, but that day may not come.
Ketofsky is the only person in the district charged specifically with helping students with depression, substance abuse issues. Numerous students, parents, and faculty spoke at a recent board meeting, saying they were appaled at the decision to let Ketofsky go, when the services she provides are so sorely needed.
Since the Board of Education first voted for the layoffs at their November 4 meeting, hundreds of citizens have taken to the microphone to speak against the changes. The board’s December 9 meeting lasted five and a half hours.
And on Monday, over 100 members of the community walked out of a “strategic planning” meeting organized by Capone, after Keisha Ingram, the union Vice President whose job is being eliminated, read a statement aloud.
“We do not support the choice made by [the school district] to trade the jobs of loyal and valued employees for computers and textbooks. We do not support any current or future agenda for school reform and privatization,” read the statement.
According to one speaker, 193 of the union’s 217 teachers and staff members voted to support the statement of solidarity.
Dozens of residents said they cannot make sense of Capone’s claim that the proposed layoffs were necessary to purchase needed textbooks and computers.
His critics say that, rather, the money from the eliminated positions is going to support two additional six-figure administrators that Capone has brought in.
In general, the board of education, who has the final say, has refused to answer the community’s questions about the layoffs and has also refused to directly address issues with Capone’s resume.
They relied on the advice of their attorney, who insisted nothing was wrong with the superintendent’s resume.
Just one year into a principal job with a Delaware school district, the board voted not to renew his contract and transferred him to a lesser position, where he finished as a social studies instructor.
Capone’s resume did not mention the transfer. Other residents have raised questions about Capone’s residency. State law requires all public employees to be residents of New Jersey.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.