According to inside sources who will remain anonymous, Asbury Park Superintendent Sancha Gray is on the verge of leaving her position, which she has held for the last three years.
Why should you care about a shift in superintendents in a tiny district that serves (depending upon whom you ask) anywhere from 1,500-1,700 students as parents vote with their feet and enrollment drops? Because Asbury Park Public Schools District is emblematic of problems within New Jersey’s state school system: lack of oversight, undue deference to local control, and fiscal dysfunction.
This may sound surprising for a district that has had five monitors over the last 13 years appointed by the Department of Education to correct course. The current state monitor is Carole Morris, age 81, who was appointed in September 2014. She gets an annual salary of $171,000 (as of 2014 — couldn’t find more recent data) plus her annual pension payment of $141,611 and attendant benefits from when she worked in the Manasquan district. (For more on Morris and her cranky relationship with the community and school board, see here.)
The state originally assigned a monitor to oversee Asbury Park because it has the highest annual cost per pupil in the state ($42,382), dismal student outcomes, and was failing most of the state accountability rubric called QSAC.
Thirteen years later, Asbury Park has the highest cost per pupil in the state ($33,476, according to most recent DOE data) and dismal student outcomes. The latest QSAC evaluation isn’t available. Most of the tab — 84%– is picked up by state taxpayers because the district is technically an Abbott and the City Council has a bad habit — one we also see in Jersey City — of issuing PILOT’s (payments in lieu of taxes) to friendly businesses, which diminishes the tax base. That’s one reason why a recent state audit noted that the district’s “Local Fair Share” (the amount of money a district contributes towards the school budget based on a town’s equalized value and aggregate income) should be $17 million but is really only $7 million.
This isn’t something discussed at Board meetings: the relationship between city leaders and district leaders is pretty cozy. For example, Gray herself is President of the Greater Asbury Park Democratic Club and two school board members, Angela Ahbez-Anderson and Joe Grillo, are former and current presidents of the Asbury Park Democratic Committee.
Sancha Gray was brought to Asbury Park in 2014 when Lamont Repollet was hired by the School Board as superintendent. Repollet’s previous post was principal at Carteret High School where Gray was a vice principal. He hired her as Director of Curriculum and Instruction (a big step up, by the way, comparable to a principal moving directly to a superintendency without central office experience). In 2017 she was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction and, when Repollet went to Trenton, Gray became Superintendent.
Last June Repollet made the long-rumored move to president of Kean University. There are various rumors about where Gray is headed. On the list is a position at Kean University or, possibly, a run for elected office.
Who will replace her? On the short list, according to sources, is Asbury Park Athletic Director Mark Gerbino and Asbury Park Director of Operations Roberta Beauford.
Many know Asbury Park Public Schools as the poster child for profligacy and this isn’t just about annual cost per pupil. Sancha Gray’s salary is also on the high end for a district so small: her current annual salary is $172,092 according to public records, plus this past July, according to Board minutes, she was awarded an unspecified sum for meeting all her “merit goals.” Also, Gray has been getting her doctorate — not sure in what or where — and the district reimburses her for tuition costs. In typical districts, tuition reimbursement must be approved by the employee’s superior — either a principal or a superintendent– and must be repaid if the employee leaves within two years.
Not sure how that works in Asbury Park. Did Repollet approve her doctoral coursework at district expense?
Who knows? This is Asbury Park. With student enrollment dropping, the ratio of administrators to students keeps rising. Currently the district website lists 8 administrators in the Central Office. According to the DOE database that is one administrator for every 9.3 staff members, more than almost all other districts in the states.
Meanwhile, at Bradley Elementary School 12% of students are meeting expectations in reading and none are meeting them in math. At Asbury Park High School, 11% of students meet expections in 10th grade reading and 15% meet them in Algebra 1 (both theoretically a requirement for a high school diploma). SAT scores are below an 8th grade level.
One source described the district to me as a “sinking ship,” even after 13 years of state oversight. Sancha Gray and her minions have a lifeboat. The students and their parents? They’re trapped below deck.