This week I heard from a special education teacher who used to teach at Asbury Park. This was serendipitous because I had just received internal emails regarding an ongoing problem in the district: Asbury Park can’t find substitute teachers, primarily because the district rate is $85 a day, way below, say, Neptune, a district next door, which pays between $150-$190 a day. (Worth pointing out: According to the State Education Department’s database of school funding–most recent numbers are 2018-2019, oddly– Asbury Park has $18,000 more to spend per pupil than Neptune. Also, substitute teachers currently are in short supply; the Wayne school district made headlines when it raised pay to $200 a day, which solved the problem.)
According to these emails, when a teacher calls in sick, special education teachers who are in inclusion classes, which require both a general education teacher and a special education teacher, are pulled from their assignment to teach other classes when there’s no substitute available. The loss of that teacher violates Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and puts the district out of compliance with state regulations. Or, alternatively, teachers who are scheduled for a preparation period are told to substitute for an absent teacher, a violation of the local teacher union’s contract with the district.
For example, in Email #1, the teacher (whose name I’ve left out) explains to the administrator in charge of special education that 1) she’s losing her prep period to cover for a class without a teacher and 2) she’s being pulled from an inclusion chemistry class so “my Special Needs students are without me.” She says this is an “everyday occurrence.
In most districts, the shortage of substitutes is a COVID phenomenon. According to the teacher I spoke with, Asbury Park’s dearth of substitutes started in 2017 when Gov. Murphy’s former Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet was superintendent there. (Repollet is now President of Kean University and subsequently hired his hand-picked replacement in Asbury Park, Sancha Gray, for a job, not specified, in the President’s Office.) This teacher told me that when he was in an inclusion class attending to students with IEPs, administrators “would always pull us for subs,” even though his absence put the district out of compliance with those IEP’s, which specified the presence of a special education teacher in the room. He also said that on a number of occasions when another class was without a sub, “that whole other class would come into my room.”
When I asked him about administrators mentioned in the below emails– Sancha Gray, Perry Medina (originally hired as a “floating vice principal,” a position that doesn’t exist in other districts), and Rashawn Adams– he laughed. “They’re part of the Repollet crew,” he said. (Others refer to this clique as the “Carteret crew” because many of them worked with Repollet before he came to Asbury and was principal of Carteret High School.) Part of that privilege is the district “makes up jobs for people they like. You know, when Adams came in, people would say, ‘what does he do here?’ No one had any idea. They just handpick the people they want and make up a job for them.”
On Repollet, he said, “he’s a con artist. Asbury Park was just a stepping stone for him, just as it was for Sancha Gray. They leave at the drop of a hat.”
Email #1, October 19th, Special Education Teacher (Name Redacted) to Director of Special Services Bonnie Lau
I’m writing to you to make you aware of my teaching schedule and how I’m being pulled to cover classes here at the High School.
Every day I’m either being pulled during my 3rd Block which is my Prep/Common Planning/Lunch or 4th Block which I co-teach Chemistry. When I’m pulled during 3rd Block, I don’t receive a break for the rest of the day because I have to teach 4th and 5th Blocks. When I’m pulled during 4th Block, my Special Needs students are without me. As I stated, this is an everyday occurrence.
Also, I received a letter over the summer from my building administrator stating that I would be working as a Special Education English teacher. Currently, I don’t have any English classes on this semester’s schedule or next semester’s schedule. I’m currently working in US History classes and a Chemistry class.
Please advise and THANK YOU for your assistance regarding my concerns.
Email #2, October 19th, From APEA President John Napolitani to Dr. Martin Luther King Upper Elementary School Principal Perry Medina, cc’d to Acting Superintendent Rashawn Adams et. al.Subject: Re: Class Coverage
Good Morning Perry,
Thank you for meeting the other morning to discuss substitute coverage. You and I were both in agreement that the ideas to correct this are pretty simple. We can raise the substitute pay, look for another company, or I suggested going back to the original way which was having the secretaries provide the substitute call in.
In light of the below email, I’m forwarding this to you in regard to Ms. Golden’s concerns. In the email, she lays out specifically the amount of time she is being pulled to cover classes. I have to point out that she is a special education teacher and I believe if she’s being pulled, we are out of compliance.
In your response to me on October 12, when I had questioned this being done, you advised me that my information was not correct and no special education teachers were being pulled. I think we are in a bit of a quandary considering you’re being told one thing, and I’m being given another. I tend to believe Ms. Golden’s statement as it’s in writing.
Please advise because in the original email to me, it sounded like my information was incorrect and I wanted to make sure that the proper information was relayed, again, so that this problem can be corrected. As an Association, we are trying to work with administration to correct issues where there are problems. I also have the Acting Superintendent copied here as well.
John P. Napolitani Sr.
Email #3, October 19th, From Asbury Park High School Principal Kathy Baumgardner to Napolitani, cc’d to Median, Adams et. al.
Mr. Napolitani, this email is disturbing to me for a myriad of reasons. First, Ms. Golden has not come to me not once regarding this matter. I see her throughout the day. She has never mentioned this to me, not once. Second, Ms. Golden has been pulled during her prep period, which is 90 minutes. Ms. Batson and Ms. Rios only schedule teachers for 45 minutes of their 90-minute prep. Therefore, she still has 45 minutes plus her 30-minute lunch intact. Moreover, Ms. Golden has been pulled during Ms. Vojnyk’s science class. This has happened in absolute, complete emergency situations when we have had no one else available. Finally, Ms. Golden did receive notification this summer regarding her 2021-2022 assignment, as did the entire APHS staff. But, as I’m sure we are all aware, there were major schedule changes and assignments had to be changed. This was unavoidable. There are a number of teachers who have been used to cover classes, depending on the time and block. I have covered classes, as well as my coaches. So, again, I’m not sure what the solution is, but we have zero subs and classes must be covered. So, please Mr. Napolitani, if you have a solution to this ongoing problem, please share.
Kathy A. Baumgardner
Principal, Asbury Park High School
Email #4, October 20th, From Napolitani to Baumgardner, cc’d to Medina, Adams, et. al.
I am just as disturbed as you are with this situation. In no way am I blaming any principal for this debacle. We all understand down in the buildings that the kids need to be covered. For a point of record, my association has been bringing this up since Kelly Services took over the substitutes. Never once have I seen the APPSA argue this point. Which means we have been arguing for a change for years and it’s falling on deaf ears. And when they look at the attendance rates, this is a prime factor why staff call out.
When the pandemic hit, it took a back burner because subs were not needed. Now that we’re back full time, this needs to be addressed. Mrs. Golden is not the only person this is happening to as a special education teacher. However, last week in correspondence about this issue, the response I got was this was not happening and everything is covered. I’m more aggravated about the fact that people are in denial about this situation and made it seem like I was not giving accurate information. For the record, some staff are too afraid to even speak up that they’re covering.
A few suggestions that we have made over the years are but not limited to are:
Raise the rate. $85 a day is ridiculous. It’s less than minimum wage.
Go back to the secretaries handling it and pay them what we did. We never had issues when they did it.
Get rid of Kelly and find a new system.
Everyone in a class are losing preps. The $85 sub you don’t get now costs anywhere between $240 – $320 a day per person that’s out to pay for missed preps or class coverage. I’m no financial wiz kid but this makes no sense at all. On top of it, staff are getting burnt out because they don’t get their prep and this in turn has people calling out because they are basically sick. This is a really bad cycle we’re in and needs to be corrected ASAP.
Everyone wants the thin the herd of staff but now there’s no help anywhere. You have no VP nor does any other building. We have no permanent subs as we did in the past even though we know there are several people out in each building each day. And we never get long term subs when we have staff out on leave. This is totally ridiculous and gives very little continuity to a classroom.
Thank you for responding and it’s my hope, although I’m not optimistic, that this will be corrected.