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School Board Positioned for Vote to Not Re-Hire Superintendent; Residents’ Group Calls For ‘Change of Leadership’

Vote could come at Sept. 26 meeting

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The Franklin Township Board of Education next week is scheduled to vote on a resolution to not renew the contract of schools Superintendent Edward Seto.

A resolution to not renew the contract of schools Superintendent Edward Seto will be on next week’s Board of Education agenda.

Judging by the vote at the Sept. 19 workshop session to add the resolution – 5-2, with two abstentions – the measure stands a good chance of passing.

The vote to add the resolution to next week’s agenda came after a long discussion involving board members and the public. Representatives from a coalition of residents asked the board to not renew the contract, and some board members questioned why the matter was being discussed now.

The board by law has until Feb. 1, 2014 to tell Seto whether his contract will be renewed or not. The contract expires at the end of June, 2014.

Board president Julia Presley said she requested the matter be dealt with now.

“It was my judgment as board president that the decision should be done now,” Presley said. “I don’t want to miss the deadline. With everything else going on,the deadline could be missed.”

Presley said that there was a chance a newly composed board in January 2014 could also miss the deadline.

“It was my decision,” she said. “I took the advice of our attorney and decided that this sitting board would do it now, handle it, and we would move forward.”

After the meeting, Seto suggested that Presley may have had an ulterior motive.

Presley is currently facing several ethics complaints from several board members and Seto.

“I do” believe Presley’s move was a form of retribution for the complaint, Seto said. “And my attorney has made the recommendation that Dr. Presley recuse herself from any participation in this.”

Seto is in the seventh year of his contract and earns $206,000. Prior to coming to Franklin, he served as schools superintendent in Staten Island and Brooklyn, N.Y.

The resolution was proposed by board vice president Eva M. Nagy, who said she “long and hard pondered this with many, many sleepless nights” before coming to her decision.

In an unusual move, Seto waived his right to a private hearing and opted for a public airing of the issue. As a condition of that, he was not permitted to speak during the discussion.

Which meant that he had to sit mutely at the dais while he was lambasted by residents and some former employees.

Three members of a group calling itself “Community for Change” read a three-page letter to the board which outlined their grievances against Seto and asked for a “change in leadership.”

“This change may come at a financial cost to the district, however the cost is minimal when considering the mounting negative consequences with regard to our children’s education and the reputation of Franklin Township.”

Among what the group claimed are the overall failings of Seto’s leadership are lack of educational progress, lack of fiscal accountability, poor leadership management style and costly and ineffective management of special education issues.

“It is imperative that changes are exacted so as to allow for competent and careful leadership to propel our school district forward,” the group wrote.

Seto later dismissed the group, saying its members have a “political agenda.”

“They just manufacture stuff,” he said. “That’s ok. They have the right to do that.”

Kim Thorne of Barker Road told the board that the district is “not in a better place than we were before” Seto became superintendent.

“Teachers are leaving like crazy,” she said. “Talk to teachers who have gone to other districts and ask them why.”

David Burns of Amwell Road was on the school board when Seto was first hired, he said.

“I voted for him,” he said.

Burns said he did not vote to renew Seto’s contract several years later because, he said, he lost confidence in him.

“I am sad to have to report that loss of confidence, but it’s lost,” he said.

Board member Richard Seamon wanted to know why Seto’s contract was being discussed at all, since the board has until Feb. 1, 2014 to act.

“The board has not discussed this topic until two minutes ago,” he said. “Why is this on the agenda if we have not had the opportunity to discuss it in advance?”

Board attorney David Carrol replied that the board “is not allowed to discuss this unless they notify the employee.”

Seamon wasn’t buying that answer.

“He could have been notified a month ago,” Seamon said. “Then the board could have discussed this in advance, before it was put on the agenda.”

“What other action has been taken?” Seamon asked.

“None,” Carrol said. “He was notified that this item would be put on the agenda.”

“I was notified of more than that,” Seto said.

Board member Delvin Burton asked if a buyout offer was made to Seto.

“I met with the superintendent at the board president’s request and indicated that this action would be coming,” Carrol said.”

Carrol said he told Seto “if he wanted to submit any alternative, he would be welcome to do so.”

Carrol said Seto did not respond to the offer.

“There is no other proposal on the table,” he said.

After the meeting, Seto said that he was offered a buyout through which the district would pay him one month’s salary for every three months left on his contract.

“I’m trying to understand why we’re having this discussion in September,” Burton said. “We have the option to discuss this in February, we also have the option to discuss it in October, November, December and January.”

When the final vote was taken, the motion to put Seto on notice that his contract would not be renewed was supported by board members Presley, Nagy, Richard Arline, Keisha Smith-Carrington and Betty Whalen.

Voting against it were board members Burton and Seamon. Members Thomas Lewis and Robert Trautman were not permitted to vote because their wives work in the district.

“It’s unfortunate that my relationship with a majority of the board has devolved into this,” Seto said after the meeting. “But it takes two to Tango.”

“This just has to play itself out,” he said.

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