Tuesday, March 17, 2015


John Ramos
The hiring of Dr. John Ramos as the new superintendent for South Orange Maplewood schools, announced Monday night by the Board of Education, does not come without concerns and questions.

While Ramos has decades of experience in school district administration, he also comes with some baggage that we would seem to do better without, or at least with more explanation.

Currently, Ramos is chair and principal of the Middle East International School in Doha, Qatar, an English language school for ex-patriots in that country.

Prior to that, he held posts in Watertown, Bridgeport and Groton, Connecticut.

It is his time in Bridgeport that is of concern. He spent six years there from 2005 to 2011, ending with his dismissal after years of academic and financial problems in the district and a hefty payoff that included a year's salary of $229,000.

"I did do a little Googling on the new superintendent, and I'm a little concerned," resident Elisa Malespina told the board. "We hired a search firm to do this search, then we paid a search firm to do this search. After you have done that, I was a little concerned about some of the stuff that did come up."

"I am feeling that it is not such a transparent process when you come in and say, 'here's our guy, he's starting on August 1.' There are some concerns, some very valid concerns that have come up."

Those concerns center around the Bridgeport district's financial and academic performance problems that included major deficits and poor academic performance.

A state legislative research report in 2011 on the Bridgeport district stated:

Underperforming Students. The Bridgeport school district has been designated as “in need of improvement” under Connecticut's education accountability law for at least seven consecutive years. It has failed to make acceptable progress toward SBE-established benchmarks and has failed to make adequate yearly progress under the NCLB guidelines for at least two consecutive years. Students at virtually all levels in the school district generally underperform on proficiency tests offered in recent years. In the 2009–2010 school year, only 66.5% of students in the local school district in grades three through eight were proficient in mathematics and only 53.5% were proficient in reading, as measured by the Connecticut Mastery Test. For the same period, only 32.3% of students in 10th grade were proficient in mathematics and only 39.5% were proficient in reading, as measured by the Connecticut Academic Performance Test. Furthermore, the cumulative dropout rate for the Bridgeport class of 2008 was 23.3%, compared to the statewide rate of 6.6% and the annual high school graduation rate in the school district is the lowest in the state (Pereira v. State Bd. of Educ., 304 Conn. 1 (2012)).

Budget Shortfalls. The school system also has faced budgetary problems. The district received $215.8 million from the city and state for the 2011-2012 school year, the fourth straight year at that amount despite increased enrollment and an estimated need of $233 million. To deal with the gap, the Board of Education's Finance Committee proposed laying off 430 school employees and closing a school, but still needed to find an additional $1.5 million in savings. After a month of deliberating, the issue culminated on June 16, 2011, when the superintendent convinced the board not to pass a new budget and to instead return to the state asking for more money.

The state at one point took over the district in 2011, appointing a new school board. But that move was later overruled by a judge. Ramos was fired in late 2011, but given a severance package that also included full medical benefits.

Linda Conner Lemback, a reporter at The Connecticut Post in Bridgeport who has covered Ramos, said he was under budget constraints at the time based on poor state funding, not necessarily his oversight.

"He was sort of a bystander," she said about Ramos' time in Bridgeport. "He seemed very concerned about the district not getting enough funding. He seemed to be sincere, I don't know how much of a workhorse he is."

Asked about Ramos' part in the district's problems, she said, "it was under him, but it was more the district not being funded."

SOMA Board President Wayne Eastman addressed the concerns at the end of Monday night's meeting.

"The very matter ... has been the subject of not one, not two, but many reflections and, yes, presentations by the board internally and also by our choice, Dr. Ramos," Eastman said. "Dr. Ramos has a demonstrated record of accomplishment. His time in Bridgeport is only five years out of a very long career, but I think it is important to affirm what was done there."

"In an extremely constrained budget, unlike New Jersey ... Dr. Ramos accomplished major things."

Eastman said Ramos developed a major strategic plan and a shift in terms of results and expectations, accountability with metrics and social and mental health of all students, curriculum development, and oversaw the opening of new schools.

"Budget constraints were such that Dr. Ramos believed the district could no longer deliver an appropriate education for its students under the funding arrangements," Eastman said. "He in conjunction with the board of education" agreed with a state takeover.

"The board and Dr. Ramos had a positive working relationship." 

While Ramos might be qualified, hiring someone with such a mixed past and clear baggage is a concern. It may also be the reality we face under the state's superintendent salary cap, the same cap that clearly led former superintendent Brian Osborne to depart last year.

Also at issue is the school board, which conducted the search very much in private and then sprung his name and hiring on the district with little warning or input, or at least some indication of who the other candidates were.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You must be joking to think because of the salary cap that we can't find a qualified individual. Even with the cap this a market competitive annual salary for many industries. Why didn't they look towards the private sector, we performance is based on meritocracy and not all of this union/tenure BS.