In what may have been the understatement of the year in southern New Jersey, John Deserable, the official appointed by the New Jersey Department of Education to oversee the Pleasantville, New Jersey Public School District because of its inability to manage finances and govern itself yesterday said: "This is just a horrible day for Pleasantville..."
The arrest and public release of complaints against eleven NJ public officials and one private citizen with connections to a powerful Atlantic County political racket is a sad day for the entire State of New Jersey, and an even sadder day for its students and children.
The impact of the indictment, its sting, seemed incomprehensible even to the local newspaper: The Press of Atlantic City, which has done an admirable job of at least surface skimming investigative reporting into public corruption in the area, ran a story about how the incumbent Republican Atlantic County Executive candidate, Dennis Levinson, a Republican County Freeholder candidate, and the Republican 2nd District State Assembly candidates, all condemned the arrests and the public officials who engaged in corruption. Well, what would you expect them to say? How droll. The public officials arrested were all Democrats with the exception of one Republican.
The criminal complaint by FBI Special Agent James J. Breen against former Pleasantville Board of Education (PBOE) president, Jayson G. Adams, filed in US District Court, and released yesterday states: "On or about September 6, 2006...defendant Adams discussed...corrupt payments...ask[ing], 'What am I getting out of it?' "
What am I getting out of it? A very good question...
The City of Pleasantville, New Jersey is due west of Atlantic City neighboring West Atlantic City, part of Egg Harbor Township, better known as the strip of downtrodden mini-motels where the bodies of four slain prostitutes were discovered; a crime that has still not been solved. Egg Harbor Township is represented by Republican Mayor James "Sonny" McCollough, who is also the current NJ State Senator and incumbent candidate standing for re-election to the New Jersey Legislature, despite this week's signing of an ethics law banning dual office holding because of inherent conflicts of interest.
Pleasantville receives federal funding as an Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) because it has largely not enjoyed in the fruits of the recent economic renaissance and revival in Atlantic County. One of the town's Democratic councilmen, Lincoln Green, sports a new green Lincoln in which he tours his socially, politically, and economically challenged town.
The US Census Bureau estimates the city's population at around 19 thousand citizens: 57.7 % African American, 25 % Caucasian, and 21.87 % Hispanic/Latina/o.
The Pleasantville School District, one of the worst in the state, receives about $65 million of financing from New Jersey per year. It is a so-called Abbott district, or high risk, low attainment school district, whose designation allows it to receive all that state assistance.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the state appointed a monitor, Deserable, to oversee district monies after audits found accounting inadequacies and financial irregularities including even the most basic economic and management practices involving bank accounts and general ledgers.
The Inquirer also reports that 97 percent of the Pleasantville School District's pupils are either African American or Hispanic. In 2006 only 81.4 percent of its high school seniors graduated compared to the state average of 93.4 percent. The district's drop out rate was 3 percent compared to the state average of 1.8 percent.
In 2006 only 44 percent of Pleasantville's students were proficient in language arts literacy, well below the state average of 79 percent. In numeracy, only 35 percent of Pleasantville students were proficient compared to the state average of 64 percent. Eleven percent of classes taught in the Pleasantville District were headed by teachers judged not highly qualified as opposed to the state average of 3.5 percent.
That, Mr. Adams, is what you get out of it.
Atlantic County, indeed, the State of New Jersey is plagued by this sort of pervasive, entrenched corruption including the current service of an Atlantic City Council member under federal indictment for allegedly participating in video taping another council person, also a minister, having sex with a woman said to be a prostitute. No demands for that elected official to resign. I suppose the thought never occurred to him. Atlantic City's School District is little better than Pleasantville. Nepotism charges and reports of financial irregularities abound.
Indeed, the corruption allegedly exhibited by the accused PBOE officials was so common, so pedestrian they "referred" the FBI's cooperating witnesses to North Jersey officials who themselves became ensnared in the corruption probe netting two state Assemblymen and a mayor, one of whom also served as an under-sheriff. One of the assemblymen is, again, a minister.
US Attorney Christopher Christie has described the public offenses as a network of corruption.