The former director of the Belleville Special Education Department, Helene Feldman, was unanimously named interim superintendent of schools by the school board Monday night.
Feldman’s appointment came after the existing superintendent, Joseph Picardo, was placed on paid leave after being sued for sexual misconduct.
Though the meeting was moved to a larger venue to accommodate the public, the meeting was relatively quiet with an audience of less than 50 people.
"I've been in Belleville for a year and a few weeks," Feldman said. "I worked before that with the New York City Chancellor's Office, in a position that is equivalent to being an assistant superintendent. I look forward to working together with the board and the staff in continuing to move the district forward.”
Stunned parents said that some still did not know of the allegations against Picardo as of Monday night. Others said that their children had been reading information on the Internet, and that both they and their children are looking for facts about the allegations.
"We're all just reeling from this," said one mother, while one father said, "The older children have been reading everything on line."
A former male employee filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court accusing Picardo of "a series of sexual abuses suffered during his employment," according to Gerald Saluti, lawyer for the former employee. The employee identified himself as Michael M. Myers and served as director of curriculum from August 2010 to December 2011.
Myers said in a statement,“I had to turn to the court for help. I wasn’t going to remain a victim.” Saluti said Myers is a father and a Vietnam veteran, and that Myers said the abuse “was the most trying experience of my life."
Saluti said Myers “was routinely pressured into engaging in homosexual acts with his superior, Superintendent Joseph Picardo, over the course of his employment.”
School Board President Peter Zangari Jr. praised the board's handling of a difficult situation and said Feldman was well-qualified, while Feldman said after the meeting she is "very excited" to take the post.
"By the way this board voted tonight, it shows our absolute faith in Helene Feldman's abilities," Zangari said of the interim superintendent. "She has taken our special ed from a very bad standing, including failing state audits, to not only meeting all standards but to now being a model program. She is the right one to lead this district in these difficult times, when we need to be focused on improving education for all students."
The school board also accepted the resignation of Anthony D'Achille as interim school business administrator/board secretary Monday afternoon, and Zangari said the board will hire a replacement as soon as possible.
Zangari said afterward, "The Board of Education put the district in the best position to continue operating without affecting everyday business, and in the best interests of the teaching of our students. In light of the distractions of the last three days, we put Mr. Picardo on paid administrative leave, and reserve his position. We believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, and we need to allow the criminal and civil courts decide this matter."
He commended his fellow board members for keeping themselves available to deal with the situation, and for remaining calm and level headed in making the decision.