May 3, 2023

Chmiel Requests Public Hearing with BOE

By Donald Gilpin

Frank Chmiel, Princeton High School (PHS) principal who on March 17 was removed from his position, has formally requested a hearing with the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE), and he has requested that the hearing be public.

Described by a New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) document on  nonrenewals and RIFS as “an informal appearance before the board” (known as a “Donaldson hearing”), the session is expected to be scheduled by the BOE for a date in the next three weeks.

Chmiel has received from the BOE a statement of reasons for nonrenewal, but he and his lawyers have not stated when and if they will reveal those reasons before the hearing takes place.

The hearing, according to the NJSBA document, provides the employee with an opportunity “to convince the board members that they have made an incorrect determination by not offering reemployment.” It continues, “The employee will probably try to refute the board’s reasons and possibly present an assessment of his/her value to the school system.”

The NJSBA document goes on to state that the hearing “is not an adversarial proceeding” and “is not intended to be protracted,” with the BOE charged with determining a reasonable length of time for the proceedings. “The purpose of the hearing is not for the Board to prove its reasons,” the document states.

At the hearing, Chmiel may be represented by his lawyer, and he may also present witnesses on his behalf.

After the hearing the BOE can overrule the superintendent’s recommendation for nonrenewal by voting to offer the employee a contract. An override would require a majority vote of the full membership of the BOE. But the Board is not obligated to vote after the hearing, and if the Board does not vote, the superintendent’s recommendation not to renew will stand.

Chmiel’s dismissal continues to generate controversy at PHS and around town, though a new interim principal, Kathie Foster, has been on the job since

March 30. Online petitions at calling for Chmiel’s reinstatement and/or PPS Superintendent Carol Kelley’s resignation have gathered more than 6,500 signatures.

In addition to large turnout for public comment at BOE meetings, there have been three well-attended rallies in support of Chmiel — one at PHS, one at Hinds Plaza, and the last a student walkout at PHS followed by a march to the PPS administration building on Valley Road on April 21.

As Chmiel and his lawyers prepare their appeal in response to the superintendent’s statement of reasons for nonrenewal, the community awaits the BOE’s announcement of the time and place for the hearing.

At last night’s BOE meeting, which took place after press time, Stephenie Tidwell, district supervisor of mathematics and business education, was, along with Chmiel, a noteworthy omission from the list of administrators to be reappointed. The PPS math program has been the subject of significant controversy over the past year.

Also on the agenda for last night’s meeting were the resignations of Dana Karas, director of school counseling services, and Jessica Kilgore, assistant principal at Princeton Middle School.