By William Gjebre, FloridaBulldog.org
A former Miami-Dade County school principal/district administrator banned from working in New Jersey public schools following an investigation during his tenure as superintendent of a 7,000-student district is seeking a seat on the Miami-Dade School Board.
Steven Gallon III says his New Jersey troubles, including an arrest for theft, were “driven by politics.” Likewise he disputes allegations surrounding his firm’s management of a trio of South Florida charter schools and his authority to hire and set salaries. “That had nothing to do with me,” Gallon said in an interview.
With the school board election set for Aug. 30, Gallon has a sizeable funding lead in his attempt to unseat District 1 incumbent Wilbert “Tee” Holloway.
According to the latest campaign reports filed with the Miami-Dade elections office, Gallon has raised $65,120; Holloway, $17,900; and another candidate, James Bush III, $4,685.
Gallon, who worked his way up from teacher to principal at Miami Northwestern Senior High from 1998-2005 to district administrator in Miami-Dade public schools, said he’s running because District 1 needs a change.
“…The schools in District 1 continue to languish in the areas of student achievement, educator quality and support, and other areas that will ensure the learning and lifelong success of our students,” he said in a prepared statement to FloridaBulldog.org.
Aware of the funding gap, Holloway said the election is “not about money.” He said he believes he has done a good job for the parents and students in his district and hopes voters will support his re-election.
Holloway declined to comment about controversy surrounding Gallon, including his tenure in New Jersey. It is for the voters to decide, he said.
New Jersey controversy
In 2008, Gallon was hired as superintendent of the Plainfield, N.J., public schools at a salary of $198,000. Not long afterward, controversy enveloped the new superintendent.
First, the New Jersey Department of Education found that two of three Miami colleagues that Gallon hired did not have the required certifications for their $100,000-plus positions, according to a New Jersey media report. After the finding, the two, Lalelei Kelly and Lesly Borge, were fired by the school board, the report stated.
Despite the news report, Gallon said in his statement, “Only one of the four from Florida had an issue and was erroneously placed in the wrong position by Human Resources when hired and prior to my arrival as superintendent.”
Furthermore, he stated, “… with respect to the certifications of staff, I requested a state inquiry and the state concluded that I did no wrong and there were issues with nearly 30 other employee[s] that were employed by the district prior to my arrival and under the responsibility of the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources.”
Following the certification issue, Gallon, Kelly and Angela Kemp, his third assistant from Miami, were charged with stealing more than $10,000 worth of educational services, according to a press release from the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, which filed the charges in May 2010.
The prosecutor’s press release said Gallon was charged with “conspiring to commit theft by deception, theft by deception as an accomplice, and false swearing.” Kelly and Kemp were charged with “uttering false documents, theft by deception, conspiracy to commit theft by deception and false swearing,” according to the press release.
The allegations involved Gallon, then a South Plainfield resident, declaring under oath that the two assistants and their children lived with him while the children attended a local school, the prosecutor’s office said. The assistants actually lived elsewhere, according to the prosecutor’s office.
The lies allowed the children to attend school in South Plainfield, costing that district $10,500 during a five-month period, after which the children were moved to a school where they actually lived.
After their arrests, Gallon and his two assistants took a deal that allowed them to enter a pretrial intervention program with the condition they never work for New Jersey public schools in exchange for their charges being dismissed, according to New Jersey media reports. Gallon’s two assistants repaid the money, according to a news report in New Jersey.
‘What benefit or gain was there?’
In a statement, Gallon blames his troubles on politics.
“Due to politics I was accused of allowing my two godsons – ages 6 and 7 to reside with me and legally attend school in my area for a brief period of time. Where I’m from we take care of our children and provide shelter and support where needed. I was making $225,000 a year. The parents were making six figures. What benefit or gain was there? There was no ‘theft’ and the school district they were enrolled [in] can attest to that.”
Gallon said he decided to leave New Jersey because of its “slow wheels of justice” and to “attend to my mother whose health was failing.”
He also claimed that “no one was banned from working in New Jersey,” though public records and media reports indicate otherwise.
Following a review by the New Jersey Department of Education’s Board of Examiners Gallon’s administrator certificates were revoked in June 2012. A department document states the board upheld the provision Gallon signed in the “consent agreement” to “never seek nor accept employment in any New Jersey public school or public system.”
In August 2014, a New Jersey state appellate court turned down a request by Gallon’s two assistants, Kelly and Kemp, to revoke the ban prohibiting them from working in state public schools.
After the controversy in New Jersey, Gallon and his company, Tri-Star Leadership, were hired in June 2011 to provide educational services at three charter schools in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, according to a June 2014 story in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
The paper said that by the end of summer 2012 Gallon had obtained positions for the two associates arrested and banned from working in the New Jersey public schools, made payroll decisions without approval of the three charter school boards and entered into a business with one of the volunteer board members of a charter school.
Despite the controversy surrounding the three schools, state ethics officials found that no laws had been broken.
Two of the three charter schools, Success Academy in Fort Lauderdale and Excel Leadership Academy in West Palm Beach, shut down in the summer of 2013. Miami’s Stellar Leadership Academy remains active.
Gallon said the three schools had management problems before his company was hired. “I had no authority to hire, fire, pay, or even write checks at either school,” Gallon said in his statement.
Nothing “improper or illegal” occurred, he said.