Concord’s remaining top two administrators lack Department of Education credentials

Monitor staff
Published: 10/3/2019 6:46:19 PM

When Concord Superintendent Terri Forsten was put on paid administrative leave last week, the school board left the district with two remaining administrators who lacked the state credentials to do their job.

Assistant Superintendent Donna Palley, who was promoted to acting superintendent, lacks the certification for her new job and her old job, which she’s held for eight years, according to Department of Education Records. Her deadline to get those credentials expired in 2014, but she told the school board she was working on coming into compliance.

In addition, Jack Dunn, the district’s business administrator, has served in that role for seven years despite a lack of state credentials, a state education official said Thursday. Dunn has never obtained the proper credential for his post, according to Grant Bosse, a spokesman for the Department of Education.

In an interview Thursday, Dunn confirmed that account.

“I knew I had to do this process,” he said, referring to credentialing for the department. “I did it. It didn’t make it over there.”

He sent a copy of his graduate certificate in school business administration that he earned in 2014 from Southern New Hampshire University.

Dunn and Bosse said Dunn self-reported his lack of credentials to department officials earlier this week and is currently in the process of obtaining certification.

“I own it,” Dunn said. “To me, I’m ultimately responsible.”

Palley said she’s working to address her own certification, but hasn’t said where she is in that process.

Department of Education rules require that all top administrators are certificated – and holds superintendents potentially accountable if they are not.

“The (State Board of Education) shall revoke the credential of a superintendent who knowingly employs or continues the active employment of an educator who does not hold a valid New Hampshire teaching credential or intern license,” department rules state.

If such a lapse was done knowingly, the state Board of Education could intervene and hold hearings.

Palley was promoted to assistant superintendent in 2011, Dunn in 2012. Both moves were made under the previous superintendent Chris Rath, and not Forsten, who was hired in 2015.

According to Dunn, he earned his graduate certificate in 2014, but that’s not the same as receiving a state credential, which is administered through the Department of Education. State education credentials generally cost about $130 and are required to be renewed every year. Currently, about 27,000 educators in New Hampshire are credentialed, Bosse said.

The state credentials vary by position, but generally require recipients to follow an ethical code of conduct and prohibits “unprofessional conduct.” They also set out rules for referring neglected or abused students, as well as filing reports against other school employees.

When Dunn was voted into his post in 2012, it came with some controversy. He had resigned from the school board just two weeks before he was hired by the board to serve as business administrator, prompting some at the time to accuse the board of cronyism.

Others on the candidate search committee defended the choice, calling Dunn eminently qualified.

Both Dunn and Palley have indicated that they are in the process of becoming certified. Concord School Board President Jennifer Patterson said Sunday that Palley had been “working to address this for some time” and “expects to be in good standing shortly.”

Bosse said the process takes roughly three months, but that time window is not absolute.

According to Dunn, he was not aware he needed the credentials until Tuesday, two days after news reports highlighted Palley’s lack of credentials. He says he called the Department of Education to see if he was properly credentialed.

“I made a phone call Tuesday, understood it that Tuesday, I went over there immediately,” Dunn said. “Great group of people over there. Very professional. And they laid out the process for me.”

It is unclear how many other school officials in New Hampshire are working without state credentials. The state maintains an online database of those who are certified, but the department does not take an active role in investigating whether new hires have those credentials, Bosse said.

“The Department of Education credentials educators, and it is up to the districts to make sure that they’re hiring people with the credentials for the job that they’re hiring for,” Bosse said.

“We are not in charge of hiring; we never have been. It is their responsibility,” he said.

The lack of credentials for Palley and Dunn raises questions whether they are required to step aside until they are fully compliant.

Under the education department’s administrative rules, a superintendent who knows an educator’s credentials have lapsed must remove that educator from the post until the credentials have been renewed. The rules don’t specify the process if the school employee never had credentials to begin with.

Dunn indicated that he does not have current plans to step aside from his post. Palley was unavailable for comment Thursday.

“I’m sorry that this happened. It’s my fault. And right now I’m more concerned about this district, the community, our administrators, and our teachers,” he said.

“The last week has been difficult, and I didn’t need this to happen, and it’s my fault.”

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