Trivia Corner: Bridgewater-Raritan School District history
Cummings (“Jake”) Piatt or Richard (“Dick”) Horowitz
Which one was the bigger loser???
I know that conventional wisdom says Horowitz. But I happen to disagree.
For those of you not in the know, Bridgewater-Raritan School District has had something like nine or ten superintendents (maybe thirteen, if you count interims) in the last 30 years. A number of these have been doozies, brought in to satisfy a small clique on the Bridgewater-Raritan School Board. To make sure that certain families and neighborhoods got a great experience with the district. And, of course, that other areas, other taxpaying residents suffer.
Back in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, there was a political husband-and-wife team in the township that best could be described as a menace to any family that already lived here before the four-bedroom colonials sprouted up. If you ask me who are the two people who did more to cause the disaster that contemporary Bridgewater has become in the eyes of many, it’s Frank and Audrey Dittman.
Most of these complaints about the sprawl along Route 22 can be traced right back to when Frank Dittman was a committeeman on the Bridgewater Committee (what was replaced by Township Council in ’75). Dittman insisted on a major mall and highrise development in the Green Knoll neighborhood. Close enough to his house that he could drive to it, yet far enough away that he wouldn’t be putting up with any of the traffic.
And if you notice, when you drive around Country Club and Talamini Roads, it looks very much like it did in the mid 1970’s.
Audrey Dittman let loose on the school district. Primarily this was through hiring cronies from the backwoods of Pennsylvania where these people are really from. (They weren’t from here, but they decided that they knew best for the people who lived here.)
Audrey Dittman liked to bicker with the other school board members. And depending on which clique was up or down, whoever the superintendent was got yanked. Generally how this occurred is that the latest pick saw the writing on the wall, and made his intentions clear that he would not mind having his contract bought out for a six-figure sum.
(Yes, you read that right. Bridgewater-Raritan ordinarily gave these transient administrators tenure at the outset. And prior to 1991, tenure meant job-protection–they couldn’t be removed except for extreme reasons.)
I forget how many principals Mrs. Dittman installed from Pennsylvania, but I think it was three: Ernest Shuba, Mary Elizabeth Connors and Marilyn Topcik. Whether these people were personal friends of Audrey Dittman I can’t say. But I can say, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were. Unlike superintendents, principals were even harder to get rid of. So once Audrey finished playing employment service, well . . .
Cummings Piatt was the Dittman clique’s crony when their turn to stick a super in came, in 1981. They made a big deal about his Ed.D. degree (the kind from these schools that operated in the basement of Howard Johnson’s.) This guy was allegedly one of these hard-ass disciplinarians who was going to make sure the busses ran on time, so to speak.
But really, Cummings Piatt was an opportunist shill who allowed a number of nasty things to happen in the school district. The difference between Richard Horowitz and Piatt, is that Piatt deliberately hurt students—primarily by allowing hazings at High School West. He made decisions based on which families were more politically connected. I believe he also supported a mass suspension by Mary Elizabeth Connors of high school students that signed a petition–an incident that got the ACLU and the New York media involved.
Richard Horowitz was a political incompetent who didn’t know how to build coalitions and “take care of business”. Piatt was some kind of military nut who never should have been in charge of young people. Horowitz was a boob. Piatt was dangerous.
But of course, two or three years later, when Jake Piatt saw the writing on the wall, he got the Dittmans, through the local county G.O.P. (Bateman, etc.–that would be old man Bateman for you newcomers), to have Governor Kean appoint him something in the state. He got out of the contract here, and I think at that point they gave the job to Robert Schiller. (Schiller, in turn, lasted about two or three years. Then came Horowitz—another post!)
So when these people go, to this day: “Oh my God! Richard Horowitz! Richard Horowitz!” as if he was the worst superintendent that Bridgewater had, you really need to know that there was considerably worse sitting in the Administration Building.