The needler in the haystack.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

(Board of Ed) Big changes apparent even before new members are seated


One change in the PHS Library since last the Board
met there is the comfortable and handsome stackable
chairs with PHS Cardinal cutouts.

The first sign of changes afoot was when another resident and I arrived for the Board of Ed meeting at the same time to find the doors to the Plainfield High School Auditorium locked. A neat small note taped to the inside announced the Board of Ed meeting had been moved to the PHS Library. Hmmmm.....

The crowd in the Library eventually grew to about seventy people or so, most sitting on sturdy stackable chairs with a cardinal cutout (see above).

The library had been the favored location for Board of Ed meetings when Dr. Larry Leverett was superintendent. The room is bright, spacious and welcoming. The Board sits close to the audience and the whole feels like a community meeting, which is what it is supposed to be. It is really hard to understand why Wilma Campbell resisted the move for so long, even after people complained loudly about how "unfriendly" the auditorium was.

The next big change came with the agenda.

As I had written in advance, and as many attendees made obvious, the sentiment was that the Board should refrain from any but the most minimal business -- especially avoiding hires and fires and walk-on resolutions.

After the roll had been taken (President Campbell was absent because of a "family emergency"), Superintendent Anna Belin Pyles disclosed that she had consulted the School Boards Association and been advised that the Board should take no action which would "bind" the incoming Board.

Accordingly, she said, the entire Human Resources Committee resolutions and all but two of the Finance resolutions were being withdrawn. The crowd received the news with satisfaction.

During privilege of the floor, resident (and former BOE member) Terri Slaughter-Cabbell protested the inclusion of any items except bills in the agenda, citing state statute. She also insisted that the newly elected members should have been sworn in prior to the meeting. (By way of comparison, Newark's board, also elected on the 19th, was reorganized WITH its new members last night -- see Ledger story here.)

Resident David Graves crossed swords with Board attorney Lisa Fittipaldi over the same issue. Fittipaldi found a loophole, but it seems to me that Ms. Campbell and Superintendent Belin Pyles were proceeding on the assumption that she would be re-elected and overlooked rejiggering the meeting schedule to reflect the change of election dates to April. Precision execution has been an ongoing problem, as this gaffe underscores.

Dr. Inez Durham, also a former Board member, closely quizzed the Superintendent on whether the District has taken advantage of the two opportunities the state provides for objections to charter school proposals. Though Belin Pyles said she had, she was unable to tell Dr. Durham just when she had objected and what her objections were. Looks like the heat will be turned up on the Board and Superintendent on this issue.

The most testy item during the meeting was the announcement that there would be a walk-on resolution. The audience erupted with shouts of "No!".

Walk-ons had been a sore spot during the campaign, and even though all the candidates (including Campbell and Moore) protested they disliked them, the practice has persisted unabated.

Last night's audience was having none of it.

They were additionally riled up when they learned that no copies were available for the public.

After Board secretary Craig Smith exchanged whispers with Superintendent Belin Pyles, he announced the resolution would be available AFTER the meeting.

Again, the audience protested no action should be taken without the public's knowledge of the resolution and opportunity to comment.

Smith relented and said copies would be made and passed out. While that was being done, the Board adopted a number of resolutions -- primarily class trips -- by a single consent vote, though not without murmurs of protest from the audience.

Also while the copies were being made, Smith introduced Plainfield Mayor Adrian O. Mapp who spoke briefly, noting that the City looked forward to working even more closely with the school district in the near future.

At long last, Business Administrator Gary Ottman appeared with the copies of the walk-on and distributed them to the audience.

On inspection, it was an unobjectionable motion to approve sending 16 varsity track team members to the Penn Relays in Philadelphia today and tomorrow.

The Penn Relays are a big deal in the mid-Atlantic, over 125 years running (I went to them in my college days in the 1950s). However, they are held every year at the same time, like clockwork.

So, I find it hard to understand why the trip had to be handled as a walk-on.

Clearly, the new Board will have its work cut out for it in holding the Superintendent and her staff accountable for the TIMELY transaction of business. I can't understand why such a routine, foreseeable item wasn't submitted in time to be in the printed agenda (or even the previous month's).

If the Board has been lax about its expectations up to this point, I have a suspicion that is about to change -- dramatically.

The days of the Superintendent not having to pull her oar look to be numbered.


  -- Dan Damon [follow]


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