Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, April 15, 2016

(BOE Race) After sparks fly at LWV forum, campaigns enter home stretch

Your turn is coming ... Tuesday.

Sparks flew at Wednesday's League of Women Voters candidate forum. Seven of the eight candidates were on hand (James Plummer was in the hospital), and were questioned closely by the audience.

With topics ranging from the budget to Board transparency, from thoughts on supervising the Superintendent to student resources, the candidates expressed their views and concerns.

Much of the evening was focused on the sharp differences between candidate Dorien Hurtt and incumbent Board president Wilma Campbell.

Hurtt related how he had felt honored to be recruited by Wilma Campbell for his first term, but went on to recount his increasing disillusionment with her over time, declaring that neither Wilma nor her husband John (also a Board member) have the interest of the District's children or teachers at heart.

On the matter of transparency, both Campbell and her running mate Frederick Moore Sr. held that matters of personnel, legal issues and contract matters are confidential and cannot be discussed in public.

(This is only partly true: once the matter discussed confidentially is ready to be acted upon by the Board, the details must be disclosed and subject to public comment and questioning -- this is the part that Wilma passes over.)

Hurtt focused instead on the process, citing the decision at a work/study meeting (at which the public almost never is present) to move the election from November to April as an example of doing business behind the public's back. "How is that transparency?" he demanded.

On the budget, Campbell held that "the budget is what the state gives you", which is only partly true as the District is also funded from a local tax levy -- over which the Board has some discretion.

Hurtt also held that many Board members fail to take the training offered to new board members, don't properly understand and participate in their policy-making role (leaving that to Campbell), and interfere in the day-to-day operations of the District, which is a no-no.

Much was made by several candidates, especially Hurtt, Anderson and Pile, of the lack of textbooks for English language learners. Wilma avoided a direct answer on the matter, arguing instead that the district is constricted in how funds may be spent, and that "upgrading the facilities is the priority".

It is interesting to note that the Ledger has just run a story on Clifton, where the Board is asking the state for permission to use building funds to avoid having to lay off teachers -- see here. This appears to be an option that Campbell doesn't even consider.

Throughout, candidates Anderson, Hurtt and Pile stressed holding the Superintendent accountable for performance measures. Hurtt was especially sharp in pointing out that Campbell engineered the appointment of the current Superintendent, despite having no previous experience in such a job.

Campbell argued that the current Superintendent has "brought stability" to the District. Campbell completely sidestepped the issue of filling positions with consultants (as in Human Resources) rather than certified persons. She completely ignored the disarray in the athletics department, with political appointments of coaches, failure to get necessary student physicals done in a timely fashion and the lack of a permanent Athletic Director.

Hurtt pointed out that at the PEA forum, Campbell said "we need to do research" when difficult questions came up. He repeated his challenge to her, "After twelve years, when do you plan to get into that?"

In her closing, Campbell urged voters to "go with a team with experience ... [and] not a Little Leaguer (a reference to Hurtt)".

The audience of about a hundred or so listened attentively, but did not seem particularly receptive to Campbell. Many stayed to chat with the candidates after the forum broke up.

The campaigns now move into the home stretch, with the election next Tuesday, April 19, from 2:00 to 9:00 PM.

As Wilma Campbell remarked in her closing statement, "Certain things are gonna happen, no matter what."

Couldn't have put it better myself.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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