Pasternak Resigns From Millburn Board of Education Citing Family Concerns; School Body Use of Surplus Questioned
Tuesday, February 12, 2013 • 7:03am
MILLBURN, NJ—School Board member Jean Pasternak officially presented her resignation from the township education body at Monday’s board meeting.
Pasternak said her resignation, submitted to School Business Administrator Steven DiGeronimo last Friday, was necessary so she could better focus on some immediate family matters.
She thanked the community for electing her nearly two years ago and her fellow board members and the school district staff for their work in maintaining and improving the quality of Millburn’s schools.
Board president Jeffrey Waters announced the board would post an advertisement in The Item of Millburn and Short Hills asking that residents seeking the open position submit letters of interest to DiGerononimo by Wednesday, Feb. 27.
Board vice president Rona Wenik said those interested should provide the board with as much information as possible about why they are seeking the position, what their goals are and would they would like to see the board accomplish during their term in office.
Along with this, she added, a resume should be submitted.
Waters said the school body would review the submissions in executive session on March 11 and vote on the proposed replacement on March 25 with the new board member to be seated that evening.
He added the new board member would serve until the board of education election in November, when he or she could stand for election for a term to expire in November 2014.
The board president noted that whoever runs for the one-year term would have their name listed on a separate line on the ballot from the three board members whose terms normally would expire this November.
During board remarks on Pasternak’s resignation, board member Lise Chapman called her “a continual fighter for transparency” on the education body, especially in matters of student assessment and achievement.
She also thanked her for the extensive research she did on all board matters, her past service in chairing the personnel committee and her involvement with strategic planning and fostering the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) studies in the schools that helped lead to the establishment of the robotics program, according to Chapman.
Board member Eric Siegel thanked Pasternak for the courage and commitment she demonstrated in running for the school body and serving on it, while board member Regina Truit commended the departing board member on her passion and commitment to the school body.
Newly elected board member Rupali Wadhwa said Pasternak’s resignation resulted in a big loss to the board and the community.
She too commended Pasternak for being passionate, putting the community first and focusing the board on what needed to be done for the school district and its students.
During continuing board budget discussions, Superintendent of Schools James Crisfield presented a revised budget cut sheet that would save $1,724,925—resulting in a 2 percent tax increase.
This would mean not hiring a 0.4 full-time equivalent related arts chairman at the high school, not hiring a 0.4 full-time equivalent program chairman at the middle school and not hiring a new 0.4 full-time equivalent mathematics teacher at the high school.
It also would pay for common area air conditioner projects at Deerfield, Wyoming and South Mountain Elementary Schools from capital reserve, and defer planned renovations to the high school fire alarm and sprinkler systems and replacement of the education center roof.
In addition, the planned move of the middle school entrance to the side of the building would be cut out of the budget because, for security reasons, the entrance would remain in the front of the school.
Construction management funds for the air conditioning projects also would be paid out of capital reserve, all technical planning for new peripherals such as smart boards and projectors would be cut and the district would make more aggressive assumptions about employee health benefit contributions.
Also, benefit contributions would not be necessary for the two chairmen positions cited above that will not be filled.
The proposals would, however, add a middle school security officer and a 0.6 equivalent district security officer, who possibly could be shared with other districts.
In her presentation, Burton noted additional textbooks and online support for them would be needed in all grades to meet the new core curriculum standards, teacher and administrator development and a data management system will be needed for the new teacher and principal evaluation system and continuing professional development is needed throughout the district with regard to technology, implementing the new state standards and revising curricula.
Following the budget presentations, frequent board critic Jeff Diecidue raised a number of questions about what he considered the school body’s extensive retention of unnecessary surplus.
Referring to Waters’ January 28 presentation on the use of surplus and the decreasing of debt, Diecidue said the board president was potentially violating a school board policy that precludes the provision of consultation to the school body without compensation.
“We are again watching the elevation of spin over substance,” he added, referring to Water’s equation of paying off bond debt with saving the taxpayers money in the current budget, “two items which are completely separate,” because bond debt was previously approved by taxpayers and “is going to be paid irrespective of what the current budget is.”
Diecidue said the district, earlier in Waters’ term was instructed by the Essex County superintendent of schools to reduce the amount of surplus held in reserve.
The resident said the legal limit is 2 to 3 percent and the Millburn district has been reserving 5 or 6 percent.
He added past school administrations engaged in “bad management” by not using capital surplus to improve district facilities—a practice he complemented Crisfield for trying to come to grips with.
Diecidue, however, criticized Waters for trying to hold onto a “rainy day fund” “in perpetuity.”
He added, “I don’t know why the money is being held onto if we don’t intend to use it, while we are taxed to death and saving surplus that is not used.”
Board finance chairman Michael Birnberg, however, disputed comments by some speakers at Monday’s meeting that the board was not using money for its intended purposes.
Birnberg noted the board often makes transfers of budgeted funds that are not used in one account later in the year to accounts where they are used.
“This money is meant for the betterment of the children,” he added, “if it were not used for that purpose what would it be used for?”
If board members were to use money for their personal purposes, he said, they could be accused of theft.
In addition, he noted, the board could not reduce teacher and staff benefits during the 2013-2014 budget year without reopening labor contracts that were not due to expire until June 2014.
Birnberg added, “If it is the will of the community to reduce salaries and benefits I would like to see those who support this come forward and say who they are. Certainly if there are a thousand people in support of these reductions we will listen to them.”