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Tempers Flare at Sparta Board of Education Meeting

Jennifer Dericks

Wednesday, August 27, 2014 • 1:50am

SPARTA, NJ – Tempers flared as the Sparta Board of Education discussed the resolution to approve the District Goals for 2014- 2015.

The point of contention was not a new one. Board members Kim Yoeman and Brenda Beebe questioned the language for the first and second goals to improve student achievement. They were at odds with the phrase “as measured by the PARCC assessments, indicating that Sparta is at the median or better than their” state selected peer groups.” 

Yeoman’s and Beebe’s objection was three-fold. They did not agree with using the PARCC as the assessment on which improved student achievement would be measured. They did not agree with a goal of being at the median or better, nor did they agree with having the state selected peer groups be the comparison. 

Yoeman also had concerns about the board’s ability to have access to the special education sub-group scores to see if the second goal had been achieved.  Beebe, however, said this was not a concern of hers. 

Dr. Melissa Varley, assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Staff Development, along with several board members, stated that data would continue to be available to the district, but that “it might look different, in a different format.”

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is the new standardized test that is mandated by the state. This is the first year that it will be implemented. While the district was able to participate in the pilot program last year, it will be completely different from past testing, including the fact that students will take the test on computers.

The underlying reason for the tense discussion was brought public when board member Jack Surdoval said he seriously objected to the language directed at his fellow board members in an email sent by Yoeman and Beebe.

He said he was, “dumbfounded by the accusation that I am shirking my responsibility as a board member.” 

Tobin said he did not know about the email. 

President Karen Scott said, “You were not copied on it.  Just the nine board members.”  She added, “The board has fully discussed this issue at the goal setting meeting and last week’s work session which you could not attend. You can vote no if you do not agree. That is your prerogative as a board member.”

Yoeman expressed agitation saying this was an important issue and the board needed to discuss it fully.  Scott, Surdoval and McEvoy answered that point by reminding her they had devoted an entire special meeting of nearly four hours to developing the goals. They had also discussed it at length at the work session that Yoeman did not attend. 

There was additional heated discussion, including accusations of "eye-rolling" by board members. The vote was finally called. Beebe, Yoeman and Rich Bladek all voted no.  Todd Muth, Kelly McEvoy, Karen Scott, Jack Surdoval and Scott Turner voted yes. Frank Favichia was not in attendance.

After the vote, Tobin admonished the board about the necessity of including the board administrators on board email. He said this was important because they needed to be sure board members were not violating the Open Public Meetings Act by holding board meetings via email. 

A New Jersey School Board’s Association’s document on the topic of Open Public Meetings Act and Technology advises, in part, “…NJSBA recommends that board members not engage in e-mail discussions or communication with a quorum of its membership. “  https://www.njsba.org/legal_02/opma.html

That is exactly what happened in this case. All nine board members were copied on the emails on this topic.  Informational email is permitted but a back and forth discussion of board business by a quorum of board members could violate OPMA.  In violating the law they could also be found to be in violation of their Board Member Code of Ethics. 

The superintendent is also a member of the board. As such, all correspondence sent to all board members must include the superintendent, except in matters regarding his evaluation.  

 

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