Millburn School Board Holds Organization Meeting
Wednesday, May 16, 2012 • 12:00am
MILLBURN, NJ - The Millburn Board of Education met on Monday, May 14 to vote on policies, curriculum items and more at its annual organizational meeting.
Approved were a variety of service appointments. These include Business Administrator Steve DiGeronimo as Board Secretary, Public Contracts Officer, Public Agency Compliance Officer, Investment Officer, and Purchasing Agent. When asked by Finance Chairman Lise Chapman to clarify his duties as Purchasing Agent, DiGeronimo explained that all districts need one person who signs purchase orders, and who has responsibility for ordering. He explained to Chapman that he always gets two quotes, “preferably three,” and that this applies to all orders between $5400 and $36,000. For orders over $36,000, there must be a bidding process.
The board approved the appointment of Juliana Kusz as Liason to DYFS (The Division of Youth and Family Services.) Board member Jean Pasternak voted against the appointment, saying she feels there is a possible conflict of interest given that Kusz is Director of the district’s Department Of Special Services.
The following appointments of board representatives to outside organizations were approved for the 2012-13 school year:
- Vice-President Eric Siegel to the Essex Regional Educational Services Commission.
- Superintendent James Crisfield to the Morris Union Jointure Commission Board of Education
- Lise Chapman to the NJSBA (New Jersey School Boards Association) Delegate Assembly
- Sam Levy to the Millburn Township Joint Facilities Committee
- Jean Pasternak to the Garden State Coalition For Schools
Though the District Mission Statement was approved, Crisfield clarified that it may change once there is a strategic plan, and that the board can always “re-adopt” it.
In his Superintendent’s Report, Crisfield announced that this year the district will begin re-registering students to insure they are eligible to attend the township schools. For the 2012-13 school year, families of all incoming 9th graders will need to show proof of residence. Crisfield promised there will be “plenty of press” and numerous reminders. In future years parents of kids in more grades will be asked to document their residency.
Nine business agenda items were approved. These include the appointment of The Birdsall Services Group of Cranford as engineer for asbestos management services, and for identification and abatement of asbestos on an “as needed” basis.
A contract was approved with a new vendor, Elevator Maintenance Co. (EMCO,) for all elevators in the schools. DiGeronimo explained that EMCO “beat the quote” of the previous elevator company. EMCO will receive $875 per month for monthly testing. Crisfield gave assurances that the old elevator at the high school, which has been prone to breakdowns this year, is now up to code.
The contract for Dyntek Services, Inc. has been increased to $92,553.74 to provide storage components and services necessary for web servers as part of a district-wide server upgrade.
Resident Jeff Diecidue questioned the approval of an application for funds to support district implementation of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act, asking if this could be considered asking for money for “political” purposes. Crisfield clarified that implementation of the HIB (Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying) Act is required by the state, and that monies are available to districts that submit applications. As the superintendent explained it, this will “defray the costs of this unfunded mandate.”
Rona Wenik, Program Committee Chair, advised that there is a revised curriculum for Spanish 1 CPA and Pre Cal ACC. New textbooks in biology, chemistry and advanced Spanish were also approved as were two in-district summer programs. One is an ELL Elementary Summer Enrichment Program to be held at Glenwood School, and the other an Algebra 1 CPA level course to be held for certain incoming 9th graders at Millburn High School.
Wenik received support from several board members and criticism from Jean Pasternak for Wenik’s choice to clarify board-student interactions in meetings of the Middle and High School Student Liason Committee. Wenik, chairperson of the committee, recently made the determination that it is best if only students and Principals Cahill (Middle School) and Miron (High School) initiate subjects to be discussed at Liason Committee meetings. Wenik says the board is welcome to send inquiries or suggestions to the principals.
Pasternak complained that "Since Ms. Wenik has decided to change the process and focus of these committees, in my view, she has made them moot, ineffective and unnecessary because there will be no open dialogue between the students and Board at this point. In addition, she has set an awkward precedent for other committees whereby a committee chair is now empowered to change the focus of a committee."
Pasternak said she asked Wenik why she changed the process of these committees, why she altered the focus of them, and what prompted the change, and Wenik "chose not to discuss this matter any further with me."
Pasternak said she is resigning from the committee.
Board President Michael Birnberg responded that no board member is required to serve on a committee. He then spoke in defense of Wenik’s authority as chairperson, saying that there is considerable latitude for a committee chair in terms of organization and control.
Siegel, who has chaired the Liason Committee in the past, refuted Pasternak’s claim that this is a change in policy. “When I ran the Liason Committee for a year, we just let kids talk. We didn’t interact with them. We just listened. And that actually was better. We didn’t point them to any different area of discussion.”
Jeff Waters stated that he feels fortunate to serve on both committees Wenik chairs, and that he thinks she’s done an outstanding job running those committees. He emphasized that as a sitting member of the Liason Committee he fully endorses the actions she has taken and that he feels those actions are “completely warranted.”
Wenik said she believes the purpose of these committees is to get feedback from the students, “not for board members to address themselves directly to the students and make promises to them.” Birnberg added that, as Crisfield has reminded the board on several occasions, “we as a board are perceived differently by students and teachers…we’re held to a different standard.” Continuing, he explained that when a board member brings up a subject, or makes a promise, it is not the same as if anyone else does so.
Pasternak then proceeded to express her concern about the board’s annual CSA evaluation process, in which the board discusses the performance of the Superintendent.
"It was startling to me having our assistant superintendent and business administrator present during our discussion about the Superintendent’s evaluation," Pasternak said. "I believe this undermined the Board’s ability to have an open and frank discussion, which is essential in order to meet the objectives stated in our policy. I want to emphasize that I am in no way being critical of the assistant superintendent or business administrator, nor am I speaking of the content of the summary evaluation. I am speaking here about the process."
Pasternak said that she contacted the NJSBA to inquire whether it is standard practice that administrators attend evaluations and that officials at the School Boards Association responded that it is not. Pasternak said she plans to request a review and clarification of the board’s policy or by-law before next year’s process begins.
Birnberg congratulated board negotiators Mark Zucker and Sam Levy for “various efforts as we hopefully come to a close” of contract talks with the teachers. After the meeting, MEA (Millburn Education Association) President Lois Infanger said the teachers are waiting to ratify the agreement until they hear officially that the BOE has agreed to the salary levels the teachers are anticipating.
Zucker questioned the “extraordinary” fees--between $73,734 and $96,402-- approved to send special education students to schools outside the district. Acknowledging that “we stay away from this subject,” because it is “taboo” and causes discomfort, Zucker pointed out that these tuitions are “a very large component of our budget” and “I just don’t know when to talk about it.” He urged the board to explore which special education students need to go out-of-district and which can be educated in-house.
Siegel explained that many of these out-of-district placements are the result of behavioral issues.
Waters responded that in recent years “we have brought a lot of these cases back into the district at substantial savings.” He told of an “ironic” situation in which a parent at a budget presentation complained that the number of out-of-district placements is too low, and who warned him that there could be a “legal problem” bringing so many kids back into the district.
Chapman assured Zucker that she asks a lot of “tough questions” and that she feels comfortable with the particular expense items to which Zucker had referred.
On a different subject, Zucker, who is a doctor, asked about how the food service handles kids’ allergies. He wondered if the cafeterias list ingredients such as wheat, soy, peanuts. and what alternates are provided for kids who can’t tolerate these ingredients. When told that the state does inspections all the time, and that the district is in compliance with regulations, Zucker replied that this “doesn’t mean we can’t ask our food service organization to go one step further.” He urged those in charge to find out what can be done to label foods better.
Pastenak reported that she has just completed, over the past two months, a tour of each school to get a better understanding of them in her service as a board member.
"We have a team of principals that are the envy of any district in the country. I am in no way making a comparison, but I did have a special time with Mr. (Ronald) Castaldo as my tour guide. As we know, he will be retiring at the end of this school year and this may have been one of his last tours. You would never have known it by the enthusiasm he showed taking me around the Hartshorn School. I had the privilege of seeing the school through the eyes of an historian and a first-class educator who has helped make Millburn excellent over many years. His dedication and pride in our students, staff and programs is breathtaking. I thank him especially for this amazing opportunity."
This year’s board of education organization meeting did not include the swearing in of officers, since election of new board members will now take place in November. In this transitional year, members whose terms would have been up in April—Sam Levy, Eric Siegel and Mark Zucker--will continue to serve six more months. Board President Michael Birnberg gave assurances that an additional reorganizational meeting will be held in January.
Candidates for Board of Education must submit their petitions to the County Clerk in Newark by June 5, 2012 at 4 p.m. Candidates may still download the packet from the school district website at http://www.edline.net/pages/Millburn_Township_PS/School_Budget_2012-2013/School_Board_Candidates_Packet