Dismiss Out-of-Town Students—Now, New BOE Member Says
Reorganization meeting sparks arguments over several issues.
Susy Golderer took the reins as president of the Parsippany-Troy Hills Board of Education Thursday night at the annual school board reorganization meeting. Her election, and that of Sharif Shamsudin as vice president, was the easiest part of a meeting that lasted more than four hours.
The night started with the swearings-in of newly elected board members Frank Calabria, who was last year's president, and newcomer James Carifi, a Parsippany Police captain. As was announced at the Dec. 23 school board meeting, Joanne Mancuso, the third candidate elected Nov. 6, did not attend and will not take the seat.
New Business Administrator Robin Tedesco administered the oath of office to Calabria and Carifi and had them sign documents certifying them as duly elected and sworn Board of Education members. She handed the men their "board packets," envelopes containing documents pertaining to board business, and they sat down at the dais.
The next item of business was the election of a president and vice president.
Shamsudin nominated Golderer, his 2011 BOE election running mate. Martin, the third member of their slate, seconded.
Calabria nominated longtime board member Fran Orthwein, praising her experience, knowledge and commitment.
"Over the next three to five years, we are going to have to deal with changes and situations like we've never seen before," he said. "We need someone who is experienced and knowledgeable to lead through the challenges."
The vote broke down along factional lines: Michael Strumolo, Shamsudin, Martin, Golderer and Carifi chose Golderer. Calabria, Anthony Mancuso and Orthwein selected Orthwein.
The new president took the chair and offered her thanks.
"I am personally very humbled by this process and for the confidence that not only my running mates but other members of this board have shown by nominating or voting for me," Golderer said. "I am a very fair person, I don't take sides. I like to look at both sides of any issue that comes up. I do not plan on changing who I am. I hope that will show and that the community will have confidence."
The floor was opened for nominations for vice president.
Martin nominated Shamsudin, and Calabria reiterated his plea for consideration of Orthwein's experience. Again, the board's two apparent factions voted for their own candidate and Shamsudin was named the victor.
During a break after the vote, Carifi told Patch that he was so far unimpressed with his experience.
"I was disappointed in the swearing-in," he said. "They had both of us up there at the same time. I couldn't have my family with me. It didn't have any structure. I'm the kind of person who likes structure. Same with the meeting. This board needs structure."
Asked what he plans to focus on as a new board member, Carifi said he would target the issues upon which he had campaigned.
"I am concerned about the children of teachers who don't live in Parsippany getting to go to school here," he said. "It's a burden to the taxpayers and I intend to do something about it tonight."
But first, Michael Strumolo asked Carifi whether he had been given an opportunity to preview his board packet prior to being sworn; the police captain indicated that he hadn't.
Strumolo then made a motion to table consideration of the superintendent's and secretary's reports until the next BOE business meeting.
"It's unfair that a new board member wasn't allowed to prepare before being expected to vote," he explained.
Some in the audience complained, noting that meeting documents are available on the district website prior to meetings.
"Let him read it online like we do," said Parsippany Hills High School PTA President Sandy Nussbaum Giercyk.
Martin said he agreed with tabling, but not because of Carifi's preparation or lack thereof. His issue was Joanne Mancuso's vacant seat.
"We must vote as a quorum of nine," he said.
Orthwein took her colleague to task.
"Robert's Rules of Order defines a quorum of five, and this board needs to get to work," she insisted. "We are a quorum, we are eight members."
She also sided with the residents.
"Mr. Carifi had the same opportunity as any other citizen to look up the reports," said Orthwein. "I see no reason why we should even consider tabling the reports and bringing the business of the district to a screeching halt."
"It says on here that these are confidential and for board members only," Carifi fired back.
Strumolo and Orthwein went back and forth parsing language of the policy governing reorganization procedures.
Board Attorney Mark Tabakin said state statute mandates that reorganization take place within the first seven days of the new year. He pointed out that this was the first January reorganization. Until last year, BOE elections were held in April, so new members began work with decisions for a new school year. That is not the case in 2013, which follows the first November board election.
"Most of what's in the [superintendent's and secretary's reports] has already been adopted by the board," he explained, noting that decisions through June 30 are already made. "Virtually all these actions can be tabled. ... You may table everything if that's the will of the board.
"Nothing is going to come to a screeching halt."
Calabria asked whether new members-elect should receive all the information sworn members receive.
"We have an individual who was [elected, but] not sworn in tonight. Should she have received the information?"
After more debate, Strumolo amended his motion to table instead only the secretary's report. No one seconded.
"That means the original motion stands," said Tabakin.
"Tabling would violate the bylaws," Orthwein argued. "It uses the word 'shall.'"
"Bylaws can be changed," said the attorney.
"We have bylaws to guide our actions," Orthwein insisted.
"If it's the will of the board to delay, adjourn or put off a matter, you have the right to do it," Tabakin countered. "Tabling does not stop the operation of this district."
The debate continued on for nearly an hour on the matter of the reports. In the end, the board voted to pass Strumolo's motion to table both the superintendent's and secretary's reports. Orthwein was the lone no vote.
Then Carifi was given the opportunity to discuss a piece of new business.
"Eleven students in Parsippany schools aren't Parsippany residents," he said. "I move tonight that we stop this practice immediately."
Carifi was referring to the children of Parsippany school teachers who live in other towns. In the past, teachers were free to have their own children attend district schools, but it was ended several years ago with some children grandfathered in so that they could continue their educations here.
There are 11 of those students left.
Interim Personnel Director Paul Saxton, filling in for an ailing Superintendent of Schools LeRoy Seitz, suggested having the board's policy committee research the matter.
"I'm looking to end this immediately, tonight," Carifi reiterated.
"You can't do that," said Golderer. "There is a procedure..."
"Policy could be suspended," Tabakin interjected, "but that would have to be a separate motion."
The debate continued on until Carifi amended his motion. Rather than forcing kids out of school in the morning, he said he would move for children of staff and faculty to have until the end of the month.
"They would be out by Feb. 1," he said. "Or their parents can pay tuition."
"For 11 children out of 7,300," said Orthwein, now visibly angry, but controlled. "I don't like the idea of disenfranchising children in the middle of the school year. I don't think that's the right thing to do for children."
"I gotta agree with Fran," said Anthony Mancuso. "We're talking about 11 employees, their students, their children, in the middle of a school year. To do that to our employees and to the children... it doesn't get us anything."
Shamsudin agreed with the call to send the matter to the policy committee.
Attorney Tabakin entered the debate.
"You're no longer suspending, you're amending," he said. "That exposes this to challenge."
Golderer said as president, she wants the matter to go to the policy committee. She invited Carifi to attend the panel's next meeting.
The new board member also complained that 45-55 students did not have the documentation needed to register in Par-Troy schools. As it stands, these children must prove residence using other methods, working with Joan Benos, the superintendent's assistant . Carifi suggested that Benos match these students' addresses against the town's zoning map and report any suspicious cases directly to Parsippany's housing division.
"That's what we have committees for," said Golderer. "I recommend we remand this to the critical issues committee. It is something we should address as a board with respect to making sure we educate children living in our district."
Carifi then suggested creating a weekend leadership academy for students. The program, he said, would be similar to the Citizens Police Academy that he facilitated for the PPD until the end of 2010.
Golderer remanded the leadership academy idea to the critical issues committee for study and review.
Later in the meeting, resident after resident—some educators, some parents—stood to chastise the board and anyone who would support Carifi's idea.
"I am concerned and disheartened by some of the behavior I saw tonight," said PTA representative Sandy Giercyk, who called for compassion. "Throw their kids out of school? What are we saying about our staff and our children? I am disgusted. I am embarrassed to say these are people I elected."
A large part of the audience applauded.
"I'm shocked and saddened by what I saw here tonight," said resident Beth Bluj.
And resident George Blair offered a lecture.
"The first time I came to a board meeting, I came out of love for my daughter," he said, and then addressed Orthwein directly. "Fran, whatever you do, do it for your love of the kids. That's what you've said."
Orthwein nodded, and Blair addressed the rest of the board.
"I watched you tonight and feel like I'm back three years ago when you were in disarray," he said, referring to BOE battles of old. "If you're a new board, you need to find somebody to teach you to work as a team. If you don't work together and you have behavior like you had tonight... I see no enthusiasm from anyone. You have no concept of what a team is about."
Then he barked some advice at the board.
"Work together, sit up," said a frowning Blair. "And some of you, smile!"